Origins (July 1965 – August 1966)
The Doors logo, designed by an Elektra Records
assistant, first appeared on their 1967 debut album.
The Doors began with a meeting between acquaintances Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek, both of whom had attended the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, on Venice Beach 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". The members came from a varied musical background of jazz, rock, blues, and folk idioms.
Keyboardist Manzarek was in a band called Rick & the Ravens with his brothers Rick and Jim, while drummer John Densmore was playing with the Psychedelic Rangers and knew Manzarek from meditation classes. In August 1965, Densmore joined the group, which had been renamed the Doors. The five (Morrison having previously joined the band), along with bass player Patty Sullivan[nb 1] recorded a six-song demo on September 2, 1965 at World Pacific Studios, Los Angeles, California (officially made available much later in October 1997 on the Doors' Box Set CD release). This has circulated widely since then as a bootleg recording. The band took their name from the title of Aldous Huxley's book The Doors of Perception, itself derived from a line in William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: "If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is: infinite". In mid-1965, after Manzarek's two brothers left, guitarist Robby Krieger joined.
From February to May 1966, the group had a residency at the "rundown" and "sleazy" Los Angeles club London Fog, appearing on the bill with "Rhonda Lane Exotic Dancer". The experience gave Morrison confidence to perform in front of a live audience, and the band as a whole to develop and, in some cases, lengthen their songs and work "The End", "When the Music's Over", and "Light My Fire" into the pieces that would appear on their debut album. Ray Manzarek would later say that at the London Fog the band "became this collective entity, this unit of oneness...that is where the magic began to happen."
The Doors soon graduated to the more esteemed Whisky a Go Go, where they were the house band (starting from May 1966), 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".
On August 10, 1966, they were spotted by Elektra Records president Jac Holzman, who was present at the recommendation of Love singer Arthur Lee, whose group was with Elektra Records. 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 18 – the start of a long and successful partnership with Rothchild and sound engineer Bruce Botnick. The Doors were fired from the Whisky on August 21, 1966 when Morrison added an explicit retelling and profanity-laden version of the Greek myth of Oedipus during "The End".
The Doors and Strange Days (August 1966 – December 1967)
The band recorded their first album from August 24 to 31, 1966, at Sunset Sound Recording Studios. The debut album, The Doors, was released in the first week of January 1967. It included 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 several television appearances such as on Shebang, a Los Angeles TV show, miming to "Break On Through".[nb 2] In early 1967, the Doors appeared on The Clay Cole Show (which aired on Saturday evenings at 6 pm on WPIX Channel 11 out of NYC) where they performed their single "Break On Through". Since "Break on Through" was not very successful on the radio, the band turned to "Light My Fire". "Light My Fire" became the first single from Elektra Records to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, selling over one million copies.
From March 7 to 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.
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 is performing the song in playback. 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, the performance remained unreleased except in bootleg form until the release of The Doors Soundstage Performances DVD in 2002.
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. The group appeared to acquiesce, but performed the song in its original form, because either 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 television, and the show's host, Ed Sullivan, canceled another six shows that had been planned. After the program's producer told the band they would never play on the show again, Jim Morrison reportedly replied: "Hey man. We just did the Sullivan Show."
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 28, the group played at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco; during one set the band stopped performing to watch themselves on The Jonathan Winters Show on a TV set wheeled onto the stage.
The Doors spent several weeks in Sunset Studios in Los Angeles recording their second album, Strange Days, experimenting with the new technology, notably the Moog synthesizer 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.
Although session musician Larry Knechtel had been featured on bass on several tracks on the band's debut album, Strange Days was the first Doors album recorded with a studio musician on bass on most of the tracks, 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 used 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, Jerry Scheff, Jack Conrad (who played a major role in the post Morrison years touring with the group in 1971 and 1972), Chris Ethridge, Charles Larkey and Leland Sklar are credited as bassists who worked with the band.
New Haven incident (December 1967)
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 to be arrested onstage during a concert performance. Morrison had been kissing a female 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 female 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 female ran away and Morrison was maced; but Manzarek recounts in his book that both Jim and the fan were sprayed.
