It seems as though more people know about Jim Morrison than his band. It’s only natural, too, considering the notorious Lizard King was arrested multiple times, lived a mysterious life, and ultimately joined the 27 Club. But the truth is that all four members of the band – lyricist and vocalist Jim Morrison, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore – were raw, hypnotic, and fearless.
So, folks, it’s high time we give The Doors – as a whole – the homage they deserve. Let’s go through the conception, evolution, and highs and lows of a band that was only active for eight years, but made six albums (at least while Morrison was still around) and managed to cause quite a stir in the process.
A Chance Meeting on Venice Beach
In July of 1965, just as the entire country was dealing with the escalating Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, and a cultural revolution, two film student graduates met on Venice Beach. The chance meeting between Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek led to a conversation about songwriting.
The two hadn’t seen each other since they graduated that spring. Manzarek recalled (in a 1998 interview) that he asked Morrison what he had been up to. “Well, I’ve been living up on Dennis Jacobs’ rooftop, consuming a bit of LSD and writing songs,” the soon-to-be Lizard King said.
The Moment of Inception
After some convincing, Manzarek persuaded the rather shy Morrison to sing him a song. “He sat down on the beach, dug his hands into the sand, and the sand started streaming out in little rivulets,” Manzarek recalled. Morrison then closed his eyes and sang, in a “haunted whisper kind of voice,” the song Moonlight Drive.
Manzarek liked what he heard, regardless of the fact that he found it “spooky.” It was at that moment that they decided to start a band. So, they ditched film in favor of music, and by the end of that year, they became the keyboardist and frontman of a band that would come to represent America’s cultural revolution.
Fun fact: The name of the band was inspired by Aldous Huxley’s book, The Doors of Perception.
Moonlight Drive: Their First Song as a Band
When the four guys first came together to rehearse at a friend’s garage behind a Santa Monica bus station, they played their first number: Moonlight Drive. As Manzarek recalled in 2011, “We all looked at each other and went, ‘Man, what have we just done? Oh, my. Are we allowed to do that on this planet?”
They all just nodded their heads, and the rest is history. “That was the birth of the Doors. Right there.” When it came to recording their first album, Moonlight Drive was an appropriate starting point. But now they were in the studio…
It Was Too Dark for the Debut Album
Krieger told People in 2016 that they were unfamiliar with the studio setting and thus unable to recapture the magic of that first rehearsal in the garage. “It just sounded too mysterious and kind of dark,” he said.
So, what they did was rearrange it for the second album (1967’s Strange Days) and made it “a little more wild.” The original version – the very first recording they ever did as a band – was shelved and lost for a long time, until it resurfaced on a box set in 1997.
Their Debut Album Broke on Through to Other Side
The Doors’ 1967 self-titled debut album can quite easily be called a masterpiece. And the inception of the album came right after the band was fired from their house band gig at the Sunset Strip’s Whisky A-Go-Go. What was the last straw? Their vulgar riff on Oedipus Rex during The End.
It was a blessing in disguise, though, considering it led to their first album. Lyricist and vocalist Jim Morrison, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore hit Sunset Sound Recorders. Between August and September 1996, the boys recorded their first album. “The first album is basically the Doors live,” Manzarek later stated.
Light My Fire: The First Song Robby Krieger Ever Wrote
The guitarist might just have had the best form of beginner’s luck in rock history. The 20-year-old hit a home run on his first-ever songwriting try when he composed Light My Fire. Up until then, Morrison was the one writing the songs.
“But we realized we didn’t have enough originals, so Jim said, ‘Why don’t you write some? Why do I have to do all the work!?,” Krieger revealed in a 2016 interview. When he asked the frontman what he should write about, Morrison said, “Write about something universal. Write about something that will last, not just about today.”
