The legendary 1960’s rock band, The Doors, actually have roots that went back as far as 1961 when an earlier group, Rick & The Ravens, was formed by the brother of Ray Manzarek(real name Manczarek), Rick Manczarek. In 1962, Ray joined his brother’s band which attempted to match some of the popular music trends of the time including the surf and hot rod sound. Three demo singles followed in 1965 including “Soul Train” b/w “Geraldine”- Aura Records 4511, “Henrietta” b/w “Just For You”-Aura Records 4506 and “Big Bucket “T” b/w “Rampage” – Posae Records 101. 1965 was also the year that Jim Morrison joined the band as a backing vocalist along with drummer John Densmore.
The inclusion of Jim Morrison in the group was the idea of Ray Manzarek. Both were college friends at UCLA and Manzarek was impressed with the strange poetry of Jim Morrison and invited him onstage for one of the early Rick & The Ravens live shows, and before long he became part of the band on backing vocals. On September 2, 1965, Rick & The Ravens returned to the studio again, this time to record an acetate of six songs written by Jim Morrison, that included “Moonlight Drive”, “Hello, I Love You”, “End Of The Night”, “End Of The Night”, “Go Insane” and “Summer’s Almost Gone”. But, the new style of the Morrison’ songs were controversial with some of the band members such as Rick and Jim Manczarek who both decided that the new style wasn’t going anywhere and left the band along with Patricia Sullivan left the band, where the remaining members then recruited guitarist Robbie Krieger to join Morrison, Ray Manzarek and John Densmore. Soon, the new band with Morrison’s songs and Morrison on lead vocals began to play clubs, now billing themselves as The Doors.
Interestingly, the band managed to get an early provisional contract with Columbia records, yet no music was recorded with that label. As early as 1965, Jim Morrison was heavily involved in smoking pot and using LSD, both of which seemed to heavily influence his unusual visions of dark poetry. Jim Morrison also broke ties with his father, Steve Morrison, a Navy Admiral, after his father was angry that Jim was joining a band that he believed would “never amount to anything”. The band would later go on to sell 32.5 million records in later years.
In January of 1966, Jim Morrison found himself arrested after a fight in Mexico by a father of a friend he traveled with after, Jim madeup a story that he accidently killed the son. It was just one of many twisted pranks that Jim Morrison was known to pull during his years with the band. By April of 1966, The Doors asked Columbia to release them from their contract that’s not going anywhere. Some of the executives at Columbia seemed more hip and with it compared to other record companies, yet nothing was ever happening there. The company was actually planning to drop The Doors very soon. No one at the company really saw any future for this band as a recording artist at the label. Months without any recordings should have been a clue. Instead, The Doors play months of small time gigs, Sometimes as small as Bar Mitzvah’s or wedding parties, some of them with Jim Morrison not attending some shows because of daylong binges of alcohol and drug abuse, or because of stage shyness, leaving Ray Manzarek doing the vocals instead in some shows. From the very beginning, Jim Morrison, proved himself to be both a major asset as well as a major liability to the band. His true potential as a rock superstar was yet to be realized.
In an effort to find some work for the band, the group even takes a job available at a California location to play the background music for some automotive training film for Ford mechanics of all things. Strangely, this music actually became part of the song, “The Soft Parade” in later years. But, it also sets Jim Morrison up to not want the band’s music ever again used to promote automobiles. The song, “Break On Through” was later to be used in a Cadillac ad in more recent years, however it set up John Densmore and the families of Jim Morrison and Pamela Courson to sue both Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger to limit their use of The Doors name as well, but that was to be in late years. In May of 1966, the band still struggles and finds themselves looking for more work once again as The London Fog club in Los Angeles informs the band that they are failing to draw enough of an audience to continue to work at the club. Yet, The Doors continue to find some work, sometimes playing early into the morning at clubs that feature exotic dancers or any small venue that will give the band some work. Sometimes it’s hard for club managers to find the band to even ask them for work, because they seem to move around so much from one place to live to another. Jim Morrison seems to represent the perceived shiftless and undisciplined nature of the band. Many days, he’d prefer alcohol or pot use over working. But, the musicians in the group show a lot more incentive to find new gigs. The Whiskey A Go Go manager, Ronnie Haran wanted to hire The Doors for a gig, because he liked Jim Morrison, but he found the future star living like a bum on the beach, sleeping under the boardwalk at night. Morrison didn’t even have presentable clothes he owned in order to play a decent stage show. It was pretty pathetic.
The Doors really owe their success to Arthur Lee of Love, the band that was signed by Elektra Records. Lee liked The Doors so much that he kept insisting that Jac Holzman, the president of the record label listen to The Doors. Holzman just wasn’t too impressed with what he saw. But, at the further insistence of Arthur Lee, Holzman returned to view The Doors perform several more shows, slowly acquiring a taste for the band and actually looking forward to their upcoming shows. Holtzman agrees that he’ll someday sign the band on a provisional basis much like the Columbia contract that went nowhere. But, it’s at least a beginning for the band, while Jim Morrison grows more at home with his stage shows and his onstage antics begin to become entertaining to audiences as the gigs for the band begin to grow and become more frequent. The band is starting to open some shows with their song, “Light My Fire”, which will someday become their biggest hit single.
