Members: John Densmore, Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek, Jim Morrison
Founded in 1965 in Los Angeles, California, after a meeting between UCLA film school students Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek, "The Doors" became one of the premier acts of the late 1960s. The two had known each other at UCLA and met by chance on Venice beach in July 1965. Morrison told Manzarek he had been writing songs and, at Manzarek's encouragement, sang Moonlight Drive. Manzarek immediately suggested they form a band.
Vox-Organ-Player Ray Manzarek was already in the band called Rick And The Ravens with his brothers Rick and Jim while Robby Krieger and John Densmore were playing with The Psychedelic Rangers, and knew Manzarek from shared meditation instruction. In August Densmore joined the group and, along with members of the Ravens and an unidentified female bass player, recorded a six-song demo on September 2. This was widely bootlegged and appeared in full on the 1997 Doors box set.
That month the group recruited talented guitarist Robby Krieger and the final lineup?Morrison, Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore?was complete. Manzarek solved their lack of bassist by playing bass on a Fender Rhodes bass keyboard with his left hand and keyboards with his right hand.
The band took their name from the title of a book by Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception, which was in turn borrowed from a line of poetry by the 18th century artist and poet William Blake: "If the doors of perception were cleansed, every thing would appear to man as it is: infinite."
By 1966 the group was playing The London Fog club and soon graduated to the prestigious Whisky a Go Go. On August 10 they were spotted by Elektra Records president Jac Holzman on the insistence of Love singer Arthur Lee, whose group was on Elektra. On August 18 the group signed with the label.
EARLY RECORDING 1967-1969
After Jack Holzman and Paul Rothchild saw two sets of the doors at the whiskey, the first uneven, but the second mesmerizing, the band was signed to the Elektra Records label beginning a long and successful partnership with producer Paul Rothchild and engineer Bruce Botnick. Their self-titled debut LP featured most of the major songs from their set, including the eleven-minute musical drama, "The End". With the band at the peak of their form and bristling with energy and ambition, the album was recorded in only a few days, in late August and early September 1966, almost entirely live in the studio, with most songs captured in a single take. Morrison and Manzarek also directed an innovative promotional film for the single "Break on Through", which was an important stepping stone in the development of the music video genre.
Released in January 1967, the album caused a sensation in music circles and the second single released from it, "Light My Fire", became a major hit, establishing the group alongside Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead as one of the top new American bands of 1967. It was released in April but did not hit the top, with the long middle solo cut out, until July. In September the group played the song live on the popular Ed Sullivan Show where Morrison sang the word "higher", despite being asked not to by the CBS Network. They also performed a new single "People Are Strange" which they repeated for DJ Murray The K's TV show on September 22. Earlier in the month the group recorded a dazzling version of "The End" for CBS in Toronto. It remained unreleased until the release of The Doors Soundstage Performances DVD.
With his saturnine good looks, magnetic stage presence and skin-tight leather trousers, Morrison quickly became one of the major pop sex symbols of his day, although he soon became frustrated with the strictures of stardom.
The second Doors LP, Strange Days, was almost as strong as the first, and it cemented the group's reputation. More subdued and less spontaneous than the debut, the album is notable for its evocative lyricism and atmosphere. Closing track "When The Music's Over" was again, like "The End" lengthy and dramatic and helped establish Morrison's reputation as the wild shaman of rock. Yet the album was also strongly commercial and featured well-known Doors songs, "Love Me Two Times" and "Moonlight Drive".
Morrison's status as a figure of rebellion was further cemented on December 9 when he was arrested in New Haven, Connecticut for badmouthing the police to the audience from the stage. Morrison said he had been maced by an overzealous cop after he was caught backstage with a girl. The group finished a successful year on December 27 by taping "Light My Fire" and "Moonlight Drive" for the Jonathan Winters Show. From December 26 to 28 the group played at The Winterland San Francisco and then two dates in Denver on December 30 and 31, capping off a year of almost constant touring.