The Song Started Out Folksy
Krieger recalled how he thought about either earth, air, fire or water, inspired by the Rolling Stones’ Play With Fire. So, the guitarist settled on fire. He spent several days on the track, determined to “write something more adventurous.” The song initially had a folk-rock sound, leading some of the guys to compare it to a Sonny and Cher-type of song.
Morrison, however, saw its potential and contributed some extra lyrics. Morrison’s contribution was the second verse about the funeral pyre. Kreiger remembered asking him, “Why is it always about death?” But Morrison told him to trust him – that “it’ll be perfect.” (Quite the prophet he was.)
Jim Morrison’s Childhood Was Not What You Would Expect
Morrison’s upbringing tends to surprise even hardcore fans of the band. Unlike other rebels of the time, this lead singer actually grew up in a stable home with two parents (his father was a naval aviator). At the age of five, the young Lizard King had a life-changing experience.
While riding through the New Mexico desert, he saw the fresh aftermath of a car accident. He later described seeing the bodies of two Native Americans on the side of the road. His family said he “exaggerated” the incident, but Morrison said it was “the first time I tasted fear.”
The Go-Go Days
After four months of playing regularly at the London Fog nightclub, The Doors got a residency gig at the Whiskey A-Go-Go in May of 1966. They would open for some of the biggest musical acts of the time, like Buffalo Springfield, Them, and the Chamber Brothers.
It was during their first show there that Morrison started ad-libbing during a song – something he was later known for. It was his ad-libbing and the band’s willingness to go along with him that led to the explicit version of The End’s part about the famous play Oedipus Rex.
They Provided the Soundtrack to Ford’s Training Film
Not many people know that before recording their debut, the Doors made the backing music for a Ford Motor Company training film. In early 1966, the band was dropped from Columbia Records. Without any representation and in need of cash, they took a simple gig at Parthenon Pictures.
There, they provided incidental music for Ford Motor Company’s customer service training film called Love Thy Customer. Just try to picture the scenario: Morrison and the guys piling into a cramped screening room at Rampart Studios, watching the 25-minute clip on a small monitor.
They Got $200 for the One-Day Gig
They were then tasked with composing a soundtrack, basically on the spot, creating music as the scenes flickered past. The finished product included what later became the songs I Looked at You, Build Me a Woman, and The Soft Parade. Morrison reportedly contributed percussion and additional sound effects.
The single day of work earned the band $200. The training film was thought to be lost for decades, but Love Thy Customer was joyfully discovered in the UCLA film vaults in 2002. In 2014, it was released on The Doors’ DVD R-Evolution. The original soundtrack session tapes have yet to be located.
The First “Rock Billboard” in History
Even once the recording sessions for The Doors’ debut album were completed by the end of the summer of ’66, Elektra Record’s head, Jac Holzman, waited until January of ’77 to release it. And his promotional scheme was one of a kind.
He decided to put up a massive billboard above the Sunset Strip. Up until that point, billboards were traditionally used to promote films, food, cigarettes, and other products. This was the first time a rock band appeared on one. The sign read: “BREAK ON THROUGH WITH AN ELECTRIFYING NEW ALBUM.”
Hey Mr. DJ, Play Our Songs
Below the script was Joel Brodsky’s arresting image of the band, which was also seen on the album sleeve’s back cover. The sign sat next to the Chateau Marmont – walking distance from the club scene. The cost of such a promotion? $1,200 a month.
Holzman was assured that the sign would catch the attention of local D.J.s on their way to work, who would then be intrigued and play the music on the radio. Soon enough, rock billboards started popping up on the Strip and around town.
Getting Banned From the Ed Sullivan Show
It’s no news that Morrison and the Doors couldn’t care less about authority figures, but one of the most popular televised incidents happened on The Ed Sullivan Show. After the rehearsal, Sullivan told The Doors that they were great, but that they “ought to smile a little more.”
Then, while in their dressing room, a producer of the show came to ask the band to change the lyric of Light My Fire: “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher.” The band agreed, but Morrison steadfastly refused. He sang the song as-is – no alterations. They were then told never to return, to which Morrison replied, “Hey, man. We just did the Sullivan show.”