The Doors' main act was delayed for an hour while Jim recovered, after which The Doors took the stage very late. According to an authenticated fan account that Robby Krieger posted to his Facebook page, the police still did not consider the issue resolved, and wanted to charge him. Halfway through the first set, Morrison proceeded to create an improvised song (as depicted in the Oliver Stone movie) about his experience with the "little men in blue". It was an obscenity-laced account to the audience, describing what had happened backstage and taunting the police, who were surrounding the stage. The concert was abruptly ended when Morrison was dragged offstage by the police. The audience, which was already restless from waiting so long for the band to perform, became unruly. 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 for lack of evidence.
Waiting for the Sun (April–December 1968)
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 the rejection of the 17-minute "Celebration of the Lizard" by band producer Paul Rothchild, who considered the work was 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, and because they had exhausted their original repertoire, they began writing new material. Waiting for the Sun became their first and only US No. 1 LP, and the single "Hello, I Love You" (one of the six songs performed by the band on their 1965 Aura Records demo) was their second US No. 1 single. Following the 1968 release of "Hello, I Love You", the publisher of the Kinks' 1964 hit "All Day and All of the Night" announced they were planning legal action against the Doors for copyright infringement; however, songwriter Ray Davies ultimately chose not to sue. Kinks guitarist Dave Davies was particularly irritated by the similarity. In concert, Morrison was occasionally dismissive of the song, leaving the vocals to Manzarek, as can be seen in the documentary The Doors Are Open.
A month after a riotous concert at the Singer Bowl in New York, the group flew to Britain for their first performance outside North America. They held a press conference at the ICA Gallery in London and played shows at the Roundhouse. 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 (including marijuana, hashish and unspecified pills).
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 reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 in the Cashbox Top 100 in early 1969 (the band's third and last American number-one single).
Miami incident (March 1969)
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". 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 to boost ticket sales.
Morrison had been drinking all day and had missed connecting flights to Miami. By the time he arrived, drunk, the concert was over an hour late. The restless crowd of 12,000, packed into a facility designed to hold 7,000, was subjected to undue silences in Morrison's singing straining the music from the beginning of the performance. Morrison had recently attended a play by an experimental theater group the Living Theatre and was inspired by their "antagonistic" style of performance art. 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.
As the band began their second song, "Touch Me", Morrison started shouting in protest, forcing the band to a halt. At one point, Morrison removed the hat of an onstage police officer and threw it into the crowd; the officer removed Morrison'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 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 had 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 convicted and 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 died 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.
The Soft Parade (May–July 1969)
The Doors' fourth album, The Soft Parade, released in July 1969, contained brass and string arrangements. 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.
Morrison Hotel and Absolutely Live (November 1969 – December 1970)
During the recording of their next album, Morrison Hotel, in November 1969, Morrison 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 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.
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 No. 4 in the United States 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 alternative 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, which peaked at No. 8.
Although the Doors continued to face de facto bans in more conservative American markets and earned new bans at Salt Lake City's Salt Palace and Detroit's Cobo Hall following tumultuous concerts, the band managed to play 18 concerts in the United States, Mexico and Canada following the Miami incident in 1969, and 23 dates in the United States and Canada throughout the first half of 1970.
During Morrison's trial in Miami, the group made it to the Isle of Wight Festival on August 29. They performed alongside Jimi Hendrix, the Who, Joni Mitchell, Jethro Tull, Taste, 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.
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. Shortly thereafter, the Roadhouse Blues Tour to promote their upcoming album would comprise only three dates. Two concerts were held in Dallas on December 11. During the Doors' last public performance with Morrison, at The Warehouse in New Orleans, 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.
L.A. Woman and Morrison's death (December 1970 – July 1971)
Despite Morrison's conviction and the fallout from their appearance in New Orleans, The Doors set out to reclaim their status as a premier act with L.A. Woman in 1971. The album included rhythm guitarist Marc Benno on several tracks and prominently featured bassist Jerry Scheff, best known for his work in Elvis Presley's TCB Band. Despite a comparatively low Billboard chart peak at No. 9, L.A. Woman 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 Paul Rothchild, who was dissatisfied with the band's effort. Denouncing "Love Her Madly" as "cocktail lounge music", he quit and handed the production to Bruce Botnick and the Doors.
The title track and two singles ("Love Her Madly" and "Riders on the Storm") remain mainstays of rock radio programming, with the last of these being 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. As far as is 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. He was found dead in a bathtub on July 3, 1971, in Paris by his girlfriend Pamela Courson. The absence of an official autopsy, combined with the death certificate having no reason of death besides heart failure, have 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. In 1974, Morrison's girlfriend Pamela Courson also died at the age of 27.