As a result of their success, The Doors forfeited their status as Underground heroes. They allowed Sixteen magazine to portray them as teen idols and their "spontaneous" stage-show was exposed as not-so-spontaneous after all. An article by Jerry Hopkins in the February 10th, 1968 edition of Rolling Stone typified the fall from grace:
"One shtick, or piece of stage-business, missing at the Shrine performance, was Morrison's carefully-executed 'accidental' fall from the stage into the crowd. For months this had been a part of the act. It got a lot of screams from the teenyboppers. Then a review appeared in a local newspaper which called the fall one of the phoniest things ever. Morrison was asked if he'd read the article. 'Yeah,' said Morrison, 'and I guess he's right.' Morrison did not take the fall that night at the Shrine."
Fraught sessions for the group's third album took place in April as Morrison became increasingly dependent on alcohol. Approaching the height of their popularity The Doors played a series of outdoor shows which led to frenzied scenes between fans and police, particularly at Chicago Coliseum on May 10.
Their third LP, Waiting for the Sun, (1968) showed the band beginning to branch out from their initial form, as they exhausted their original repertoire and began writing new material. It became their first #1 LP and the single "Hello, I Love You" was their second and last US #1 single. The album is eclectic in style, sometimes inconsequential, and much less unified than the first two, despite containing some fine material. It further isolated them from the underground cognoscenti. As Lilian Roxon described it in her 1969 Rock Encyclopaedia, the album "strengthened dreadful suspicion that the Doors were in it just for the money". It also included the song "The Unknown Soldier", for which they created another superb self-directed music video, and "Not to Touch the Earth", excerpted from their legendary thirty-minute concept piece Celebration of the Lizard, although they were reportedly unable to record a satisfactory version of the entire piece for the LP. This was eventually released on a later greatest hits CD compilation.
A month after riotous scenes at the Singer Bowl, New York the group flew for their first dates outside of North America, to England. The group held a press conference at the ICA Gallery, London and played shows at The Roundhouse Theatre. The results of the trip were broadcast on Granada TV's "The Doors Are Open" and were later released on video. The group then played dates in Europe including a show in Amsterdam without Morrison after he collapsed from a drug binge. Morrison returned to London on September 20 and stayed for a month.
The group played nine more US dates and got to work in November on their fourth LP. 1969 would be a very difficult year for the group but it started well with a sold out show at the prestigious Madison Square Garden, New York on January 24 and with the success of new single "Touch Me" (released in December 1968), which hit US #3.
That month Morrison attended a theatre production which changed the course of his and the group's life. At the University of Southern California's Bovard Auditorium The Living Theatre took to the stage for a highly charged show which urged people to cast aside their inhibitions to freedom.
The show appealed to Morrison's quest for personal freedom, the results of which can be heard the next evening, February 25, during a studio jam which became the legendary "Rock Is Dead" session, later released on the 1997 Doors box set. The stage had been set for the most controversial episode of Morrison's life and one of the most notorious rock stories.
To fans of The Doors, the music included socially, psychologically and politically charged lyrics mostly written by 'The Lizard King', Jim Morrison. The jazz drumming of John Densmore, the swirling keyboards of Ray Manzarek, whose left hand played the parts typically associated with bass guitar, and Robby Krieger's guitar playing, which showed the influence of flamenco, Indian, the blues and classical music, combined to form a distinctive sound. The Doors were unusual among rock groups in that they did not use a bass guitarist in concert, with Manzarek playing the bass lines on a Fender electric keyboard bass, an offshoot of the well-known Fender Rhodes electric piano. However, the group utilized bass players such as Jerry Scheff, Doug Lubahn, Harvey Brooks, Kerry Magness, Lonnie Mack and Ray Neapolitan on their albums.
Many of The Doors' originals were composed communally, with Morrison usually contributing the lyrics and some melody, while the others hammered out the beat and flow of the song. While Morrison and Manzarek were walking on the beach in California, they passed an African-American girl, and Morrison wrote the lyrics to Hello I Love You in a single night, referring to the girl as the "dusky jewel". The song received some criticism at the time for its resemblance to The Kinks' 1965 hit "All Day and All of the Night". Ray Davies, lead singer of the Kinks, sued the Doors for stealing the rhythm of "All Day and All of the Night".