An “Open Sore” of a Childhood
The famed lyric “Father, I want to kill you,” from The End was inspired by Oedipus, but the theme was a lot more personal for Morrison. Only rarely did he speak of his childhood, but when he did, he described it as “an open sore” – a time in his life that he would rather not revisit.
George Stephen Morrison, his father, was a high-ranking career naval officer and the one who gave his son the middle name “Douglas” after General Douglas MacArthur. He hoped his son would follow in his footsteps. If his father wasn’t on a tour of duty, he was home with little patience for youthful disobedience.
Don’t Upset Daddy General
According to Morrison’s younger brother Andy, he, his brother, and their sister Anne were routinely subjected to their dad’s military punishment – what they referred to as “dressing down.” When Admiral Morrison learned of his son’s desire to be a rock singer, he wrote him a letter.
He urged his son “to give up any idea of singing or any connection with a music group because of what I consider to be a complete lack of talent in this direction.” Afterward, Morrison cut off all contact with his father, and the two never saw each other again.
His Parents Weren’t Actually Dead
During a press bio for their debut album, Morrison took the opportunity to comment on his own history, putting the label “Deceased” when asked about his family. For a while, even his close friends thought he was an orphan.
It turns out, Morrison didn’t just split from his father, but from his whole family. His brother only found out that Morrison was in a band when a classmate showed him The Doors’ album cover to say how similar he looked to the lead singer.
Until the Bitter End
Their mother Clara tried to contact her son through Elektra Records, but the rockstar barred her from visiting him backstage at a gig in Washington, D.C. (however he gave her a front-row seat for the concert).
As for Admiral Morrison, he never spoke publicly about his son, that is, until the end of his life. “We look back on him with great delight,” he said in the documentary When You’re Strange before passing away in 2008. “He knew I didn’t think rock music was the best goal for him. Maybe he was trying to protect us.”
The Soft Parade Packs a Hard Punch
The group’s fourth studio album, The Soft Parade, came out in 1969. And despite its gentle title, the album’s experimental and rambunctious sound almost broke the band. Still, it was a critical and commercial success.
Morrison was still battling his own demons with his favorite vices, forcing Krieger to take over most of the songwriting and some of the vocals (Runnin’ Blue). Thanks to their third-highest hit single, Touch Me, the album went platinum. Yet it didn’t impress those in the U.K., and their final two albums relied more on blues and jazz, like their previous albums.
Their Producer Walked Out of Their Last Album
L.A. Woman was The Doors’ sixth and final album with Morrison. Up until the album’s recording sessions, the band had a music producer who truly cared about the music he was making. But by November 1970, Paul Rothchild, wasn’t as impressed with the band’s music.
When Rothchild was given a first taste of L.A. Woman, when the band only had a few nearly completed tracks, the producer was underwhelmed. He referred to Riders of the Storm as “cocktail music,” and after listening to Love Her Madly, he got up and walked out of the studio for good.
Morrison Recorded Vocals in His Bathroom
After losing Rothchild, the band returned to its creative roots. The place John Densmore said was the room they “had rehearsed in forever” was a small room covered in beer bottles, cables, instruments, a jukebox and a pinball machine.
“Our music seeped into the walls. We were very comfortable. It was home,” Densmore articulated. As sound engineer and producer Bruce Botnick remembered it, it was cramped, and they had to all pack in there “like sardines.” And since the bathroom was acoustically ideal, Morrison often recorded his vocals in there via his Electrovoice 676-G stage microphone. He even removed the door to keep communication with his bandmates.
They Used a Secret Bass Player
Instead of having a bassist, the Doors famously used Manzarek’s left hand on the Fender Rhodes Piano Bass keyboard. The role originated out of necessity as they tried unsuccessfully to hire a bass player. “We auditioned one bass player and we sounded like the Rolling Stones,” Manzarek explained.
