Formed Los Angeles, 1965
"I am interested in anything about revolt, disorder, chaos, especially activity that seems to
have no other meaning." Jim Morrison In 1965
Jim Morrison (vocals) and Ray Manzarek (keyboards/keyboardbass) were at film school in LA,
working on projects together, when they realized they also shared an interest in music. After
the classically trained keyboard player began to add Morrison's poetry to a blues soundtrack,
they joined garage rockers (Ray's brothers) Rick & The Ravens. However, they soon
discovered a more inspired backing from two buddies who had previously been employed by
The Psychedelic Rangers. RobbieKreiger (guitar) had been raised on a diet of Chicago blues
and this, coupled with flamenco-style guitar tuition and exposure to R&B radio, had helped him
to forge a unique style, while John Densmore (drums) was a would-be beatnik frequenting
clubs such as Shelley Manne's Hole, listening to John Coltrane and the rants of Allen
Ginsberg. Taking the name The Doors from Aldous Huxley's The Doors Of Perception, the
quartet put a year into rehearsal and songwriting, which led to bookings on Sunset Strip and
eventually a residency at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go.
Throughout 1966, The Doors played alongside the rising stars of the day, including The Byrds
and Van Morrison's Them. The two Morrisons became close, jamming together and
comparing notes on blues standards.
In the early months, Morrison tended to slink around in the shadows with his back to the
crowd, but soon his acid-influenced musings inspired him to strike more heroic poses, such as
using the mike stand as a penile extension. This is not to say that the music was of lesser
interest, though, and tracks like the cover of Howlin' Wolf's "Back Door Man" were of sufficient
quality to impress the LA cognoscenti. Love's Arthur Lee recommended that Jac Holzman,
head of Elektra Records, should witness the small-scale performances while he had the
chance, and Holzman had to fend off Frank Zappa and Columbia Records in his bid to sign
the band. With the addition of bass player Doug Labahn, The Doors (1967) was hailed by a
billboard on Sunset Boulevard - the first of its kind for a rock act. Holzman had discovered a
hit-making team who, having won the affections of LA's alternative society, had set their sights
on the FM radio audience. Much has been made of The Doors' dramatic delivery of poetic
lyrics set to a classic rock beat, but from the beginning they were open to compromise, editing
epics such as "Light My Fire" for single release. And though The Doors were mixing with the
monarchs of drug culture, Jefferson Airplane, and sharing a press agent with The Beatles,
who were entering their Maharishi phase, they remained largely untouched by the escapist
philosophies embraced by lesser 'Summer Of Love' merchants.
By Christmas of 1967 they had emerged from Sunset Sound Studios with another strong
album, Strange Days (1967),which did not stray far from the territory explored on the debut,
though a more sophisticated style was becoming apparent. Ballads such as the title track and
"Unhappy Girl" rested next to the more compelling single releases, "Love Me Two Times" and
"People Are Strange", while the album also provided a showcase for some of Morrison's
poetry in the shape of "Horse Latitudes". These songs confirmed that The Doors were not
viewing life through the rose-tinted granny glasses of peace and love - their salvation came in
the form of sex and death.
Labahn was replaced on bass by Leroy Vinegar for the more understated Waiting For The
Sun (1968), which nevertheless returned them to the #1 spot in the US album charts and gave
them a second chart-topping single in "Hello I Love You". It was also noteworthy for its
inclusion of the schismatic anthem, "Five To One", and the chant on the futility of war, "The
Unknown Soldier". A version of the latter song was captured by a British TV crew, and
became one of the highlights of the documentary The Doors Are Open.
The Doors consolidated their accomplishments on record with a succession of hectic tours,
but Morrison in particular was tiring of their contradictory image -shamanistic leaders to some
and teenybop idols to others. Elektra's original biography quoted Morrison's interests as
'revolt, disorder, chaos and any activity that seems to have no meaning' and, as the touring
progressed, he backed this up with ever more negative behaviour. He soaked himself in
alcohol and exposed his companions to temperamental outbursts: he blighted recording
sessions by destroying equipment, and disrupted live shows with self-indulgent displays of
mock sex and profanities.
