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|Origins and formation
The origins of The Doors lie in a chance meeting between acquaintances and fellow UCLA film school alumni Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek on Venice Beach in Los Angeles, California in July 1965. Morrison told Manzarek he had been writing songs (Morrison said "I was taking notes at a fantastic rock-n-roll concert going on in my head") and, with Manzarek's encouragement, sang "Moonlight Drive".
Keyboardist Manzarek was in a band called Rick & the Ravens with his brothers Rick and Jim Manzarek, while drummer John Densmore was playing with The Psychedelic Rangers, and knew Manzarek from meditation classes. In August, Densmore joined the group and, along with members of The Ravens and bass player Pat Sullivan (later credited using her married name Patricia Hansen in the 1997 box CD release), recorded a six-song demo in September 1965. This has since then circulated widely as a bootleg recording. That month the group recruited guitarist Robby Krieger, and the final lineup Morrison, Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore was complete. The band took their name from a line in William Blake's poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell; "If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite".
By 1966, the group was playing the LA club London Fog and soon graduated to the prestigious Whisky a Go Go, where they were the house band, supporting acts including Van Morrison's group Them. On their last night together the two bands joined up for "In the Midnight Hour" and a twenty-minute jam session of Them's "Gloria". Prior to graduating to Whisky a Go Go, Morrison went to many record labels trying to land a deal. He did score one but it did not pan out. On August 10, they were spotted by Elektra Records president Jac Holzman who was present at the recommendation of Love singer Arthur Lee, whose group was on Elektra. After Holzman and producer Paul A. Rothchild saw two sets of the band playing at the Whisky a Go Go, they signed them to the Elektra Records label on August 18the start of a long and successful partnership with Rothchild and engineer Bruce Botnick. Later that month, the club fired the band after a profanity-filled performance of "The End".
The band recorded their first album from August 24 to 31, 1966 at Sunset Sound Recording Studios. The Doors' self-titled debut LP was released in the first week of January 1967. It featured most of the major songs from their set, including the nearly 12-minute musical drama "The End".
In November 1966, Mark Abramson directed a promotional film for the lead single "Break On Through (To the Other Side)". To promote the single, the Doors made their television debut on a Los Angeles TV show called Boss City, circa 1966, possibly early 1967 and then on a Los Angeles TV show called Shebang, miming to "Break On Through", on New Year's Day 1967. This clip has never been officially released by the Doors.
In early 1967 The Doors appeared on The Clay Cole Show (Saturday evenings at 6 pm on WPIX Channel 11 out of NYC) where they performed their single "Break On Through". Research has determined that the tapes were all wiped, the only shows that still exist are the final ones copied by an employee of the station, unfortunately this was long after The Doors' appearance. The Doors returned to The Clay Cole Show a second time on June 24 where they most likely performed "Light My Fire".
Since "Break on Through" was not very successful on the radio, the band turned to "Light My Fire". The problem with this song was that it was seven minutes long, so producer Paul Rothchild cut it down to a three minute song by editing out the lengthy keyboard and guitar solos in the center section. "Light My Fire" became the first single from Elektra Records to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, selling over a million copies. "Light My Fire" was the first song ever written by Robby Krieger and was the beginning of the band's success.
Early live recordings at The Matrix
From March 7 to March 11, 1967, The Doors performed at the Matrix Club in San Francisco, California. The March 7 and 10 shows were recorded by a co-owner of The Matrix, Peter Abram. These recordings are notable as they are among the earliest live recordings of the band to circulate. On November 18, 2008, The Doors published a compilation of these recordings, Live at the Matrix 1967, on the band's boutique Bright Midnight Archives label.
Early television performances
The Doors appeared on American television on August 25, 1967, guest-starring on the variety TV series, Malibu U, performing "Light My Fire". They did not appear live. The band is seen on a beach and are performing the song in play back. The music video did not gain any commercial success and the performance was more or less forgotten. It was not until they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show that they gained attention on television.
The Doors made their international television debut in May 1967, recording a version of "The End" for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) at O'Keefe Centre in Toronto. But after its initial broadcasts, it remained unreleased except in bootleg form until the release of The Doors Soundstage Performances DVD in 2002. As "Light My Fire" climbed the charts in June and early July, The Doors were on the East Coast as an opening act for Simon and Garfunkel in Forest Hills, Queens and as headliners in a Greenwich, Connecticut, high-school auditorium.
