John Densmore

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John Densmore
John Densmore1968 publicity photo.jpg
Publicity photo of Densmore, 1966
Background information
Birth nameJohn Paul Densmore
Born (1944-12-01) December 1, 1944 (age 75)
Origin Los Angeles, California, U.S.
  • Musician
  • drummer
  • filmmaker
  • author
  • actor
  • dancer
Years active1964–present
Labels Elektra
Associated acts

John Paul Densmore (born December 1, 1944) is an American musician, songwriter, author and actor. He is best known as the drummer of the rock band the Doors, and as such is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. [1] He appeared on every recording made by the band, with drumming inspired by jazz and world music as much as by rock and roll.


Densmore is also noted for his veto of attempts by the other two Doors members, in the wake of singer Jim Morrison's 1971 death, to accept offers to license the rights to various Doors songs for commercial purposes, as well as his objections to their use in the 21st century of the Doors name and logo. Densmore's lengthy court battles to gain compliance with his veto, based on a 1960s contract requiring unanimity among Doors members to use the band's name or music, ended with total victory for him and his allies in the Morrison estate. [2]

Densmore has worked additionally in the performing arts as a dancer and actor, and written successfully as both a playwright and the author of two books on the topic of the Doors. The many honors he shares with the other Doors include a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Early life

Born in Los Angeles on December 1, 1944, Densmore grew up playing piano and later took up drums/percussion for the marching band at his school. He also played timpani in orchestra. [3] Densmore attended Santa Monica City College and California State University, Northridge; at the latter he studied ethnic music under jazz cellist Fred Katz. [4]

John Densmore (right side) in a 1967 publicity photo of the Doors The Doors 1969.JPG
John Densmore (right side) in a 1967 publicity photo of the Doors

Densmore's drumming influences included hard jazz figures Elvin Jones (drummer for John Coltrane) and Art Blakey. [5]

The Doors

In the mid-1960s Densmore joined guitarist Robby Krieger in a band called the Psychedelic Rangers; shortly thereafter he began rehearsals with keyboardist Ray Manzarek, Manzarek's two brothers and Jim Morrison in the group Rick & the Ravens. On the brothers' departure from the band, Densmore recommended Krieger join them, thus forming the Doors in 1965.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame webpage on the Doors observes that "As a drummer, Densmore had a creative, dynamic flair that lent itself to the Doors' surreal, kaleidoscopic music." [6] In 2010 Modern Drummer magazine referred to his ride cymbal work as some of the most distinctive in classic rock, and noted "Working without a regular bass-playing foil ... Densmore favored a lean, crisp, clear style in feel-good rhythmic explorations that, like the band's songs, gathered together ideas from blues, pop, jazz, classical, and Latin, Eastern, and African music. There are many reasons to love this slyly inventive, often underrated drummer." [7] Together with Krieger, [8] Densmore studied under Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar at the latter's Kinnara School of Music in Los Angeles. [9]

"John—a brilliant drummer, "The End" proved that, in my book; that’s some of the greatest drumming I’ve ever heard in my life; irrespective of the fact that I’m involved in this album, it’s incredibly creative drumming— has an instinct for when. During a very quiet part he’ll just come in with three drum shots that are about as loud as you can hit a drum, and they’re right, they’re absolutely right! Now, you can’t plan those things.”

- Doors' producer Paul Rothchild, from a March 1967 interview published in Crawdaddy. [10]

The quartet, after two years of work, became star attractions in 1967, and released six studio and several live albums, eventually selling over 100 million units. [11]

According to Densmore's autobiography, he had quit the band on one occasion in reaction to Morrison's increasingly self-destructive behavior, although Densmore returned the next day. Densmore repeatedly suggested that the band stop touring, but Krieger and Manzarek were resistant to this notion. After the Doors' disastrous performance with a gibberish-spouting Morrison in New Orleans on December 12, 1970, the band agreed to stop performing live, and the concert was the Doors' last public appearance as a quartet. [12]

Over his years with the Doors, Densmore used a variety of drum sets, including Gretsch and later Ludwig. He also used Zildjian and later Paiste cymbals.

