Doors Defender: John Densmore

The Doors perform in Europe, 1968


The news: The Doors are suing Kylie and Kendall Jenner for appropriating the famous Doors logo and their iconic lead singer’s image for the Jenner tee-shirt line… the horror! It is just the latest attempt to cash in on a guy who vowed not to sell out. That guy of course is Jim Morrison, whose amazingly tragic July 3rd, 1971 death was recently observed by fans, friends, and surviving band members. 

According to Doors co-founder Ray Manzarek, Jim Morrison wanted to fire their drummer John Densmore early in the band’s career. A huge moment! But is it true?

We can never know for sure, of course, since Manzarek and Morrison are dead. But either way, it was an extraordinary act of cruelty on Manzarek’s part to have written it in his autobiography.

If not true, how egregious a lie. But even if it is the truth, there was no need for the innovative keyboardist to include that information in his book, because it adds nothing to our understanding of the Doors. What it does actually do is tell us more about the nature of Manzarek himself, since he claims to have told the budding superstar lead singer that “we’re stuck with him.”

So, if true, we get to admire Manzarek for sticking up for Densmore, despite Manzarek’s self-serving depiction. Let’s assume it is true. But Manzarek’s book, pragmatically titled after the band’s first number one hit “Light My Fire,” takes a number of additional needlessly vicious swipes at Densmore.

The reason for the harsh blasts probably has to do with Densmore’s longstanding vetoes of attempts by Manzarek and Door’s guitarist Robby Krieger to monetize the Doors’ legacy.

Densmore was the first of the Doors to write a book about the band, and his “Riders on the Storm” (1990) was a hit. My sense is that Manzarek was jealous of that, and indeed, comparing the two books reveals a number of fascinating divergences. Nine years later, Manzarek’s own book came out, which although of considerable interest, borders on a autobiographical self-promoting hagiography.

In 2010 Densmore self-published his second Doors book, “The Doors Unhinged,” which gave his version of the lengthy court battles between Manzarek and Krieger on one side, and Densmore and Morrison’s estate on the other.

There were two major issues at stake:

1) The use of the band’s name and logo by Manzarek and Krieger to tour under, and

2) Densmore’s veto of attempts by the other two Doors survivors to license the band’s music for commercial use, notably by Cadillac.

Many hardcore Doors fans are aware of the 1968 attempt by the other three members to sell the rights to “Light My Fire” to Buick for a commercial that would change the lyrics to “Come on Buick, light my fire.” Morrison was unavailable when the offer of 75,000 dollars was made, so they went ahead and took it.

Big mistake.

When Jim Morrison discovered what had happened, he went berserk with rage, insulting and cursing at his band mates, threatening to sue as well as destroy a Buick onstage. Both Densmore and Manzarek wrote extensively about this incident in their books. It’s fair to say it was a key, and devisive, incident in the history of the Doors.

When Jim Morrison made it clear to the company just what they were in for, Buick changed their minds about the ad, and dropped the idea.

Morrison felt, and in my view rightly so, that the idea was offensive, sacrilegious and a cave-in to corporate culture. Densmore was deeply affected by Morrison’s outrage, and though the band later sold “Riders on the Storm” to a tire company after their singer’s death, for advertising in the United Kingdom, Densmore gave his monetary portion to charity, saying he heard Jim’s voice. Indeed!

The Doors split all money from recording and touring equally, and even more importantly, all decisions had to be unanimous, giving any member a veto. After the tire ad, Densmore began vetoing all further advertising using Doors music. That amounted to a substantial amount of cash the band turned away. Cadillac, for example, offered 15 million bucks for “Break on Through,” which Densmore alone said no to. So, no deal.

Let’s contemplate that. As I have observed elsewhere, I saw the Doors in early 1967, before they were superstars. They meant something, Goddamnit! “Break on Through” was not about riding in a polluting status symbol, it was about freeing your mind. If I had heard that the Doors had sold out to that degree, to Cadillac, it would have crushed a cherished part of my childhood and adult life. Crushed it flat.

Some things should not be for sale.

Densmore, unlike Manzarek and Krieger, learned that from Morrison. Densmore changed, and grew as a person. To take a stand he (and the Morrison Estate) resorted to the courts, a ghastly process he detailed in “The Doors Unhinged,” which I heartily recommend to anyone interested in the subject.

The list of major rock stars who appeared to testify in Densmore’s behalf is beyond impressive.

The short version is that Densmore was fully vindicated in court. It took years, but the legacy of the Doors is now protected. There will be no ads, and no “Doors of the 21st Century” bands touring in the future, thanks to Densmore acting on Jim Morrison’s inspiration.

Which brings us back to that moment when Jim Morrison wanted to fire John Densmore.

I believe in an afterlife. There’s something there. I don’t know, can’t know exactly what. But spirit lives on, and spirit is present. Spirit can admit to mistakes.

I believe Jim Morrison, from the Other Side, is thanking John Densmore with a big thumbs up.


by Kyle K. Mann


June 16, 2017



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About Kyle K. Mann 88 Articles
Kyle K. Mann is the pen name of a contributor to, and publisher of, Gonzo Today. He lives high atop Topanga, California, where owls hoot and coyotes howl. A recording musician since the 70s and radio broadcaster in multiple fields in the '80s and '90s, Kyle sometimes supports himself part time as a Union film crew member in Hollywood. His articles and interviews first appeared in Gonzo Today in early 2015, and some of them are fairly good.