On September 17, 1967, The Doors gave a memorable performance of "Light My Fire" on The Ed Sullivan Show. According to Ray Manzarek, network executives asked that the word "higher" be removed in favor of "better." The group initially agreed to this, but nonetheless performed the song in its original form, either because they had never intended to comply with the request, or Jim Morrison was nervous and forgot to make the change (Manzarek has given conflicting accounts). Either way, "higher" was sung out on national TV, and a furious Ed Sullivan canceled another six shows that had been planned, to which Jim Morrison reportedly said to a show producer: "Hey man. We just did the Sullivan Show."
The Doors spent several weeks in Los' Angeles' Sunset Studios recording their second album, Strange Days, experimenting with the new technology they now had available. The commercial success of Strange Days was middling, peaking at number three on the Billboard album chart but quickly dropping, along with a series of underperforming singles. The chorus from the album's single "People Are Strange" inspired the name of the 2010 documentary of The Doors, When You're Strange.
Strange Days was the first Doors album recorded with a studio musician on bass, and this continued on all subsequent studio albums. Manzarek explained that his keyboard bass was well-suited for live situations but that it lacked the "articulation" needed for studio recording. Douglass Lubahn played on Strange Days and the next two albums; but the band utilized several other musicians for this role, often using more than one bassist on the same album. Kerry Magness, Leroy Vinnegar, Harvey Brooks, Ray Neopolitan, Lonnie Mack and Jerry Scheff are credited as bassists who worked with the band.
On December 24, The Doors performed "Light My Fire" and "Moonlight Drive" live for The Jonathan Winters Show, their performance was taped for later broadcast. From December 26 to December 28, the group played at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. An excerpt taken from Stephen Davis' book on Jim Morrison.
The next night at Winterland, a TV set was wheeled onstage during The Doors set so the band could see themselves on The Jonathan Winters Show. They stopped playing "Back Door Man" when their song came on. The audience watched the Doors watching themselves on TV. They finished the song when their bit was done, and Ray walked over and turned the TV off. The next night was their last ever in Winterland.
They played two more dates in Denver on December 30 and December 31, 1967, capping off a year of almost constant touring.
New Haven incident
On December 9, 1967, The Doors performed a now infamous concert at New Haven Arena in New Haven, Connecticut, which ended abruptly when Morrison was arrested by local police. Morrison became the first rock artist ever to be arrested onstage during a concert performance.
Morrison had been "making out" with a fan backstage in a bathroom shower stall prior to the start of the concert when a police officer happened upon them. Unaware that he was the lead singer of the band about to perform, the officer told Morrison and the girl to leave, to which Morrison said, "Eat it." The policeman took out a can of mace and warned Morrison, "Last chance", to which Morrison replied, "Last chance to eat it." There is some discrepancy as to what happened next: according to No One Here Gets Out Alive, the girl ran and Morrison was maced; but Manzarek recounts in his book that both Jim and the fan were sprayed and that the concert was delayed for an hour while Jim recovered.
Waiting for the Sun
Recording of the group's third album in April 1968 was marred by tension as a result of Morrison's increasing dependence on alcohol and drugs, and the rejection of his new epic, "Celebration of the Lizard", by band producer Paul Rothchild, who deemed the work not commercial enough. Approaching the height of their popularity, The Doors played a series of outdoor shows that led to frenzied scenes between fans and police, particularly at Chicago Coliseum on May 10.
The band began to branch out from their initial form for this third LP. Because they had exhausted their original repertoire, they began writing new material. Waiting for the Sun became their first #1 LP, and the single "Hello, I Love You" was their second and last US #1 single. With the 1968 release of "Hello, I Love You", the rock press pointed out the song's resemblance to The Kinks' 1964 hit, "All Day and All of the Night". Kinks guitarist Dave Davies was particularly irritated by the similarity. In concert, Morrison was occasionally dismissive of the song, leaving the vocal chores to Manzarek, as can be seen in the documentary The Doors are Open.
A month after riotous scenes took place at the Singer Bowl in New York, the group flew to Britain for their first venue outside of North America. They held a press conference at the ICA Gallery in London and played shows at The Roundhouse Theatre. The results of the trip were broadcast on Granada TV's The Doors Are Open, later released on video. They played dates in Europe, along with Jefferson Airplane, including a show in Amsterdam where Morrison collapsed on stage after a drug binge.
