The Doors drummer, John Densmore, was born in Los Angeles, December 1st, 1944. Densmore developed an early interest in jazz drumming and played in the Santa Monica High School band, and he was also an underage visitor to the jazz clubs on the Sunset Strip where he watched the bands and some of the best drummers of the day.
In 1965 Densmore joined the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s third street mediation center in Santa Monica. At the time Densmore was in the band The Psychedelic Rangers which also boasted guitar player Robby Krieger. Ray Manzarek was also a member of the meditation center and when he learned Densmore was a drummer he approached him about being in a band but told him he’d call in a few months because the time wasn’t right. That impressed Densmore who thought, “that’s pretty cosmic, far out”. Manzarek did call and Densmore joined the nascent Doors. When Rick Manczarek quit the band Densmore suggested his Psychedelic Rangers bandmate Robby Krieger to play guitar in The Doors.
When Densmore was integrated into The Doors his drumming accentuated and punctuated Jim Morrison’s poetic statements, and with the rise of “Light My Fire,” which although written by Krieger was a group collaboration, Densmore suggested providing a Latin beat and the distinctive crack of the drum sticks at the beginning of the song. “Light My Fire” is a true collaborative song that prominently featured the musicianship of all the members of The Doors.
Densmore’s time in The Doors wasn’t all rock ‘n’ roll life in the fast lane success. As Jim Morrison delved deeper into alcoholism, Densmore became more frustrated with the recording process and Morrison’s antics and quit the band on several occasions, only to come back within a day or two.
After Morrison’s death in 1971, Densmore, Krieger and Manzarek put out two more albums as The Doors, “Other Voices” and “Full Circle” (which have recently been released in CD format), but they found that without Morrison as a foil and focus they argued with each other and they officially closed The Doors. In 1973, Densmore and Krieger formed The Butts Band, an early reggae influenced group, but the Butts Band also put out only two albums and disbanded in 1975.
Densmore developed an interest in theatre, developing and acting in his one-man play “Skins” which talked about his time as a drummer and as a member of The Doors. He appeared in plays as diverse as “Methusalem” (directed by Tim Robbins), “Band Dreams,” “Bebop,” and “The King of Jazz.” He also started producing plays such as, “Be Bop a Lula” with Adam Ant. He also produced and acted in the play, “Waiting for Jack.” He debuted on TV as himself in the TV show “Square Pegs” and has appeared in feature films such as “Dudes” directed by Penelope Spheeris, “Get Crazy” in which he appeared with Malcom McDowell, and of course in Oliver Stones “The Doors”. Along with Mark Wahlberg and ex-wife Julia he produced the film, “Juvies,” which documented the lives of several inmates of a juvenile detention center. More recently he’s produced the feature film “Window of Opportunity” which he’s developed from a stage play (see related articles below).
Densmore was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Doors in January 1993.
In 2000, Densmore appeared on the VH-1 show Storytellers in which musicians told how they created some of their best known works. The Doors appeared with various singers filling in for Morrison, and this appearance resulted in the CD “Stoned Immaculate” and reinvigorated Manzarek and Krieger’s interest in appearing and playing together. After an appearance as The Doors of the 21st Century, Densmore objected to their use of the name The Doors without unanimous consent, as was their practice that was documented prior to Jim Morrison leaving for Paris. Densmore in conjunction with Morrison’s estate sued Krieger and Manzarek eventually winning the ruling. The case left Densmore, Krieger, and Manzarek with hard feelings on both sides and they avoided appearing or recording together for many years. Before Ray Manzarek’s death in May 2013 Densmore called Manzarek and they made their peace, and Krieger and Densmore have since appeared together at events like The Day of The Doors.
Densmore has also developed an interest in writing, first his memoir of his time with The Doors, Riders On the Storm, and more recently The Doors Unhinged: Jim Morrison’s Legacy on Trial, which detailed his lawsuit against Manzarek and Krieger. Densmore has also been interested in philanthropic and charitable works lending his name and talents to organizations that vary from Los Angeles alternative schools to charities for wild horses and the Occupy L.A movement.
Densmore also has been keeping busy musically, as he formed the band, Tribal Jazz, and released a CD, “Reza-The Ray of The Wine.” He’s also sat in with contemporaries, such as Santana and newcomers like Skrillex.
Originally published December 1, 2015.