MID CAREER CONTROVERSY 1969-1971
The Doors quickly earned a reputation as a challenging and entertaining live act, as well as having a rebellious reputation. Jim Morrison was arrested on stage in New Haven for foul language which he had directed toward police at the concert. In one appearance on September 17, 1967 with a live performance on the Ed Sullivan Show on the Columbia Broadcasting System network, the network's censors demanded the group change its lyrics in its song, Light My Fire, altering the line, "Girl, we couldn't get much higher" because of the reference to drugs. However, Morrison sang the original line instead, and on live television with no delay CBS was powerless to stop it. Ed Sullivan was so furious that he refused to shake their hands and they were never invited back. Morrison later insisted he was nervous during the performance and forgot to change the line. (They weren't the only ones banned from the show. Eleven years earlier, Bo Diddley was banned from appearing on the show when he refused to sing Sixteen Tons.)
The most infamous incident occurred at the March 1, 1969 Dinner Key Auditorium concert in Miami, Florida. Morrison allegedly exposed himself during the performance. Morrison had been drinking since missing his flight to the show. The 6,900 seat auditorium had been oversold by almost double the hall's capacity and fans were sweltering without air conditioning. From the moment the band walked on stage Morrison started bellowing into the microphone "Now listen here, I ain't talking 'bout no revolution and I'm not talkin' about no demonstrations.
"I'm talking about having a good time, I'm talking about having a good time this summer. And you all come out to L.A., you all get out there, we're gonna lie down there in the sand and rub our toes in the ocean, and we're gonna have a good time, are you ready, are you ready, are you ready, are you ready, are you ready, are you ready, are you ready, are you ready?
"Now listen! I used to think the whole thing was a big joke. I used to think it was something to laugh about. And then the last couple of nights I met some people who were doing somethin'! They're tryin' to change the world! And I wanna get on that trip! I wanna change the world. Wanna change it. Yeeeeeeaaaaaahhh - change it."
Within a few minutes Morrison had changed his tune:
"Now listen, I'm not talkin' about no revolution, an' I'm not talkin' about no demonstration! I'm talkin' about having fun! I'm talkin' about dancin'! I wanna see you people get up and dance! I wanna see you people dancin' in the street this summer! I wanna see you have some fun. I wanna see you run around. I wanna see you paint the town. I wanna see you ringin' out. I wanna see you shout. I wanna see some fun. I wanna see some fun from everyone."
The recording nears its end with the ominous words:
"ANYTHING YOU WANT! LET'S DO IT! LET'S DO IT! LET'S DO IT!"
The incident remains inconclusive. Morrison said: "I wasted a lot of time with the Miami trial. About a year and a half. But I guess it was a valuable experience because before the trial I had a very unrealistic schoolboy attitude about the American judicial system. My eyes have been opened up a bit."
While Morrison as the lead singer received the most attention of the group, as well as getting a far larger image of himself on album covers, he was quite adamant about all the members of the group getting recognition. Before one concert when the announcer introduced the group as "Jim Morrison and The Doors", Morrison in a rage refused to appear unless he announced the group again, solely as "The Doors". While he never felt close to his real life family, he was extremely protective of the rest of the members of The Doors. Reportedly, he once told Ray Manzarek that he never felt comfortable in a social setting unless Ray or another member of the band were with him. Many people have since come to the conclusion that he viewed The Doors as his surrogate family. This may be attributed the fact that he not only repeatedly turned down every solo album opportunity he was ever offered, but that the remaining members of The Doors refused to replace him as the singer of the band after his death.
Although the band's reputation was damaged Morrison was quietly relieved by the results of the Miami incident. He later said: "I think I was just fed up with the image that had been created around me... and so I put an end to it in one glorious evening".
Released from the chain of touring Morrison recorded some of his poetry that month and, in April, began shooting footage for HWY, an experimental film about a hitchiker, played by Morrison. The poetry session was used for the 1978 album An American Prayer where it was set to new music by The Doors. HWY, which contains virtually no dialogue, circulates among collectors although an official release has been rumored.
In the last two years of his life Morrison curtailed his former prodigious intake of psychedelic drugs and began drinking heavily, which in turn soon began to affect his performance, both on stage and in the studio. Apparently trying to escape the image of "The Lizard King" that had come to dominate him, Morrison put on weight and grew a thick beard, forcing Elektra to use photos taken earlier in his career for the cover of their Absolutely Live LP, released in 1970. The album features performances recorded on their 1970 American tour and at the 1969 Aquarius Theatre gig and includes a full-length live performance of "The Celebration of the Lizard".