The group flew back to the US and played nine more US dates before returning to work in November on their fourth LP. They ended the year with a successful new single, "Touch Me" (released in December 1968), which hit US #3. They started 1969 with a sold-out show on January 24 at Madison Square Garden.
Halfway through the first set, Morrison proceeded to go on an obscenity-laced tirade to the audience, explaining what had happened backstage and belittling New Haven police. Then Morrison was arrested and dragged offstage, resulting in a riot which spilled from the gates of the New Haven Arena into the streets. Morrison was taken to a local police station, photographed and booked on charges of inciting a riot, indecency and public obscenity. Charges against Morrison, as well as those against three journalists also arrested in the incident (Mike Zwerin, Yvonne Chabrier and Tim Page), were dropped several weeks later due to lack of evidence.
The Soft Parade
The Doors' fourth album, The Soft Parade, released in July 1969, contained pop-oriented arrangements and horn sections. The lead single "Touch Me" featured saxophonist Curtis Amy.
While the band was trying to maintain their previous momentum, efforts to expand their sound gave the album an experimental feel, causing critics to attack their musical integrity. According to John Densmore in his biography Riders On The Storm individual writing credits were noted for the first time because of Morrison's reluctance to sing the lyrics of Robby Krieger's song "Tell All the People". Morrison's drinking made him difficult and unreliable, and the recording sessions dragged on for months. Studio costs piled up, and The Doors came close to disintegrating. Despite all this, the album was immensely successful, becoming the band's fourth hit album.
On March 1, 1969, at the Dinner Key Auditorium in the Coconut Grove neighborhood of Miami, The Doors gave the most controversial performance of their career, one that nearly "derailed the band". Morrison had recently attended a play by an experimental theater group, The Living Theatre, and was inspired by their "antagonistic" style of performance art. The auditorium was a converted seaplane hangar that had no air conditioning on that hot night, and the seats had been removed by the promoter in order to boost ticket sales. Morrison had been drinking all day and had missed connecting flights to Miami, and by the time he eventually arrived the concert was over an hour late in starting, and he was, according to Manzarek, "overly fortified with alcohol". The restless crowd of 12,000, packed into a facility designed to hold 7,000, was subjected to Morrison's lack of interest in singing shortly into "Break On Through". Morrison taunted the crowd with messages of both love and hate, saying, "Love me. I can't take it no more without no good love. I want some lovin'. Ain't nobody gonna love my ass?" and alternately, "You're all a bunch of fuckin' idiots!" and screaming "What are you gonna do about it?" over and over again. At one point, Morrison removed and threw the hat of a police officer who was onstage into the crowd and the officer removed Jim's hat and threw it. Manager Bill Siddons recalled, "The gig was a bizarre, circus-like thing, there was this guy carrying a sheep and the wildest people that I'd ever seen". Equipment chief Vince Treanor said, "Somebody jumped up and poured champagne on Jim so he took his shirt off, he was soaking wet. 'Let's see a little skin, let's get naked,' he said, and the audience started taking their clothes off." Having removed his shirt, Morrison held it in front of his groin area and started to make hand movements behind it. Manzarek later described the incident as a mass "religious hallucination".
On March 5, the Dade County Sheriff's office issued a warrant for Morrison's arrest claiming Morrison deliberately exposed his penis while on stage, shouted obscenities to the crowd, simulated oral sex on guitarist Robby Krieger and was drunk at the time of his performance. Morrison turned down a plea bargain that required The Doors to perform a free Miami concert. He was later convicted, sentenced to six months in jail, with hard labor, and ordered to pay a $500 fine. Morrison remained free pending an appeal of his conviction, and would die before the matter was legally resolved. In 2007 Florida Governor Charlie Crist suggested the possibility of a posthumous pardon for Morrison, which was announced as successful on December 9, 2010. Densmore, Krieger and Manzarek have denied the allegation that Morrison exposed himself on stage that night.
