Densmore was born on this day in 1944
The Doors influential drummer John Densmore turns 75 today
John Densmore is one of Rock’s most unique drummers, he has developed a personal technique in which he blends among other styles Jazz, Tribal beats and Rock. With The Doors he became famous and scored several hits during the late 1960’s. We look back at his life and career
Early Life and The Doors
John was born John Paul Densmore on December 1st, 1944 in Los Angeles, California, he learned music from an early age, starting by the piano and later took up drums/percussion for the marching band at his school. He also played timpani in orchestra. Densmore also studied ethnic music under jazz cellist Fred Katz which proved to be a very big influence on his work as a professional musician that lasts to this day. In the mid-1960’s he joined guitarist Robby Krieger in a band called The Psychedelic Rangers; shortly thereafter he began rehearsals with keyboardist Ray Manzarek, Manzarek’s two brothers and Jim Morrison in the group Rick & the Ravens. On the brothers’ departure from the band, Densmore recommended Krieger join them, thus forming The Doors in 1965, with Densmore on drums, Jim Morrison on vocals, Ray Manzarek on the keyboards and bass and Robby Krieger on guitar. The band played intensevely on the Sunset Strip circuit in Los Angeles for almost two years. In late 1966, after several rejections from record labels due to their odd sound which was interpreted as lack of commercial potential, they were signed to Elektra by Jac Holtzman, the label’s founder that wasn’t afraid to take chances on new bands with unusual music. Their first album “The Doors” was released in January 1967, along with their debut single “Break On Through (To The Other Side)” which made it only as a local Los Angeles hit. Shortly after, on July 1967, The Doors reached No.1 on the Hot 100 with their Jazz-Rock fusion song “Light My Fire”. The band quickly become worldwide famous with songs such as “People Are Strange”, “Love Me Two Times”, “Hello, I Love You”, “Touch Me” and “Roadhouse Blues” among many others. However, despite the success, Jim Morrison’s wild life style that involved consuming large amounts of drugs and alcohol as well as his on stage antics that made him being arrested on stage in December 1967, and the infamous 1969 Miami concert, where a out of control Morrison shout profanities to the audience and reportedly exposed himself, pushed The Doors successful career to a fast end. John Densmore temporally quit the band in 1968 during the recording sessions of their third album “Waiting For The Sun” due to Morrison’s increasingly self-destructive behavior, although Densmore returned the next day. Densmore repeatedly suggested that the band stop touring, but Krieger and Manzarek were resistant to this notion. After the Doors’ disastrous performance with a gibberish-spouting Morrison in New Orleans on December 12, 1970, the band agreed to stop performing live, and the New Orleans concert would be the band’s last public appearance as a quartet. Morrison died in 1971, though the surviving trio recorded two more albums of songs “Other Voices” in 1971 and “Full Circle” in 1972, the band dissolved in 1973. They would get together again as a band to record music for the posthumous Jim Morrison album and poetry project “An American Prayer” where they played for the late singer’s isolated vocals in 1978.
Densmore formed a band with fellow ex-Doors Robby Krieger in 1973 called Butts Band. The band released two albums with two different lineups but disbanded in 1975. Densmore left rock and roll in the 1980s, moving to the world of dance as he performed with Bess Snyder and Co., touring the United States for two years. During most of the 1980’s he pursued an acting career, one of his film credits includes playing the role of a recording studio engineer on the 1991 Oliver Stone biopic “The Doors” based on the band’s career. Densmore wrote his best-selling autobiography, Riders on the Storm (1990), about his life and the time he spent with Morrison and the Doors. In the first chapter Densmore describes the solemn day on which he and the band finally visited Morrison’s grave around three years after Morrison’s death. After Jim Morrison’s death, Densmore, Manzarek and Krieger, allowed “Riders on the Storm” to be used to sell Pirelli Tyres, but in the United Kingdom only. Densmore later stated that he “heard Jim’s voice” in his ears and ended up donating his share of the money earned to charity. In 2003, Densmore vetoed an offer by Cadillac of $15 million for “Break on Through (To the Other Side)” citing Morrison’s historic and vehement opposition to licensing the Doors’ music, notably their best-selling single “Light My Fire” for a Buick television commercial,as well as Densmore’s own development of strong personal views on the subject. In a subsequent court trial against his former bandmates Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger for the non-authorized use of The Doors name (Manzarek and Krieger rehashed The Doors by putting up together a successful tour being the only two original band members of the band and named themselves The Doors Of The 21st Century), in which Densmore was joined by the Morrison estate, opposing lawyers attempted to portray Densmore as an eco-terrorist. Notable musicians who testified in support of Densmore included Bonnie Raitt, Randy Newman, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Eddie Vedder and Tom Waits. In 2013 Densmore released “The Doors Unhinged”, a book covering his lengthy but victorious legal battle with Krieger and Manzarek and Densmore’s veto of the Cadillac commercial offer. Densmore is politically outspoken and in 2015, he backed the U.S. presidential run of Bernie Sanders. Densmore remains a very active artist in many fields including the already mentioned music, writing, acting but also on movie making and performing arts. John Densmore was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Doors in 1993, today he turns 75.
Watch John Densmore talking about his drumming technique and studio recording
Watch Densmore drumming with The Doors, “When The Music’s Over”, Live at The Hollywood Bowl,
Listen to a selection of some of the best The Doors songs compiled by Pop Expresso on Spotify
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