The group's only public appearance was on a PBS television special, recorded late in April and broadcast the following month. Here the group performed songs from the upcoming Soft Parade album, including a stunning version of the title track.
The group resumed touring at Chicago Auditorium Theater on June 14 and proceeded to play two dates at The Aquarius Theatre, Hollywood on July 21 and 22, both later released on CD. The shows were typical of a new kind of Doors concert where the emphasis was more on the band and fans having a good time than having a shamanistic experience. The bearded Morrison wore loose fitting clothes and steered the bands towards a bluesier direction with songs like "Build Me A Woman", "I Will Never Be Untrue" and "Who Do You Love". Yet his voice had lost none of its power and the band could still dazzle with performances of "When The Music's Over" and "Celebration of the Lizard".
Their fourth album, The Soft Parade (1969), released in July, saw the band struggling to maintain momentum; an attempt to expand the group's sound with strings and brass, it is generally considered the least successful of their LPs with Morrison, who was by then developing a serious drinking problem and becoming increasingly difficult and unreliable in the studio, with the result that sessions were now dragging on over weeks, where they had formerly taken days. The band further augmented their sound with the use of a horn section, strings, and other sounds on choice tracks (their single, "Touch Me," featured saxophonist Curtis Amy).
Amid the recording of their next album, in November 1969, Morrison found himself in trouble with the law again after becoming drunk and abusive to airline staff during a flight to Phoenix, Arizona to see The Rolling Stones in concert. He was acquitted the following April after a steward mistakenly identified Morrison as his traveling companion, American actor Tom Baker (Not the Tom Baker who played Dr. Who.)
The group started its year in New York again, this time over two nights at The Felt Forum. The two nights were well received.
The group staged a strong return to form with their excellent 1970 LP Morrison Hotel. Featuring a consistent, hard rock sound the album contains the memorable opener "Roadhouse Blues", which typified the high-spirited assuredness of the entire album. Morrison Hotel had a buoyancy and optimism that the band had never had before with a host of celebratory songs and a couple of lovely ballads. It hit US #4.
The group continued to perform at arenas throughout the summer and Morrison faced trial in Miami in August. The group managed to make it to The Isle of Wight on August 29th where a tired Morrison performed what was considered a below-par set. Songs from the show show up in 1995 on the Message To Love documentary.
On September 16th, Morrison took to the stand but it was in vain, the jury returning a guilty verdict for profanity and indecent exposure on September 20. Morrison was sentenced to eight months custody but was allowed to go free pending an appeal.
On December 8th, 1970, Morrison recorded another poetry session, on his 27th birthday.
The Doors last public performance was at the "Warehouse" in New Orleans, LA on Dec. 12th, 1970, where it appeared Morrison had a mental breakdown on stage (slamming the microphone numerous times into the stage floor).
The group looked set to regain their crown as one of America's premier acts with the superb L.A. Woman in 1971. It was conceived as a "back to basics" album which would explore their blues and R&B roots, although during rehearsals the group had a serious falling-out with Rothchild. Denouncing the new repertoire as "cocktail music", he quit and handed the production reins to Botnick. The result was widely considered a classic, featuring some of the strongest material and performances since their 1967 debut. Some dissenters, however, consider nearly half the album to be lackluster blues material, detracting severely from the album's overall quality. The atmospheric single "Riders On The Storm" became a mainstay of rock radio programming for decades.
AFTER MORRISON'S DEATH 1971-1989
In 1971, following the recording of L.A. Woman, Morrison decided to take some time out and moved to Paris with girlfriend Pamela Courson, in March. He had visited the previous summer and, for a time, seemed contented to write and explore the city. But by June he was once again drinking heavily and suffered a fall from a second story window in May. On June 16 the last known recording of Morrison was made when he befriended two street musicians at a bar and invited them to a recording studio. The drunken results were later released on bootleg CD.
Morrison died under mysterious circumstances on 3 July 1971; his body was found in the bathtub of his apartment. It was concluded that he died of a heart attack, although it was later revealed that no autopsy had been performed before Morrison's body was buried at the P?re-Lachaise Cemetery on July 7.