More legal problems
During the recording of their next album, in November 1969, Morrison once again found himself in trouble with the law after harassing airline staff during a flight to Phoenix, Arizona to see The Rolling Stones in concert. Both Morrison and his friend and traveling companion Tom Baker were charged with "interfering with the flight of an intercontinental aircraft and public drunkenness". If convicted of the most serious charge, Morrison could have faced a possible ten-year federal prison sentence for the incident. The charges were dropped in April 1970 after an airline stewardess reversed her testimony to say she mistakenly identified Morrison as Baker.
Aquarius Theatre performances
The Doors gave two concerts at the Aquarius Theatre on Sunset Blvd, Hollywood. The two shows were performed on July 21, 1969. A "backstage" performance, a so-called "private rehearsal" without an audience occurred on July 22, 1969. This was only a few months after the "Miami incident" in March of that year. Of the songs performed with an audience, "Universal Mind" and the "Celebration of the Lizard" suite were released on The Doors' 1970 Absolutely Live album, whereas "You Make Me Real" was released on Alive, She Cried in 1983. Further, the Van Morrison track, "Gloria", which was performed and recorded during the audience-less rehearsal, was also released on Alive, She Cried. Both the first and second shows along with the rehearsal the following day were released in 2001. It was at these shows that Morrison issued his poem, "Ode to L.A." while thinking of Brian Jones, the recently deceased former Rolling Stones guitarist.
Morrison Hotel and Absolutely Live
The Doors staged a return to form with their 1970 LP Morrison Hotel, their fifth album. Featuring a consistent, hard rock sound, the album's opener was "Roadhouse Blues". The record reached US #4 and revived their status among their core fanbase and the rock press. Dave Marsh, the editor of Creem magazine, said of the album: "the most horrifying rock and roll I have ever heard. When they're good, they're simply unbeatable. I know this is the best record I've listened to ... so far". Rock Magazine called it "without any doubt their ballsiest (and best) album to date". Circus magazine praised it as "possibly the best album yet from the Doors" and "Good hard, evil rock, and one of the best albums released this decade". The album also saw Jim Morrison returning as main songwriter, writing or co-writing all of the album's tracks. The 40th Anniversary CD reissue of Morrison Hotel contains outtakes and alternate takes, including different versions of "The Spy" and "Roadhouse Blues" (with Lonnie Mack on bass guitar and The Lovin' Spoonful's John Sebastian on harmonica).
July 1970 saw the release of The Doors' first live album, Absolutely Live.
The band continued to perform at arenas throughout the summer. Morrison faced trial in Miami in August, but the group made it to the Isle of Wight Festival on August 29. They performed alongside artists such as Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Miles Davis, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Sly and the Family Stone. Two songs from the show were featured in the 1995 documentary Message to Love.
Last public performance
On December 8, 1970, his 27th birthday, Morrison recorded another poetry session. Part of this would end up on An American Prayer in 1978 with music, and is currently in the possession of the Courson family. The Doors' tour to promote their upcoming album L.A. Woman would comprise only two dates. The first was held in Dallas, Texas on December 11. During the Doors' last public performance with Morrison, at The Warehouse in New Orleans, Louisiana, on December 12, 1970, Morrison apparently had a breakdown on stage. Midway through the set he slammed the microphone numerous times into the stage floor until the platform beneath was destroyed, then sat down and refused to perform for the remainder of the show. Drummer John Densmore recalls the incident in his biography Riders On the Storm, where after the show he met with Ray and Robby; they decided to end their live act, citing their mutual agreement that Morrison was ready to retire from performing.
The Doors set to reclaim their status as a premier act with L.A. Woman in 1971. The session included guitar work by Marc Benno, and bass by Jerry Scheff. The album contained two Top 20 hits and went on to be their second best-selling studio album, surpassed in sales only by their debut. The album explored their R&B roots, although during rehearsals they had a falling-out with Rothchild. Denouncing "Riders on the Storm" as 'cocktail jazz', he quit and handed the production to Botnick. The singles "L.A. Woman", "Love Her Madly", and "Riders On The Storm" remain mainstays of rock radio programming, and the latter, as of November 25, 2009, was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for its special significance to recorded music. In the song "L.A. Woman" Jim Morrison scrambles the letters of his own name to chant "Mr. Mojo Risin". During the sessions, a short clip of the band performing "Crawling King Snake" was filmed. So far as known, this is the last clip of the Doors performing with Morrison. On March 13, 1971, following the recording of L.A. Woman, Morrison took a leave of absence from the Doors and moved to Paris with Pamela Courson. He had visited the city the previous summer and was interested in moving there to become a writer in exile.