“Then we auditioned another bass player and we sounded like the Animals.” So, they went without one. “We were determined to do almost anything to sound different,” Densmore asserted. But when it came to the band’s live sound, Rothchild wanted something stronger – the Rhodes wasn’t enough.
Larry Knetchel’s Work Went Uncredited
Rothschild went ahead and quietly hired Larry Knechtel – a legend in the Los Angeles session players scene. Knechtel had already played for the Beach Boys, Elvis Presley and the Byrds before he (temporarily) joined forces with The Doors.
The bass player was hired to overdub bass lines on six of their debut album’s 11 tracks, including Light My Fire and Soul Kitchen. His work, however, went uncredited at the time, and it took years to make his contributions known. Densmore clarified in a 2015 Facebook that Knechtel wasn’t credited because he simply “duplicated Ray’s left-hand bass lines exactly.”
The Showstopping End
The End was the band’s showstopper – the masterpiece that was both music and theater. It was reportedly exhausting for Morrison. Performing it in front of a live audience was challenging enough but summoning that kind of energy in a recording studio took a real effort from the band, the producer and the engineer, Bruce Botnick.
When they first recorded the track, Morrison made a point to set the mood in the studio. “The lights had been dimmed and the candles were burning right next to Jim, whose back was to the control room,” Rothchild recalled.
Come on Baby, Put Out the Fire
Going even further to set the mood, Morrison took some LSD. At first, it had a positive effect on his performance, but according to Krieger, he became “too high to continue the session.” The other three decided to continue work the next day; Morrison had a different idea.
“He trashed the studio after we did ‘The End,’” Krieger said. After everyone else went home, Morrison was snuck back into the studio and “sprayed the place down with a foaming fire extinguisher.” Apparently, in his drugged-out state, he thought the studio was on fire.
Light My Fire: The Song That Almost Became a Buick Ad
After their 1968 European tour ended (and Morrison hung around in London with girlfriend Pamela Courson), representatives from Buick contacted the band. They offered them $75,000 to license the song Light My Fire for an ad campaign for the new Opel model.
It was going to feature the slogan, “Come on Buick, light my fire!” Manzarek later said that he thought it was “an interesting idea.” The band had vowed early on to split all profits as well as decisions equally, but Morrison was out gallivanting with his chick. And they needed to give an answer fast.
They Made a Deal With the Devil but Without Morrison
The rest of the band, as well as the road manager Bill Siddons, weren’t so pleased with Morrison’s lack of regard for telling his crew his plans to stay in London. So, they went ahead and signed the deal. Lawyer Max Fink – Morrison’s power of attorney – signed the contract with the three other band members.
Morrison was furious when he heard of their Buick deal that November when he came home. “Jim told us he couldn’t trust us anymore,” Densmore told Rolling Stone in 2013. He accused them of making a deal with the devil. The dramatic lead singer then threatened to smash a Buick onstage with a sledgehammer.
The Ad Was Scrapped in the End
He ranted and pleaded with the higher-ups, demanding that the contract be revoked. “They couldn’t take it back, they’d already agreed to it,” Siddons recalled. Buick’s radio, TV and print campaigns were already underway. In the end, and luckily for Morrison, the Buick ad was ultimately scrapped.
While they claimed they decided to go in a different direction, it was probably the Lizard King and his fiery rage that turned them off the idea. After this incident, Morrison’s relationship with the rest of the band was strictly business. He stated: “I don’t have partners anymore; I have associates.”
Manzarek Rejected The Doors of the 21st Century
The truth is Morrison wasn’t the only anti-commercial artist in the band. Drummer Densmore was just as hostile towards commercialism or “selling out.” It’s what led to court proceedings between him and the surviving Doors.
