The Doors, formed in Los Angeles in 1965, were one of the most popular rock groups in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The band consisted of Jim Morrison (vocals), Ray Manzarek (keyboards), Robby Krieger (guitar), and John Densmore (drums). This highly influential band was also quite controversial, based largely on Morrison’s lyrics, charisma, and his unpredictable stage performances. Here is The Doors biography.
They released eight albums before disbanding in 1973, six of which came before Morrison’s untimely death in 1971. All six studio albums that featured Morrison on vocals reached the Top 10 on the Billboard album charts. These included The Doors (1967), Strange Days (1967), Waiting For The Sun (1968), The Soft Parade (1969), Morrison Hotel (1970), and L.A. Woman (1971). On the US singles charts, they had two number one hits, Light My Fire (1967) and Hello, I Love You (1968). They charted a total of 13 singles, with 8 of these making the Billboard Top 40.
The band’s name was taken from Aldous Huxley’s book The Doors of Perception, which was based on a quote from William Blake: “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is: infinite.”
The foundation of the band was laid in a July 1965 meeting at Venice Beach between Morrison and Manzarek. The two had attended the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, and knew each other informally from their time in school. At the meeting, Morrison said he had been writing songs, and sang Moonlight Drive to Manzarek. Morrison also told Manzarek “I was taking notes at a fantastic rock ’n’ roll concert going on in my head.”
Early on, the group played at a club in Los Angeles called the London Fog that didn’t attract much public attention. This allowed them the freedom to hone their sound, and experiment with developing some of their longer, signature pieces such as Light My Fire, The End, and When The Music’s Over.
Eventually, they moved to the more prestigious Whiskey A Go Go club, where they were discovered by Elektra Records president Jac Holzman and producer Paul Rothchild, who signed them to the Elektra label on August 18, 1966. Three days later, they were fired from the Whiskey A Go Go when Morrison spiced up The End with a graphic telling of the Oedipus myth, full of profanities. It was a sign of the times to come, as the group was dogged by various controversies and legal issues off and on for the next few years.
The Doors performed Light My Fire on the Ed Sullivan Show on 17 September 1967, the first of seven planned performances on the show. However, it turned out to also be the last. They were asked to remove the word “higher” from the song, and the group agreed to do so. However, when it came time to actually perform the song, Morrison sang the word anyway, either because he forgot out of nervousness or simply because he never intended to make the change. Accounts differ as to the actual reason.
Later that year, The Doors, and Morrison in particular, encountered more serious issues. On 9 December 1967, they played a concert in New Haven, Connecticut. Accounts differ as to what actually happened, but it cannot be disputed that on that night, Morrison became the first rock ’n’ roll performer to be arrested onstage during a concert. He was charged with inciting a riot, indecency, and public obscenity, although the charges were dropped later for a lack of evidence.
Their most controversial concert occurred on 1 March 1969 in Miami, Florida. Morrison missed a connecting flight to Miami and arrived an hour late and drunk, only to find the show was being held in a converted airplane hangar with no air conditioning and fans packed in so as to increase ticket sales. At one point, a fan jumped up on stage and poured a bottle of champagne on Morrison, prompting him to remove his shirt. He then called for the crowd to “get naked,” which many in the crowd proceeded to do. There were profanities hurled at the crowd, and some hand motions that could be considered obscene.
Several days later, a warrant was issued for his arrest, on charges that he exposed himself on stage, shouted obscenities to the crowd, simulated oral sex, and performed drunk. The other members of the band denied that he exposed himself. He was found guilty, but remained free on appeal. He died before the appeal could be resolved.
The following November, Morrison flew to Phoenix, Arizona for a Rolling Stones concert. During the flight, he and his traveling companion harassed airline staff, and Morrison found himself facing charges of public drunkenness and with interfering with the flight of an intercontinental aircraft. The charges were dropped the following April when the flight attendant reversed her testimony implicating Morrison.