While in Paris, he was again drinking heavily and using other drugs. On June 16, the last known recording of Morrison was made when he befriended two street musicians at a bar and invited them to a studio. This recording was finally released in 1994 on a bootleg CD entitled The Lost Paris Tapes.
Morrison died on July 3, 1971. In the official account of his death, he was found in a Paris apartment bathtub by Courson. Pursuant to French law, no autopsy was performed because the medical examiner claimed to have found no evidence of foul play. The absence of an official autopsy, and the death certificate not having a reason of death besides heart failure has left many questions regarding the cause of death. Morrison was buried in the "Poets Corner" of Père Lachaise Cemetery on July 7. The epitaph on his headstone bears the Greek inscription "ΚΑΤΑ ΤΟΝ ΔΑΙΜΟΝΑ ΕΑΥΤΟΥ", literally meaning "According to his own daimōn" and usually interpreted as "True to his own spirit".
Morrison died at age 27, the same age as several other famous rock stars in the 27 Club. Morrison's girlfriend, Pamela Courson, also died at the age of 27.
The surviving Doors continued for some time, initially considering replacing Morrison with a new singer. Instead, Krieger and Manzarek took over on vocals and The Doors released two more albums before disbanding. The recording of Other Voices took place from July to August 1971, and the album was released in October 1971. The LP featured the single "Tightrope Ride", which received some airplay.
The recordings for Full Circle took place during the spring of 1972, and the album was released in August 1972. The Doors went on tour after the releases in support of the albums. The last album expanded into jazz territory. For the tours during this period, The Doors enlisted Jack Conrad on bass and Bobby Ray Henson on rhythm guitar. While neither album has been reissued on CD in the United States, they have been released on 2-on-1 CDs in Germany and Russia.
The group disbanded in 1973 and Krieger and Densmore would go on to form The Butts Band from 1973-1975. Krieger, Manzarek and Densmore reunited in 1978 for An American Prayer, 1993 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1997 in the studio to complete the Morrison penned "Orange County Suite" and 2000 for VH1's Storytellers: A Celebration and on the tribute album Stoned Immaculate: The Music of the Doors, which featured band members playing along side guest performers as well as recording new music.
An American Prayer
The third post-Morrison album, An American Prayer, was released in 1978. It consisted of the band adding musical tracks to spoken-word recordings of Morrison reciting his poetry. The record was a commercial success, acquiring a platinum certificate. An American Prayer was re-mastered and re-released with bonus tracks in 1995.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
In 1993, The Doors were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. For the ceremony Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore reunited once again to perform "Roadhouse Blues", "Break On Through" and "Light My Fire". Eddie Vedder filled in on lead vocals, while Don Was played bass.
Orange County Suite
For the 1997 boxed set, the surviving members of The Doors once again reunited to complete "Orange County Suite". The track was one that Morrison had written and recorded, providing vocals and piano.
VH1's Storytellers and Stoned Immaculate
The Doors reunited in 2000 to perform on VH1's Storytellers. For this last live performance, the band was joined by Angelo Barbera on bass and numerous guest vocalists. Guest vocalists included Ian Astbury, Scott Weiland, Scott Stapp, Perry Farrell, Pat Monahan and Travis Meeks. Following the recording the Storytellers: A Celebration, the band members joined solo and together to record on the Stoned Immaculate: The Music of The Doors. These sessions also yielded new songs credited to The Doors; "Under Waterfall" and "The Cosmic Movie".
"I like to say this is the first new Doors track of the 21st century", Ray Manzarek said of a new song he recorded with Robby Krieger, John Densmore and DJ/producer Skrillex. The recording session and song are part of a new documentary film, RE:GENERATION, that recruited five popular DJs/producers to work with artists from five separate genres and had them record new music. Manzarek and Skrillex had an immediate musical connection. "[Sonny] plays his beat, all he had to do was play the one thing. I listened to it and I said, 'Holy shit, that's strong,'" Manzarek says. "Basically, it's a variation on 'Milestones,' by Miles Davis, and if I do say so myself, sounds fucking great, hot as hell." The track, called "Breakn' a Sweat", was included on Skrillex's EP Bangarang.