"Riders On the Storm"

08 Nov "Riders On the Storm"

by Craig Rosen
The Independent on Saturday (South Africa)
November 18, 2006

Riders on the storm: Jim Morrison of the Doors has gone along with the beads and beards, but surviving members have a lasting legacy to look back on. Craig Rosen talks to them.

As they prepare to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their self-titled debut album, the surviving members of the Doors have been reflecting on their legacy.

The trio of keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore have collaborated with music journalist Ben Fong-Torres for “The Doors by The Doors”, an oral history published by Hyperion.

They also spent time in the studio with long-time engineer Bruce Botnick, as he worked on remixing the Doors’ six studio albums in 5.1 surround sound for archival label Rhino Records’ Perception boxed set, due out later this year.

Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore recently spoke in separate interviews about the enduring appeal of their music.

In your wildest dreams, did you think people would still be listening to the songs of your first album four decades later?

Manzarek: Hardly, but on the other hand, that’s not (a musician’s) concern. I don’t think musicians play music thinking in terms of posterity.

You have to think in that individual moment in time, the Zen moment in time. And if you capture the energy, then you do what a musician is supposed to do.

If, by the grace of the gods on Mount Olympus, you happen to be liked 40 years from now, that’s only a testimony to the Doors’ audience as far as I’m concerned.

Doors music is not a simple kind of music. (Jim) Morrison’s lyrics are psychologically deep. So for people to understand Doors music is certainly a testimony to their intellects.

What did your parents think of you playing this crazy rock ‘n roll music at the time?

Manzarek: They loved it, and then Light My Fire becomes the No 1 song in America. What’s not to like? My mother had three boys of her own, Raymond, Richard and James. So Jim Morrison comes along, and I introduced him and brought him down to Redondo Beach to bum a couple of free meals off my parents. My mother loved him. That was her fourth son.

What do you remember about that first Doors gig at the Sunset Strip club, the London Fog?

Densmore: I had been a professional drummer for years, playing weddings, bar mitzvahs and bars with my fake ID. Here I was in the dumpiest bar I’d ever seen. Jim was so nervous he wouldn’t even face the audience. I thought: “I don’t know if this group is going anywhere.”

And then I’d go down to the Whisky (a Go Go) and hear Love and wish I was in their band. But when I first walked into Ray’s parents’ garage, before I brought Robby into the band, I knew immediately that Jim Morrison had the potential for magic, but it certainly hadn’t come to fruition at the London Fog.

Jim had never sung but he had brilliant lyrics. Ray handed me a crumpled piece of paper. “The day destroys the night/The night divides the day/Tried to run/Tried to hide/Break on through to the other side.”

I read it and said: “Okay, where’s my drums?”

How did you land the gig as the house band at the Whisky a Go Go?

Manzarek: The week before our final night at the London Fog, Ronnie Harran, the booker from the Whisky a Go Go, had come down and fell in love with the band.

She asked us after the set, “How would you guys like to be the house band at the Whisky a Go Go?” And we went: “Are you kidding? We’d love to!” She said, “You’ll open the show, then the headliners, then you play another set, and then the headliners. So two sets a night.”

We said: “How much money?” And she said: “Union scale,” which was like $135 per man, per week. It was like, “Wow.” We were making like $40 or $50 at the London Fog.

The next week we started, and the band we played with was none other than Them – Van Morrison and Them. And we jammed during the last set of the night. So Jim Morrison and Van Morrison were singing Gloria together. What a night.

What were the influences that shaped the Doors’ sound and what does each member of the band bring to the table?

Densmore: Ray grew up in Chicago so he had the blues, Muddy Waters and all that. He also had classical training. That was invoked in the intro to Light My Fire, which was very kind of Bach-like.

Robby had a flamenco and folk music background. I’m a jazz guy and Ray was also into jazz, so when we met we talked about (John) Coltrane and Miles (Davis). I think that influence gave me freedom. Like in When the Music’s Over, I just stopped playing the beat, and I would just comment on Jim’s words percussively. I got that from listening to Elvin Jones and John Coltrane. And then there was Jim, Mr Literary, who had read every book on the planet, but didn’t know anything about music and how to write songs and trusted us. Therefore, we were a total democracy.

What is it about the Doors’ music that makes it so seemingly timeless?

Krieger: The Doors were ahead of their time. It seems like what we were playing back then, the blues and stuff like that, only started to catch on 10 years later. I don’t think a lot of people understood what the hell we were doing until later.

What in your mind is the essential Doors album?

Densmore: The first one had all the hits, but was poorly recorded. The second one was one of my faves because we got relaxed in the studio. We had fun experimenting.

On the fourth and fifth albums, we tried strings and horns. Those are good, the critics hated them, but I don’t care. The last one, LA Woman, gets back to who we really are.

How would you like the Doors to be remembered? Krieger: For the music. I think that’s how we will be remembered in the long run, because all the movies, all the books and all that stuff eventually will go away, but the music will last for a long time. – Reuters/Billboard