Thanks to TheDeadGuy for pointing out the need for a biography, and volfied for reminding me to add the reunion info!
The Doors formed in 1965, when Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek, who knew one another fairly well from UCLA film school, ran into one another in Venice Beach, California. Ray asked what Jim was doing; Jim answered that he had been writing some songs. Ray asked to hear them, and Jim sang what would be recorded as "Moonlight Drive." That and other songs impressed Ray sufficiently that he suggested the two work together as a band. Jim moved in with keyboardist Ray and his girlfriend Dorothy, and Ray met drummer John Densmore at a Transcendental Meditation class, where John pointed out guitarist Robby Krieger. Manzarek said of their first rehearsal together, "We formed a bond that afternoon."
The group put together a demo and shopped it around to all the Los Angeles record companies. After many rejections, Columbia Records were willing to sign them. The band played at a small L.A. club, the London Fog, while waiting for the label to get around to finding a producer to work with them, but after less than six months the label dropped them and the club fired them. Luckily, an admirer worked at the bigger club the Whiskey A Go-Go and got them work there, opening for known bands such as The Turtles, Them, The Animals, and Buffalo Springfield. This gave them a lot of exposure and a local following. They also eventually made up for their lack of a bass guitar by acquiring a keyboard bass to sit on top of Ray's organ, so that he could play simple basslines with one hand. On the advice of a member of Love, the most popular local band, the head of Elektra Records checked out this group called the Doors. The band were inclined to go this with then-new label because they wouldn't get lost in the shuffle, and they approved of Jac Holzman's taste in the other bands he had signed. The timing was perfect; a few days after the contract was signed, they were fired from the Whiskey for performing the profane Oedipal lyrics of "The End."
Their self-titled first album was recorded in six days with producer Paul Rothschild (who appealed to the band because he had recently gotten out of jail for drug possession). It was mixed in New York, where the band played a month at a club called Ondine, a hangout of Andy Warhol's; apparently the Doors impressed the crowd there as much as they had in California. The album came out in January 1967. The first single, "Break On Through," didn't do too well, but "Light My Fire" was being requested as the next single by everyone who heard the album. Since the album version was more than 6 minutes long, the band tried unsuccessfully to record a shorter version for radio play in that day of the three-minute single. Eventually Rothschild edited out the instrumental solos in the middle of the album version; most of the band wasn't happy, but they put up with it. Especially in July when the song went to number one on the American pop charts.
That fall, the Doors were asked to be on the Ed Sullivan Show. It wasn't until backstage before the live TV performance that Sullivan's son-in-law, the show's director, told them that they shouldn't sing the line "Girl, we couldn't get much higher." Morrison agreed and sang the altered lyric in rehearsal, but used the original line during the broadcast. Luckily their own soundmen were in charge, so no bleeping could be done. The Doors never appeared on the Sullivan show again. But it didn't matter; they were already recording their second album, Strange Days, which gave them a lot more time to experiment than their first record. "Horse Latitudes" was recorded with vocals shouted against a chaos of piano strings pounded with mallets, coconut shells pounded on the floor, and weird noises tweaked from Robby's guitar. During one take of another track, "You're Lost, Little Girl," Rothschild suggested that Jim's girlfriend Pam go down on Jim in the vocal booth while he sang. That wasn't the take that was used on the album, though.
Strange Days came out in October 1967; it didn't have as obvious a single as "Light My Fire," but "People Are Strange" did fairly well on the radio and the album was a success. The band had been touring constantly in support of both albums; Ray found time to marry Dorothy, but the band hadn't managed to write more material for a third album. At this time, going a year between albums was considered a massively long time for a rock band, so the band buckled down and came out with Waiting For The Sun in July 1968. Touring in support of this album and its big hit, "Hello, I Love You," they headlined the Hollywood Bowl and caused a riot at New York's Singer Bowl. Then they toured Europe with Jefferson Airplane. In Amsterdam, Jim was too stoned to perform and the other three went on a trio with Ray singing. Back in the U.S., there were more near-riots and arrests at their concerts, and the band began to get a reputation as less of a music act and more a showcase for Jim to act weird. Though they worked hard to put on a dramatic show, it was frustrating for the group to have their words and music ignored.
By the beginning of 1969, the Doors were simply the biggest American band. "Light My Fire" was used in a Buick commercial; the other three band members had approved it but Jim had not been around to comment, and turned out to be furious when he found out. He saw himself as a rebel, where the others seemed to want to bring hippie ideals to the masses. During the recording of the fourth album, Robby and John brought a more jazz-influenced feel to parts of the album, and their producer brought in horns and strings to a few tracks. This was also the first album where the songs' writing credits were listed individually, rather than "All songs by the Doors," because Jim felt that a few lines in Robby's "Runnin' Blue" condoned violence. Jim's focus on film-making and poetry projects instead of the band and his increasing drinking contributed to the tension.
A few more concerts were shoehorned in during the recording period. In March 1969, the band flew to Miami to perform. The band's manager was arguing with the promoters, who had removed seats and sold a few thousand more tickets than the band had been told when their fee was arranged. The manager said the band wouldn't play, but the promoters threatened to not give back the band's already-set-up equipment if they didn't. Jim had gotten drunk and missed his original plane flight (and the sound check); although he made it to the show, he hadn't sobered up. He'd seen the performance group The Living Theatre not long before and was aping their confrontational tactics: telling the audience they were idiots, giving rambling speeches instead of singing, despite the others' attempts to get him back on track, and trying to pull down his pants. All the biographies say he was wearing boxer shorts, but some audience members later claimed he had exposed himself.