When Morrison died in 1971, the surviving trio recorded two more albums of songs and an instrumental backdrop for the late singer's recorded poetry. Densmore remained a member until the band's dissolution in 1973. [13]

Later career

Densmore formed a musical group with fellow ex-Doors member Robby Krieger in 1973 called the Butts Band. The group released two albums with two different lineups, and disbanded in 1975. Densmore left rock and roll in the 1980s, moving to the world of dance as he performed with Bess Snyder and Co., touring the United States for two years.

John Densmore (left) in 1971 with Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek of the Doors The Doors (1971).png
John Densmore (left) in 1971 with Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek of the Doors

In 1984, at La Mama Theatre in New York, he made his stage acting debut in Skins, a one-act play he had written. In 1985, he won the LA Weekly Theater Award for music with Methusalem, directed by Tim Robbins. The play Rounds, which he co-produced, won the NAACP award for theatre in 1987. In 1988, he played a feature role in Band Dreams and Bebop at the Gene Dynarski Theatre. He developed and performed a one-man piece from the Donald Barthelme short story, The King of Jazz, at the Wallenboyd Theatre in 1989. With Adam Ant, he co-produced Be Bop A Lula at Theatre Theatre in 1992. He has acted in numerous TV shows, most memorably as himself in the show Square Pegs , working as a drummer for Johnny Slash's band Open 24 Hours, and in an episode of Beverly Hills 90210 in 1992, in Series 2, Episode 23, where he plays Ben, Dylan's sponsor.

His film credits include Get Crazy with Malcolm McDowell, Dudes directed by Penelope Spheeris, and The Doors directed by Oliver Stone. [14] In the Stone film he was portrayed by actor Kevin Dillon. He also produced and co-scored the feature film, "Window of Opportunity", a dark comedy about corporate greed written and directed by Samuel Warren Joseph.

Densmore wrote his best-selling autobiography, Riders on the Storm (1990), [12] about his life and the time he spent with Morrison and the Doors. In the first chapter Densmore describes the solemn day on which he and the band finally visited Morrison's grave [15] around three years after Morrison's death.

Densmore appears alongside Krieger and Manzarek in 2012's RE:GENERATION, a documentary directed by Amir Bar-Lev. It features Densmore collaborating on a new song with Skrillex.

Stand against commercialization

Densmore, Manzarek and Krieger, after Jim Morrison's death, allowed "Riders on the Storm" to be used to sell Pirelli Tyres, but in the United Kingdom only. Densmore later stated that he "heard Jim's voice" in his ears and ended up donating his share of the money earned to charity. In 2003, Densmore vetoed an offer by Cadillac of $15 million for "Break On Through (To the Other Side)" citing Morrison's historic and vehement opposition to licensing the Doors' music, notably their best-selling single "Light My Fire" for a Buick television commercial, [16] as well as Densmore's strong views on the subject; Densmore objected to Manzarek and Krieger touring using the name "Doors of the 21st Century."

In a subsequent court case, in which Densmore was joined by the Morrison estate, opposing lawyers attempted to portray Densmore as un-American, a communist and an eco-terrorist. Notable musicians who testified in support of Densmore included Bonnie Raitt, Randy Newman, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Eddie Vedder and Tom Waits. Former drummer for the Police, Stewart Copeland, who had performed with Krieger and Manzarek in 2002 and 2003, also testified in Densmore's and the Morrison estate's behalf. [17]

In 2013 Densmore released The Doors Unhinged, a book covering his lengthy but victorious legal battle with Krieger and Manzarek over their use of the Doors' name and logo in their touring and Densmore's veto of the Cadillac commercial offer. [17] Manzarek and Densmore reconciled shortly before Manzarek's death in 2013. [2] Densmore and Krieger have occasionally appeared together on stage again.." [18]


As a member of the Doors, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. [6] Along with his 1993 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Densmore, as a member of the Doors, was recognized in 2007 with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. [19] Also in 2007, Densmore and his band mates were awarded a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement. [20]