Yet The Doors' musical creativity did not suffer as much as might have been expected. The
Soft Parade (1969) mayhave been their weakest effort, but attempts to emulate the
experimentation employed by contemporaries such as The Beach Boys and Love sometimes
paid off, notybly on Kreiger's "Running Blue", where a horn section was given free rein to
create animprovised jazz backing.
However, the finished album was far from being the group's Smile or Sergeant Pepper, and
Morrison's frustration was apparent in a series of live fiascos, which culminated in March 1969
with what was to become known as the'Flasher Incident'. The concert, in an overcrowded
Florida auditorium, was seen as the beginning of the end for Morrison. The police were
probably the only ones sober enough to have seen anything but the charge of 'lewd and
lascivious behaviour' resultedin a string of legal battles which were to haunt Morrison until his
The group retreated to the studio and returned to form with Morrison Hotel (1970). Producer
Paul Rothchild recommended that they adopt a more instinctive approach, spending less time
searching for the perfect take. The impression was of a band returning to their roots and it was
fitting that their playing was complemented by some raw blues bass from the legendary
Lonnie Mack. The more spartan sound was an unqualified success and the fears raised by the
over-orchestration of the previous album were confounded.
The furor caused by the Miami bust had resulted in an enforced break in touring, but The
Doors had made enough tenable recordings in the concert halls to justify a live album and
Absolutely Live(1970) went some way towards capturing The Doors' liveexperience. While
there was little of the hair-raising mid-60s material in its grooves, the medley of "Alabama
Song", "Back Door Man" and "Five To One" was a fitting finale.
The Doors' recording renaissance continued apace with L.A. Woman (1971), which this time
featured Jerry Scheff as bassist. This collection of visceral songs was an artistic success, but
the band's leader was growing distant from his fellow Doors and atthe turn of the decade they
embarked on a tour of the Southern US which was to be their last. As Morrison's live
performance became more erratic and his off-stage persona more introverted, it became an
unspoken certainty that he was to leave.
In March 1971, Morrison and his girlfriend Pamela moved to Paris with the intention of starting
a new life there. The couple were both dogged by drug and alcohol problems, and their stay
reached a grievous conclusion on July 3, when the 27-year-old singer wasfound dead in his
bathtub. Speculation abounded as to the exact cause of death - no autopsy was performed
but it seems likely that Morrison's body finally gave in to the rigours of Morrison's Nietzschean
belief in 'delicious ecstasy'.
Morrison had collapsed when he removed himself from the support of the band, and the
remaining Doors could not survive without their leader, though they kept the name alive for
two more albums, Other Voices (1971) and Full Circle(1972). Titles such as"I'm Horny And I'm
Stoned" would not have seemed out of place in a Spinal Tap pastiche, and it was not long
before they went their separate ways, Manzarek to concentrate on solo efforts, while his
partners formed The Butts Band.
The surviving Doors were drawn together once more to record An American Prayer
(1978).Pre-empting The Beatles by almost twenty years, they took a selection of poetry which
Morrison had committed to tape on his final birthday and spent eighteen months recording
backing music for the album he had dreamed of making. The album was a valid project, even
though Morrison's original intention was to compile an orchestral backing for this material, but
The Doors' action was seen by many, including Paul Rothchild, as tantamount to artistic rape,
and the resulting instrumental meanderings lacked direction.
After the Oedipal nightmare of "The End" was employed as a theme song for the 1979 movie
Apocalypse Now, The Doors were held in near-mythical regard throughout the 80s. No One
Here Gets Out Alive, the memoirs of Morrison's young confidant DannySugarman, acted as a
blueprint for countless rockers who wished to emulate their benighted hero, while the music
inspired countless bands like The Stranglers, Echo & The Bunnymen and The Cult.
They have continued with musical ventures such as Manzarek's version of Carmina Burana
and production work for bands such as X. Tribute bands have attempted to re-create the
original magic for cult audiences across the globe, but as far as The Doors themselves are
concerned, the music is truly over.