During the Summer months of 1966, The Doors play more gigs with acts like The Turtles, Love, Them and other acts, often serving as the warmup act for these bigger acts. Van Morrison, the Irish singer with Them seemed to love playing shows with The Doors and got along well with Jim Morrison. Both seemed to bring a wild sense of chaos to the stage that became an attraction to fans. Even if The Doors were playing a gig to all ages, with many teenagers in the audience, many just came to watch the unpredictable and outrageous Jim Morrison. Even The Rolling Stones had to stop by to see a performance by The Doors, although they were not impressed at the early show, but others like Jac Holzman remained a fan of the group, bringing Paul Rothchild who both agree to formally sign the band on the night of a August 15 show. The next day, a lawyer for the band, Max Fink, starts the negotiations for the group, working out the terms of a contract that will actually bear fruit with some real recordings to be made. On August 18, the provisional terms of a basic contract are made, but by November, a complete contract that includes seven albums is made with Elektra. The contract calls for seven albums to be released by Elektra with The Doors.
On Wednesday, Aug 24, The Doors go into the studio and record “Moonlight Drive” and other songs, although “Moonlight Drive” ends up being cut from the first debut album by the band by a decision at Elektra Records. Producer Paul Rothchild and engineer Bruce Botnick begin a long relationship with the band that will go through the next few years and many songs. By October, the final mix of the first album is started, with The Doors also present to give their input on what they want to see about how their sound is presented. By Halloween night 1966, Rothchild is still working on the final mixes of the first album in both mono and stereo mix versions. Mono albums are still very popular in late 1966, and mono mixes are the important versions that will be played on the AM radio as the producers will look for suitable singles to pull from the album to promote the band. Elektra and producer Paul Rothchild decide that “Break On Through” will become the first single of the band and a promotional video is also filmed to promote this upcoming single. On January 1, 1967, “Break On Through” is released as a single, but quickly fails to be a hit, flopping on the charts only reaching just #126 on the charts. The song was censored on the album and single versions by Elektra, where the lines “she get high” are censored to “she gets..” which are repeated four times. It wasn’t until the 1990’s that this possible drug reference was restored back to this song by Elektra. Interestingly, the song is viewed by some musical critics as greatly influenced by an old Elmore James song entitled “Stranger Blues”. The Doors were certainly a blues influenced act. And their music had many influences rooted in other old blues numbers. The Doors don’t strike gold with Am singles success until “Light MY Fire” is released in late April, and becomes the biggest hit single by the band of their entire career, also making the group’s albums and shows huge successes.
“Light My Fire” spent three weeks at the #1 spot on the charts, actually being released in album versions, single versions and a long radio version that was 4:40 in length as well. The song was largely written by guitarist Robbie Krieger, giving the band some much needed commercial success after “Break On Through” failed to break through for the band. “Light My Fire” also helped to make the band work on two tracks, as a successful top forty act on one hand as well as more outrageous album and show act. There seemed like there were two Doors at times. A top forty Doors and a much more underground act.
“People Are Strange” from the conceptional 2nd album was a little less successful than “Light My Fire”, peaking at #12. A final single released in 1967, “Love Me Times” was a great song, but barely made the top forty, only peaking at #25. In 1968, The Doors’ “Unknown Soldier” was a very controversial single that didn’t find airplay with many radio stations and only barely made the charts at #39. The Doors really needed something more commercial for singles success after that, and “Hello, I love You” became another #1 top forty single for the band. And “Touch Me” was another huge hit, peaking at #3 on the charts. But, this was to become the group’s last big hit for a while as the band had many flop singles from THE SOFT PARADE album as well as a great controversy and public backlash after Jim Morrison was arrested for supposedly exposing himself onstage during a 1969 Miami concert. The band found themselves banned from concert venues and their records pulled from both radio as well as many mainstream record stores. It was a dark period of turmoil for the band that really tried the patience of Elektra Records as well, that hoped that this dark period could just pass by.
By 1971, the critically acclaimed album, L.A. Woman had The Doors earning more commercial success with the single, “Love Her Madly”. But, the recording session with Jim Morrison was deeply troubled, and Morrison intended the album to likely be his last with the band. By the time L.A. Woman was released, the remaining three band members began work on OTHER VOICES to complete this next album without Jim Morrison. Some of the songs from OTHER VOICES were rehearsed with Jim Morrison on lead vocals, but songs such as “Down On The Farm” were not to the liking of Jim Morrison, and he didn’t want it included on the L.A. Woman album as he prepared to leave for Paris. Jim Morrison did some work with some street musicians in Paris, that even Ray Manzarek dismissed as “drunken gibberish”. On July 3, Jim Morrison was fund dead in a bathtub after some reports that he’d either had a heart attack or even OD’d from snorting heroin, as Morrison had a great fear of shooting up. Some controversial reports claim that Morrison actually OD’d in a popular Paris music club, and was found unresponsive in a men’s room stall. The club didn’t want police scrutiny, so the body was moved out in a car, under the guise of a some guy who passed out from alcohol intoxication, after a French doctor was unable to revive him. His body was then placed in his Paris suite bathtub, according to this one story. Other stories exist as well, how Morrison died. His live-in lover, Pamela Courson died in 1974 from a heroin overdose as well.
The remaining members of The Doors attempted to soldier on on their own, but both OTHER VOICES and FULL CIRCLE as well as the singles from both albums failed to do well on the charts although both albums featured some pretty decent music that was often very jazz influenced compared to the blues sound of L.A. WOMAN. In 1973, The Doors disbanded, with Krieger and Densmore starting the unsuccessful Butts Band, with Ray Manzarek working on two solo albums. The Doors were over without Jim Morrison. He was their star and really defined their both their sound as well as their writing style. Without Jim Morrison, The Doors distinctive sound was really over.
It had been quite a ride for The Doors. Had Morrison been a little more disciplined and controlled, the act probably could have achieved even greater commercial success than it had achieved. Morrison became both a magnet for the band’s success as well as a great roadblock. He forever remains one of the most charismatic and volcanic singers of the 1960’s rock era. From many days of struggle to find enough work to pay rent or to buy food to years of wealth and excess, it had been an amazing ride with many up’s and down’s