Rumours persisted for many years that Morrison had faked his death to escape the spotlight, as did the rumour that Morrison had actually died at a Paris nightclub and that his body had been surreptitiously taken back to his apartment. However, in his book Wonderland Avenue, Morrison's former associate Danny Sugerman states that during his last meeting with Courson, which took place shortly before she died of a heroin overdose, she confessed to Sugerman that she had introduced Morrison to the drug and that, because he had a fear of needles, she had injected him with the dose that killed him.
The remaining Doors continued for some time. After initially considering replacing Morrison with a new singer, Krieger and Manzarek took over on vocals, and released two more albums, Other Voices and Full Circle. The Doors also toured during this time.
Both albums sold well, but not in the numbers of the Morrison era releases, and the Doors ceased all performing and recording activities at the end of 1972. While the first is unmistakably Doors in sound and style, the last album showed the Doors further expanding into jazz territory. While neither album have yet seen CD reissues in the U.S., they have been released on 2-on-1 CDs in Germany and Russia and are being heard via internet P2P networks and are undergoing fan reevaluation.
The remaining Doors recorded a third post-Morrison album, An American Prayer released in 1978, this time providing only backup music to recordings of Morrison's poetry.
In 1979 Francis Ford Coppola released Apocalypse Now with "The End" used prominently in the sound track. With this, "The Doors" were rediscovered by new fans. In 1983, "Alive, She Cried" was released, which included a cover version of the Them hit "Gloria", adding it officially to the Elektra Records discography.
1990'S AND BEYOND
In 1991, director Oliver Stone released his film The Doors, starring Val Kilmer as Morrison and with cameos by Krieger, Densmore and Manzarek. Ian Astbury of The Cult was Stone's preferred choice, but Astbury decided not to enter the acting world for reasons unknown. While all were amazed at Kilmer's impersonation, the film had numerous factual inaccuracies and members of the group later voiced displeasure at Stone's portrayal of Morrison, at times making him look like an out-of-control sociopath.
In 2002 Manzarek and Krieger reunited and created a new version of The Doors, called "The Doors of the 21st Century". In the place of Morrison, the new lineup was fronted by British vocalist Ian Astbury, former lead singer of UK band The Cult, with Angelo Barbera from Krieger's band on bass. At their first concert the group announced that drummer John Densmore would not perform, and it was later reported that he was unable to play because he suffered from tinnitus. Densmore was initially replaced by Stewart Copeland, formerly of The Police, but after Copeland broke his arm falling off a bicycle, the arrangement ended in mutual lawsuits and he was replaced by Ty Dennis, drummer with Krieger's band.
Densmore subsequently claimed that he had in fact not been invited to take part in the reunion. In February 2003 he filed an injunction against his former bandmates hoping to prevent them from using the name "The Doors of the 21st Century". His motion was denied in court in May that year, although Manzarek publicly reiterated that the invitation for Densmore to return to the group still stood. It was also reported that both Morrison's family and that of Pamela Courson had joined Densmore in seeking to prevent Manzarek and Krieger from using The Doors' name. In July 2005, Densmore and the Morrison estate won a permanent injunction; thereby preventing his former bandmates from using The Doors' name. The new band initially switched to the name "D21C" and now plays under the name Riders on the Storm, which is itself the name of a Doors tribute band in the northeastern US. They are allowed to play under names such as "former Doors" and "members of The Doors". Densmore has also been steadfast in refusing to license The Doors' music for use in television commercials, including an offer of $15 million by Cadillac to lease the song "Break on Through (to the Other Side)", feeling that that would be in violation of the spirit in which the music was created. Densmore wrote about this subject for The Nation, noting,
People lost their virginity to this music, got high for the first time to this music. I've had people say kids died in Vietnam listening to this music, other people say they know someone who didn't commit suicide because of this music?. On stage, when we played these songs, they felt mysterious and magic. That's not for rent.
Manzarek and Krieger maintain that touring as a Doors revival and licensing the music to advertisements are a means to keep The Doors from fading into history. Manzarek was quoted as saying, "We're all getting older. We should, the three of us, be playing these songs because, hey, the end is always near. Morrison was a poet, and above all, a poet wants his words heard."