He and the Doors have been saluted twice by the City of Los Angeles, which in 2017 issued a proclamation at a public gathering in Venice Beach observing January 4 as the 'Day of the Doors' in honor of the 50th anniversary of the group's self-titled album release on that date in 1967. [21] At the event, Los Angeles Councilmember Mike Bonin introduced Densmore and Krieger who ceremonially lit a Doors logo beneath the famed 'Venice' letters. [22] A year later, on January 4, 2018, Densmore accepted a second proclamation from Los Angeles Councilmember Paul Koretz at the junction of Densmore Avenue and Morrison Street in Encino, Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley in which honorary street signs were unveiled. [23]

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  1. Huey, Steve. "Biography: John Densmore". AllMusic . Rovi Corporation . Retrieved April 14, 2010.
  2. 1 2 Lewis, Randy. "John Densmore on court fights with Doors bandmates: 'It wasn't fun'". Los Angeles Times . Retrieved July 11, 2019.
  3. Parillo, Michael. "John Densmore: When You're Strange". Modern Drummer Magazine.
  4. Densmore, John (1990). Riders on the Storm: My Life with Jim Morrison and the Doors (1st ed.). New York City: Delacorte Press. p.  34. ISBN   0-385-30033-6; ISBN   978-03-8530-033-9.
  5. "John Densmore talks drumming, classic tracks and his book 'The Doors Unhinged'".
  6. 1 2 1993 Induction Ceremony Performance To the top. "The Doors | Rock & Roll Hall of Fame". Retrieved July 18, 2018.
  7. "14 Reasons To Love The Doors' John Densmore". Archived from the original on January 10, 2018. Retrieved September 24, 2019.
  8. Prato, Greg. "Robby Krieger". AllMusic . Retrieved February 1, 2019.
  9. Kubernik, Harvey (June 16, 2015). "Ravi Shankar: A Life In Music Exhibit at the Grammy Museum May 2015–Spring 2016". Cave Hollywood. Retrieved February 1, 2019.
  10. Jackson, Josh. "Rothschild Speaks: Interview with the Doors' Producer :: Crawdaddy :: Features :: Paste". Retrieved July 18, 2018.
  11. "Ray Manzarek, founding member of The Doors, dies at 74".
  12. 1 2 Densmore, John (1990). Riders on the Storm: My Life with Jim Morrison and the Doors. New York City: Delacorte Press.
  13. Ruhlmann, William; Unterberger, Richie. "The Doors – Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved September 5, 2010.
  14. John Densmore at the Internet Movie Database.
  15. Densmore, John (1990). Riders on the Storm: My Life with Jim Morrison and the Doors. p.  1. It smelled like rain. I had hoped it would storm. Then we wouldn't have had to see his grave. My heartbeat was increasing. I looked over at Robby, Danny, and Herve in the car as we approached the cemetery.
  16. Harmon, Rod. "From the Editor: The Doors, the Buick, and the book". Portland Press Herald. Portland Press Herald. Retrieved April 24, 2014.
  17. 1 2 "The Doors' John Densmore Talks About the Band's Ugly, Six-Year Feud".
  18. "THE DOORS' Robby Krieger & John Densmore To Honor Ray Manzarek at LA Concert! – The Doors". Retrieved September 5, 2020.
  19. "The Doors Honored With Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame". Fox News (Associated Press). February 28, 2007. Retrieved January 10, 2018.
  20. Fong-Torres, Ben (May 15, 2017). "A Tribute To The Doors". Retrieved January 10, 2018.
  21. "Doors Plot 50th Anniversary Celebration in Los Angeles". Rolling Stone. December 29, 2017. Retrieved January 3, 2017.
  22. "» Doors Get the Sign and the "Day of the Doors" – Venice Update". Retrieved July 9, 2017.
  23. Olga Grigoryants. "New Doors-inspired street signs unveiled, creating honorary crossroads for iconic L.A. band – Daily News". Retrieved July 18, 2018.