The Doors final concert with Morrison took place on 12 December 1970 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He apparently suffered a breakdown on stage, which began in the middle of the set when he repeatedly slammed the microphone onto the stage floor until the platform underneath was destroyed. He proceeded to sit down on what was left of the stage and refused to perform. After the show, the other members got together and agreed Morrison’s performing days were over.
On 3 July 1971, Jim Morrison passed away in Paris, France. His girlfriend, Pamela Courson, found him in the bathtub of his Paris apartment, dead. The medical examiner listed the cause of death as heart failure, with no signs of foul play. By French law, no official autopsy is required in such a case, leaving many fans to question the actual cause of death. In fact, some fans have circulated the theory he faked his own death to escape the celebrity life. He was buried in the Poet’s Corner of Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris on 7 July. His headstone bears the Greek inscription “ΚΑΤΑ ΤΟΝ ΔΑΙΜΟΝΑ ΕΑΥΤΟΥ”, which is commonly interpreted as “true to his own spirit.”
The remaining members of the band continued to record, releasing two albums before disbanding in 1973. They had limited commercial success. Ray Manzarek died of cancer on 20 May 2013.
All the while The Doors were dealing with the above issues, their music continued to grow and inspire fans worldwide. Their debut album in 1967 is widely considered to be one of the seminal works in rock ’n’ roll. It featured two of their most famous pieces, Light My Fire and The End. The latter is known for Morrison’s spoken word passage in his retelling of the Greek myth of Oedipus.
Their next two albums, Strange Days and Waiting For The Sun, effectively used up the store of material they had worked up during their days playing at the London Fog and Whiskey A Go Go clubs. Both were well received, but not quite to the level as their debut album. Their fourth album, Soft Parade, revealed a band that had begun to experiment in the studio, and while a good album, it is generally considered to be the weakest in their catalog.
1970 saw the band return more to their roots with the release of Morrison Hotel and Absolutely Live. The former features more bluesy tunes that rock more than Soft Parade, while the latter showcases more of Morrison’s poetry and lyrical concepts, particularly in Celebration Of The Lizard, a conceptual word piece that had originally been planned for Soft Parade but abandoned at the time.
Their final studio album featuring Morrison on vocals was L.A. Woman, released in 1971. This album is considered their finest work since their debut in 1967. It features the classic Riders On The Storm, as well as the title track where Morrison reveals the word jumble of his name, “Mr. Mojo Risin”.
Post-Morrison, the rest of the band released two albums, Other Voices (1971) and Full Circle (1972). Both are decent albums, but they lacked the fire and energy that Morrison gave the band, and as a result were only marginally successful.
Musically, The Doors had a unique sound. With no bass player, Manzarek’s keyboard assumed that role, and more, particularly live. It must be noted a bass player was used on some of their studio recordings. Krieger’s guitar work is excellent, with the ability to go from blues to a psychedelic “slippery” sound at will. Of particular note is the amazing interplay between Manzarek’s keyboard and Krieger’s guitar. It’s almost as if the two instruments were as one. Densmore’s drumming pulls it all together, driving it forward, and keeping the music from becoming self-indulgent.
Where to Start
Jim Morrison considered himself first a poet, and then a singer. While some of his lyrics and poetry can seem a bit self-indulgent, he was capable of writing some lyrics that are to this day considered rock classics. A careful listen of the entire Doors catalog is well worth the effort, both for the keyboard-guitar interplay and for Morrison’s lyrics.
Despite the controversies and legal issues, or possibly because of them, Jim Morrison and The Doors have played a large role in rock ’n’ roll music history, with their importance being just as great today as it was during their heyday in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. If you are not familiar with their music, please, please, please get them a try. I personally would start with their debut album and proceed from there. They have always been one of my favorite groups, and I think you’ll come to agree with me on them.
Click here for The Doors album discography.
Click here for The Doors singles discography.
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