The Doors are remembered for shamanistic live performances. Some members of the "establishment", however, felt that they were merely American rock music rebels. Jim Morrison said: "I like any reaction I can get with my music. Just anything to get people to think. I mean if you can get a whole room full of drunk, stoned people to actually wake up and think, you're doing something."
Their enduring popularity is reflected by continuing sales of their early work.
The Doors left a reasonably concise disocography for an era dominated by groups which seemed to rush out an album every six months and a high number of non-album singles. The first, self-titled album is generally thought to be the strongest and is a regular sight in greatest 100 album lists. Strange Days, Morrison Hotel and L.A Woman are all highly rated by fans and, due to their different styles, (psychedelic pop, hard rock, blues) appeal to some more than others. Waiting For The Sun contains some strong tracks but is thematically weak. The Soft Parade is considered by some to be "plain bad and for fans only".
1970's Absolutely Live and 1983's Alive She Cried are good examples of the band's live show and are available on CD. The 2CD In Concert is better value for money as it collects the two and adds an interesting version of "The End" from the Hollywood Bowl show in 1968.
Only three non-album tracks were released in the band's lifetime, the b-sides "Who Scared You", "Tree Trunk", and a cover of Willie Dixon's "(You Need Meat) Don't Go Further" sung by Ray. "Who Scared You" and "(You Need Meat) Don't Go Further" appeared on the 1972 compilation Weird Scenes Inside The Goldmine while only "Who Scared You" has since been given a further CD release, on the 1997 box set.
In 1978 the surviving Doors re-united to add music to poetry recorded by Morrison in 1969 and 1970. The resulting album was "An American Prayer" and was re-issued on CD in 1995 with bonus tracks "Hour For Magic", "Freedom Exists", "A Feast Of Friends", "Babylon Fading", "Bird Of Prey" and "The Ghost Song (extended version)".
The group had always shied away from releasing archive Doors material but in 1997 relented with the release of The Doors box set. While hardcore fans complained that most of the material had been previously released on bootlegs the 4CD set, one of which was a "greatest hits" type CD, proved popular. It was notable for a CD of highlights from the 1970 Felt Forum concert and a cleaned-up recording of the (edited) 1969 "Rock Is Dead" session. The surviving members again re-united to add new musical backing to the solo Morrison song "Orange County Suite".
In November 2000 came the announcement many fans had dreamed of when The Doors announced the creation of Bright Midnight Records, a label through which 36 albums and 90 hours of previously unreleased Morrison-era Doors material would be made available on CD. This was launched with a sampler of forthcoming material, mostly from live concerts. The first full release was a 2CD set of the May 1970 show at Detroit Cobo Arena. It was followed by two CDs of interviews, mostly with Morrison, and the two 1969 Aquarius shows and one of the rehearsals. A 4CD set "Boot Yer Butt" unashamedly used bootleg quality material but sold out nevertheless. It was notable for the inclusion of the only known performances of songs from L.A Woman including the title track and "The Changeling" from The Doors' last but one show, in December 1970, Dallas, Texas. In 2005 a 2CD concert from Philadelphia in 1970 was released.
Many illegal bootleg recordings are available of the group. Most impressive is a wealth of shows from March 1967 at the legendary Matrix Club in San Francisco. Many shows are available from 1968 when the band reached the height of its popularity, notably two shows in Stockholm, Sweden. The infamous Miami show has become widely available while many 1970 shows, notably a radio broadcast of the June 6 Vancouver show, make the rounds. The complete 1969 "Rock Is Dead" studio jam was discovered in the mid 1990s.
1967 - The Doors
1967 - Strange Days
1968 - Waiting for the Sun
1969 - The Soft Parade
1970 - Morrison Hotel Elek
1970 - Absolutely Live
1970 - 13
1971 - L.A. Woman
1971 - Other Voices
1972 - Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mine
1972 - Full Circle
1978 - An American Prayer
1991 - The Doors
1991 - In Concert
1997 - Box Set
2002 - Bright Midnight: Live in America
2002 - Live in Hollywood
2003 - Legacy: the Absolute Best
2003 - The Best of The Doors