"This poet who was full of lyrics. That was the magical ingredient!"-Doors drummer John Densmore, describing Jim Morrison
Of the countless bands that arose from the Los Angeles music scene of the 1960s, The Doors created what is arguably one of the most totally original and uniquely poetic bodies of work. It's an amazing body of work which-unlike so many of their musical peers from that era-sounds as fresh and current today as it did when it was first recorded more than forty years ago.
With the recent release of "The Doors R-Evolution" on DVD and Blu-ray, one can witness the overall evolution of both sight and sound that The Doors singularly undertook in order to free the band from the constraints/restrictions that had held back previous bands and performers from achieving what The Doors ultimately accomplished: the creative freedom and power to both shape and dictate not just how The Doors appeared onstage, but how the band were portrayed onscreen as well.
Combining early television appearances with original music films created by the band itself, many which have not been seen since their original release over forty years ago, it's a fascinating overview of a seminal, iconic band whose influence on music, art and social mores continues to be felt and heard a full forty-one years after the band's demise in 1973. Check it out!
What The Doors were able to accomplish becomes even more astounding when one considers what a short period of time the band had together, before its “magical ingredient”-Jim Morrison-left the band and Los Angeles itself for Paris, France…never to return.
Today, more than forty years after the band’s “poet full of lyrics” suddenly abandoned The Doors and effectively put an end to what remains one of the greatest bands in the history of rock, countless artists continue to marvel at how The Doors created-within such a short period of time-music that remains truly "magical." An essential ingredient to that magical Doors sound was the jazz-influenced drumming of John Densmore.
A native of Los Angeles, Densmore grew up playing piano, later acquiring his skills in drums/percussion for his school's marching band. At California State University in Northridge, Densmore expanded his knowledge of musical styles, which up to that point had consisted of jazz and classical only, by studying ethnic music under famed jazz cellist Fred Katz.
Meeting keyboardist Ray Manzarek and guitarist Robby Krieger at a transcendental meditation lecture in Los Angeles, Densmore joined The Doors shortly afterward in 1965. Today, Densmore is quick to acknowledge the important role that transcendental meditation-and in particular its teacher the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi-had upon The Doors early on in the band's musical development. Says Densmore, "Without Maharishi, there wouldn't be any Doors!"
Until the band dissolved in 1973, John Densmore remained an active and key member. After the band broke up, Densmore did anything but rest upon his laurels. With his now fellow ex-Doors band mate Robby Krieger, Densmore in 1973 founded The Butts Band, which released two critically acclaimed albums before they disbanded two years later.
Starting in the 1980s, Densmore made a radical departure from rock music, venturing into the world of dance, then theatre. Since then, Densmore has won numerous awards; among them an LA Weekly Theater Award for composing the music for the Tim Robbins-directed play "Methusalem."
John Densmore has also distinguished himself as an actor on both the stage ("Skins", a one-act play presented at New York's La Mama Theatre) and on various television programs.
Relaxing on an unseasonably warm afternoon in Los Angeles, Densmore shared his thoughts with Examiner:
You’ve been quoted as describing The Doors as this "great melting pot of well-studied musicians whose magical ingredient was this poet full of lyrics: Jim Morrison." It’s been something like forty-three years now, and the music of the Doors is arguably still as fresh and current today as when it was recorded all those years ago. Why do you think that the music of the Doors has withstood the test of time?
Maybe because we are this melting pot of jazz-which is what I brought-and Ray had the blues and classical, Robby played Flamengo and of course Jim (Morrison) read every book on the planet!
America is a land of immigrants, so we're this big jumbo stew that's trying to figure out how to live together like a country. Somehow we managed to create something better than the sum of its parts.
Of the many Doors fans that I’ve talked to, all have agreed that your drumming was surely another “magical ingredient” of that unique Doors sound! One fan I spoke to last year in Hollywood aptly described it as “Luminous!” It showcases so many different musical genres and styles, but its key ingredient appears to be jazz, with its unique signature timings. How has jazz affected your style of drumming, and what other genres and styles have provided a “well” so to speak, that you have drawn from?
Besides jazz, when I was in school I played in the marching band and I played in orchestra; I played tympani. So I had...classical music was my well-rounded education.
For the LA Times, I wrote a couple of pieces on the new conductor for the LA Philharmonic-Gustavo Dudamel-because I know about classical music as well. I think that made my drumming melodic, and gave me my sense of arranging songs. In the Doors, I was always mouthing off when arranging songs, "We need a bridge here!" or "We need a guitar solo!" or something. Intuitively, I knew. I think it's this broad background of classical music and jazz and John Philip Sousa. Everything having to do with rhythm.
You’ve now written two books about your experience of the time you’ve shared with this incredibly creative and original band, with your second book (“The Doors: Unhinged”) being released only last year. Now I and many of your fans already know what the Amazon book review critic said about your most recent book...
What do they say?
I'll read it for you! They described your latest book ("The Doors:Unhinged") thusly:“The subject of the book is the “greed gene,” and how that part of the human psyche propels us toward the accumulation of more and more wealth, even at the expense of our principles and friendships and the well being of society. A Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band, The Doors, fractured because of this. In his book, drummer John Densmore looks at the conflict between him and his band mates as they fought over the right to use The Doors’ name. At the same time, Densmore examines how this conflict mirrors and reflects a much larger societal issue: that no amount of money seems to be enough for even the wealthiest people.”
Wow! Well, there you go! Well yes, I do have two, not one but two, self-centered memoirs! But the first one was primarily about the history of the band and the second one was about this lawsuit I won. It was a hard thing to actually start a lawsuit against my band mates! Am I crazy?
It took courage, John! It took courage, conviction and love of the music.
I couldn't stop thinking about Jim's ghost, who didn't want to "Break on through to a new deodorant" or "Come on Buick, light my fire!"
Who could forget that?
He (Morrison) said, "Oh yeah! That's a great idea! I'll smash the car on television with a sledgehammer!" And my bandmates said, "Oh! I guess that's a 'NO!' then!"
I personally love your suggestion that if the Doors reunite for a possible “one-off" performance for charity, Eddie Vedder would be a logical choice for lead singer! Would you elaborate on why you think that Vedder would be a good choice for lead singer?
Well, let me back up and say that after Ray (Manzarek) passed, I called Robby and said, "Let's do a tribute concert for Ray!" We recently sent letters to a whole bunch of famous musicians.
But the problem is that if I name their names and they read about it while we're waiting to hear...I don't wanna kind of preempt anything. Eddie (Vedder) sang with us when we were inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and he's one of those rare breeds that can fill Jim's leather pants! There's a few others, but I don't want to name names...just yet.
Now my final question is gonna be a "wild card" question! This month, I went onto the Social Networks and posed this question: if you had one question-a "wild card" question-that you could ask John Densmore, what would that question be? John, here it is: they want to ask you about a rumor that was circulated some years back that you had spoken to this "Jim Morrison" guy that's living in Oregon, and that you had confirmed that he was THE Jim Morrison! Do you wanna address that question for our readers? They've heard about this rumor, and they want to hear the truth about it straight from YOU! Did that really happen, yes or no?
I think that Robby (Krieger) spoke to this guy, but he (Robby) asked him to do a DNA test and he wouldn't do it. Robby also spoke to some guy who supposedly said he was Jim's son, or something. That's all I know.
Whether he had a son, or whether he is alive...he's not alive, because I saw him kind of gain weight and destroy himself. I don't want to be a "downer" here, but you know. Everybody wants Jim alive, because we all loved him so much for his talent. But I don't like it overshadowing that he died from alcoholism. We just miss him so much that we kinda inflate these crazy rumors.