All four Doors flew off to the Caribbean for a vacation after the concert, but three days later in Miami, a warrant was issued for Jim on charges of indecent exposure, open profanity, public drunkenness, and lewd and lascivious behavior. This last was a felony charge. When the news of this became public, most of the band's scheduled concerts were canceled by their promoters, and some radio stations stopped playing their songs. The FBI charged Morrison with unlawful flight (a ridiculous idea since Jim had left Miami three days before any warrants were issued). The new album, The Soft Parade came out, and the single "Touch Me" did well, but between the bad publicity and the change in the band's sound, the album wasn't all that successful. The few concerts that the band could do in support of the album required a bond to be posted; the band was putting up money to insure that the show wouldn't be obscene. The local police were very hostile to the visiting musicians as well. Eventually the band spent their time off working on their fourth album, and Jim had a book of poems, The Lords, and the New Creatures, published.
Morrison Hotel came out in February 1970. It got good reviews and, though it didn't produce a pop hit, "Roadhouse Blues" would become a classic. However, Jim was drinking even more than before, with his upcoming court dates weighing on his mind. He got in further trouble before the Miami trial started; he and a friend harrassed a flight attendant on a plane to Phoenix and got arrested upon landing. He had been acquitted there, but it didn't look so good for the Miami incident; a lot of people were claiming they had seen all kinds of things on stage. But despite more than 150 concert snapshots in the trial's evidence, not one was able to show any indecent exposure. On the stand, Jim was asked if he had exposed himself, and replied, "I don't remember. I was too drunk." Oddly enough, he was acquitted of the public drunkenness and the lewd behavior charges, but found guilty of the profanity and indecent exposure ones, and sentenced to six months in Dade County jail, as well as a $500 fine. The verdict was immediately appealed.
In the summer of 1970, Jim was visiting one of the other women he saw besides his longtime girlfriend Pamela Courson. This one, Patricia Kennealy, was a practicing witch as well as editor of a rock magazine. On Midsummer Night, the two went through a pagan handfasting ceremony; Patricia considered the two of them married after this (and still uses Morrison's last name), but Jim went back to Pamela a few days later. Though Patricia and Jim conceived a child around that time, Jim persuaded Patricia to have an abortion. A more serious marriage was that of John Densmore to his girlfriend Julia that October.
Jimi Hendrix died during the Miami trial, and Janis Joplin soon after. Jim is said to have remarked to friends, "You're drinking with Number Three." The concert double album Absolutely Live had been released during the summer, and the greatest-hits collection 13 in November 1970, but the band owed Elektra Records one more album. They began to work on what would become L.A. Woman. After a lot of fights with Paul Rothschild (he called the song "Riders On The Storm" "cocktail jazz"), he left as producer and the band co-produced with their engineer, Bruce Botnick. On December 8th, his 27th birthday, Jim came into the studio alone with a stack of his poems and was recorded reading them aloud (and getting drunker and drunker). The band would do their last public performances as a quartet that weekend; the show in Dallas was very good, but New Orleans the next night was miserable, and Ray says he saw Jim's energy flow straight out of him halfway through the set. Ray, Robby, and John informally agreed that they would stop performing live; Jim concurred a bit later that at least a temporary halt to live shows would be good.
However, the album recording seemed to be going well; without a separate producer all four band members seemed to assume more responsibility. John said that he was relieved about the decision to stop touring; "it meant that what we'd created wouldn't be dragged through the shit." Drinking was hurting Jim's voice as well. He and Pamela left for a few months in Paris in March 1971, before the album was mixed. Pamela was encouraging him to write more poetry instead of being a rock star. When L.A. Woman came out in April, the single "Love Her Madly" was a great success, as well as the album, but Jim didn't even hear about it until he bothered to call their manager. Ray, Robby, and John were rehearsing with Ray singing, waiting for Jim to return so they could record more and negotiate a new record contract with a different company.
On Monday, July 5, rumors reached newspapers and the Doors office that Jim was dead. It wasn't the first time such rumors had spread, but when Bill Siddons, the manager, spoke on the phone to Pamela, she merely told him he should come to Paris. Siddons got there from California in time to see a sealed coffin laid in the ground at Pere La Chaise cemetery. He also saw a death certificate, but never Jim's body; this is the source of rumors since 1971 that Jim faked his own death. However, it seems fairly likely that Jim died on July 3, 1971, in the bathtub of a Paris apartment while Pamela slept. No one knows the exact cause; an overdose of some drug or drug/alcohol combination is consistent with the behavior described by people who saw him in Paris.
The Doors did not end there; Ray, Robby and John continued to record. The album Other Voices came out in October 1971 and Full Circle the next year, and it wasn't until 1973 that the three broke up the Doors. They would later record backing tracks for Jim's poetry and release that as An American Prayer in 1978, and some other unreleased tracks came out as Alive, She Cried in 1983 (as well as numerous re-releases of different combinations of songs). Both Densmore and Manzarek would write books about the Doors as well. And a reunion has been announced with Krieger, Manzarek, Ian Astbury of The Cult singing, and Stewart Copeland of The Police and Oysterhead drumming originally. Copeland injured an arm in a bicycle accident in November 2002, and was replaced with drummer Ty Dennis. Copeland sued Krieger and Manzarek for breach of oral contract, but settled out of court. John Densmore is also suing his former bandmates for using the Doors name (which may be why their tour is under the name "the Doors of the 21st Century," though that hasn't stopped Densmore's lawsuit).
- Densmore, John. Riders On The Storm: My Life with Jim Morrison and the Doors. New York: Delta, 1990.
- Hopkins, Jerry, and Danny Sugerman. No One Here Gets Out Alive. New York: Warner Books, 1980.
- Manzarek, Ray. Light My Fire: My Life With The Doors. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1998.