In the early 2000s, Manzarek and Krieger tried to rejuvenate the band – dubbing themselves “The Doors of the 21st Century.” But Densmore and Morrison’s estate sued Manzarek and Krieger to stop them from using the name anymore. Densmore won the case. He also rejected a $15 million deal with Cadillac to use their music, even though Krieger and Manzarek were on board.
L’America Was Meant to Be to Be a Soundtrack
L’America was recorded one year before L.A. Woman was recorded. It was supposed to be a soundtrack for a psychedelic 1970’s drama called Zanbriskie Point, produced by Italy’s Michelangelo Antonioni. The Doors enjoyed playing it, but Antonioni wasn’t as enthusiastic.
It was reportedly more than he could handle when he heard it in its entirety. The filmmaker spoke about it in 2011, admitting that he found it so loud that it threw him against the wall. He then thanked the band and fled.
Love Her Madly: An Homage to Duke Ellington
The track Love Her Madly was inspired by a fight between Robbie Krieger and his future wife, Lynn. Krieger explained in the Mr. Mojo Rising documentary that every time they would argue, they would storm out of the house and slam the doors so loudly the house would basically shake.
As for the song title, it was a reference to jazz legend Duke Ellington who would famously sign off, “We love you madly.” Since all the Doors members were familiar with jazz music, they all got the reference.
The New Haven Arrest: Morrison Got Maced
One of Morrison’s arrests occurred on stage during a performance in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1967. Before the concert, he was making out with a fan and one police officer didn’t understand that he was the lead singer of the band that was about to perform.
Ray Manzarek recalled how the officer told Morrison to leave, to which he replied, “Eat it.” After another warning, and another rebellious comment from the Lizard King, the cop maced Morrison. The concert was delayed as a result.
Morrison Went on a Cop-Hating Rant On Stage
Morrison needed to recover before hitting the stage, during which the cop apologized to the Doors’ manager. Morrison was obviously angry, but the rest of the band went on with the show according to plan. Morrison wasn’t going to let it slide, though, and went on a tirade during Back Door Man.
He referred to the cop as a “little blue pig” and even warned the audience: “I’m just like you guys, man — he did it to me, they’ll do it to you.” According to witnesses, Morrison was “very intoxicated.”
A Domino Effect of Arrests
Eventually, he was taken into custody, after which a small riot ensued. That riot then led to 13 more arrests. And in a domino effect, that then led to Morrison being charged with inciting a riot, indecency, and public obscenity.
Of course, this wasn’t the only time Morrison faced law enforcement – and what he called police misconduct – on stage. Another famous incident occurred in Miami in 1969. By then, Morrison’s alcohol abuse was on another level. Again, Manzarek recalled yet another wild night in an interview…
The Miami Arrest: Morrison’s Version of The Living Theater
Manzarek told NPR what happened at the Miami concert, explaining that Morrison was basically trying to do his own version of The Living Theater (an experimental theater group that would confront the audience).
Morrison wanted to show his Florida fan what psychedelic West Coast “shamanism and confrontation is all about.” Early in the concert, he started taunting the crowd and swearing at the audience. He took off his shirt and mimed “an adult act” act on guitarist Krieger. Legend has it that Morrison exposed his private parts, but…
He Never Took Off His Pants
According to Manzarek, witnesses “hallucinated. I swear, the guy never did it. He never whipped it out.” There you have it folks, the guitarist has disproven the long-time rumor. A few days after the concert, a warrant for Morrison’s arrest was issued by the Dade County Sheriff’s Office.
The crime? Lewd and lascivious behavior, indecent exposure, drunkenness, and profanity. As reported on History, most of the witnesses for the prosecution were “somehow connected to the police or the district attorney’s office.” Morrison was offered a plea deal – to perform a free concert – but he rejected it. He was convicted, fined $500, and sentenced to six months in prison.
They Have Two Post-Morrison Albums
The ride-or-die Doors fans, who continued to listen to the band post-Morrison, know that after 1971’s L.A. Woman, the band released two more albums. 1971’s Other Voices and the following year’s Full Circle were nowhere near as appreciated as their previous albums.
