An American Prayer: Arts And Motives In A Spoken Word Album


Ooh great creator of being, grant us one more hour, to perform our art and perfect our lives. 
- Jim Morrison -

The Doors lead singer, Jim Morrison was well known for improvising spoken word poetry passages while the band played live.

Since he was a teenager, Morrison was drawn to the study of literature, poetry, religion, philosophy and psychology, among other fields. Morrison read widely and voraciously—being particularly inspired by the writings of philosophers and poets. 

He discovered the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Rimbaud, William Blake, Charles Baudelaire, Jack Kerouac, the Marquis de Sade, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Joseph Campbell, and James Frazer.

Morrison was particularly attracted to the myths and religions of Native American cultures. While he was still in school, his family moved to New Mexico where he got to see some of the places and artifacts important to the American Southwest Indigenous cultures. These interests appear to be the source of many references to creatures and places that appear in his songs and poetry.

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After the Doors sixth album, L.A. Woman released, Morrison left The Doors. Morrison and the president of Elektra Records, Jac Holzman decided to make a solo album of Morrison's poetry.

Holzman asked Elektra records chief engineer, John Haeny to co-produce the project with Morrison. Haeny agreed.

Morrison and Haeny had about a half dozen meetings at Haeny's house in Coldwater Canyon to discuss and plan the project. 

John Haeny

Morrison and Haeny produced and recorded two sessions of Morrison reading his poetry in a professional studio. The first session was recorded on 9 February 1969 at the Elektra West Coast studio. This session was intended to be a demo. 

Morrison also played a bit of piano, accompanying himself on “Orange County Suite” and also giving the piano a good whack from time to time for dramatic punctuation.  

The second session was on 8 December 1970, which was Morrison's 27th birthday. Morrison thought it would be a great day to get an official start on his poetry album.

Haeny booked a session at The Village Recorder, Studio C for the afternoon and evening of December 8th in West Los Angeles.

In March 1971, Morrison explained to Haeny that with all the pressures on him in Los Angeles, he was having a hard time getting his mind clear and was going to Paris. He told Haeny that he needed do further work on how he read his poetry, and he would call Haeny when he was settled in Paris and ready to go to work.

Haeny had given Morrison a 71/2 ips copy of the ‘Elektra Session’ on a 7” reel which he took to Paris.

But... Morrison died in Paris before he completed his poetry album. He died on July 3rd, 1971.

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The Doors guitarist, Robby Krieger had heard that Haeny had Morrison’s poetry recordings. In 1976, Krieger called Haeny, asked if the remaining Doors (he, Ray Manzarek, and John Densmore) could listen to them.

Before Haeny would play the tapes, there were a few conditions the Doors had to agree to. One of them is, the Doors had to agree that if anything was to be done with recordings, Haeny would only provide access to the tapes if they were used to finish the poetry album Morrison and Haeny had started.

The goal for any project they might undertake would be to, as closely as possible, complete what Morrison and Haeny had already started and failed to finish.  

Having agreed to these general terms, the Doors heard the tapes. They were impressed and immediately saw the potential.

The producers needed new original music for the project. Haeny had suggested to the Doors a number of times that they provide original new music for the album. 

The Doors initially resisted Haeny suggestion.

Personally, Haeny had a number of reasons for wanting the Doors to provide new music for the project. Haeny put his case forward and eventually convinced The Doors of the validly of his point of view.  

The case was simple, the surviving Doors knew better than anyone how to put music to Morrison’s poetry and it would be a marvelous way for them to create a lasting musical tribute for their friend. 

Ultimately, the Doors agreed.

As The Doors started composing new music for the album, they went into a small studio in West Los Angeles that The Doors had in the past used periodically for demos.

Haeny produced and recorded the new music at Hollywood Sound Recorders.  The Doors performed live to Morrison’s poetry. As they themselves have said, it was all really quite ‘spooky’. After so many years the band were again playing live with Morrison in the studio.

The Doors recorded backing tracks over Morrison's poetry in jazz, blues, funk, and rock music.

Seven years after Jim Morrison died and five years after the remaining members of the Doors broke up, the project was released as 'An American Prayer'. It is the ninth and final studio album by the Doors, released in November 1978.


An American Prayer outlines the life of Jim Morrison from birth to his death.

So much of Morrison's poems was unnamed, the names that producers used were often just the first line of the poem.

The Movie

The producers had collected every inch of audio tape including piles of 7” and 5” Nagra production tapes from Morrison’s film “HWY: An American Pastoral.”  

They had the February 1969 sessions and December 1970 sessions. But it was on these production tapes from “HWY: An American Pastoral” where they found the recording of Morrison making a prank phone call, Haeny think that it was to Morrison's friend Michael McClure, about hitchhiking in the desert and having killed the guy who picked him up.  

They used that recording in “The Hitchhiker” section of “An American Prayer”, along with “Riders on the Storm”.

There were also a big stack of tapes known as “The Endless Night Tapes” recorded during an all night drinking session between Morrison and a few of his friends in a motel room in Palm Springs. 

Those tapes yielded Morrison's story about his childhood memory of being in the back seat of his parents car and coming upon the aftermath of a horrific accident on the highway outside Palm Springs.

The highway was littered with dead Indians and Morrison said that he believed the soul of one of those Indians entered his body, possessing him. That was at the foundation of Morrison’s belief that he was a Shaman.  

The story is used in “Dawn’s Highway” and is the basis of “The Ghost Song”.

The Ghost Song (the music video was made in 1995)

The producers wanted to use an unreleased live track as part of the section of the album they called “The Public Life”. Haeny discovered that “Roadhouse Blues” had never been included in The Doors first live album.

The producers reviewed what they had and with a few simple edits they discovered that they had an outrageously good live version of “Roadhouse Blues”. It was recorded at a time when The Doors were at the peak of their career.

Roadhouse Blues

At the peak of their career The Doors had recorded what is popularly known as the “Adagio in G minor by Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni.” The Doors had never found a place for the orchestral only recording on an album so it was never released.

For the project, the Doors arranged and performed the “Albinoni Adagio” as a setting for Morrison’s reading of the track “An American Prayer” which ends the album. 

An American Prayer was the only Doors album nominated for a Grammy and at 250,000 copies sold upon its release, makes it the largest selling spoken-word album.

Below is the link of John Haeny's personal story about the making of “An American Prayer.”