The Other Voices recording sessions took place in June 1971, while Morrison was still living in Paris. He was then found dead on July 3rd. But the band moved forward anyway, with Krieger and Manzarek taking on the lead vocals. The trio went on an American tour and then regrouped in 1972 to record Full Circle.
The Post-Morrison Years
The Doors disbanded not long after that, though they have reunited for several projects over the years. The most famous one was their 1993 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. Manzarek passed away in 2013 at age 74 after losing a long battle with bile duct cancer.
Krieger and Densmore are the two remaining Doors members, and they came together in February of 2016 to honor Ray Manzarek. The event was called “A Celebration for Ray Manzarek” and all the proceeds went to “Stand Up to Cancer.”
Manzarek Despised the Biopic
In 1991, The Doors’ story was made into a film by Oliver Stone, starring Val Kilmer as Morrison and Meg Ryan as Courson. Manzarek wasn’t a happy camper when he saw the film; he strongly condemned how his late friend was portrayed.
He told the L.A. Times: “Oliver Stone has assassinated Jim Morrison.” What was so bad? Well, Manzarek hated how Morrison was portrayed as “a violent, drunken fool.” When he walked out of the theater, Manzarek was asking himself, “Geez, who was that jerk?”
Morrison Wasn’t a Violent Dude
Manzarek also felt that Stone didn’t understand the “artistic vision” of his former band. “The film comes from the entirely wrong philosophical base. The Doors were about idealism and the ’60s quest for freedom and brotherhood.”
The way he saw it, the film was based in madness and chaos. His description of this violent dude is referring to the scenes of the film that were based on rumors of Morrison being violent toward his friends – rumors that Manzarek claimed never happened: “Jim didn’t light Pam’s closet on fire. He didn’t throw a TV set at me… That was totally made up. And Jim never quit film school. He graduated from UCLA.”
The Apple of Jim’s Eye
Pamela Courson has been mentioned a few times in the article, so it wouldn’t harm anyone to add a little information about the love story between Jim and Pam. As you already know, Morrison was a sex symbol in “free love” era of the late ‘60s.
But it’s easy to forget that throughout his career, he had one woman by his side: Pamela Courson. The two met at the London Fog when he was 22 and she was 19. They became a couple in 1965, though their love story wasn’t a fairytale by any means.
Jim and Pam’s Dark Fairytale
Their six-year relationship was riddled with mutual drug use and infidelities abuse. It’s been reported that Morrison had affairs with other high-profile artists of the era, including Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane and the singer Nico.
He and rock critic Patricia Kenneally held a Celtic Pagan marriage, which took place while Morrison and Courson were dating. In one heated argument, Courson hit Morrison and locked herself in a room. The rumor was that he set the room on fire, but as we know now, Manzarek claimed this never happened.
They Both Joined the 27 Club
After Morrison died at the age of 27 in 1971, so did Courson. She died at the same age in 1974. Morrison’s death is still considered a mystery to this day. On the morning of July 3, 1971, Morrison was found lifeless in the bathtub of his Paris apartment, which he shared with Courson.
Courson reported that Morrison was feeling sick the previous night, so he took a hot bath. She went back to sleep, only to find him dead in the water hours later. The cause of death was later listed as heart failure, but no autopsy was ever performed.
What Do You Think Happened?
His body was wrapped in dry ice and plastic and laid for 72 hours, before being buried in the city’s famous Père Lachaise Cemetery. Ever since, rumors and conspiracy theories have circulated regarding his death. One popular theory is that the couple had been using heroin, and he overdosed.
Sam Bernett, who wrote The End: Jim Morrison, said Morrison did overdose on heroin, but that he died in the bathroom of the Rock & Roll Circus nightclub. According to Bernett, the drug dealers then carried Morrison to his apartment and put his body in the tub.
What do you think happened?