I am John Densmore, drummer for the Doors, AMA
Hi All, John Densmore here, drummer for The Doors (which is permanently etched across my forehead)! I’ve got a new book out called "The Doors:Unhinged" which delves into the topic of art vs greed as well as other issues that has confronted me as a member of The Doors. Available in various formats at www.johndensmore.com or Amazon. Alright, I’m not a tech head and this is my first AMA, but I'm here with Victoria from reddit so I’ll do my best to answer your questions and hopefully we’ll have some fun at this.
Well I really enjoyed reddit because it is a direct connection with the fans. No intermediaries. I look forward to more. But I have to go to the bathroom now.
First time I met Ray & Jim (they deleted their question): I met Ray at a Maharishi Meditation Class. He was very friendly, and asked me to come to a jam session. There I met Jim, who was incredibly shy, and I never thought that he was going to be the next Mick Jagger, but Ray handed me those lyrics to "Break On Through" and I flipped out.
So, you signed my boob in Tucson at your book signing. I got it tattooed. Not a question. Just letting you know. :) It was fantastic meeting you.
Can I see it again?
p.s. my girlfriend and I have been together 8 years and we're definitely staying together :)
Out of all your drumming contemporaries I must say you are the King of stamina. You held the beat for multiple 10 plus minute long songs and when Jim would go off on a tangent you continued to play, not knowing how long he was going to take his rants. What is your secret to stamina? Do you do yoga or lift weights to maintain strong muscles in your arms and legs ?
That's funny! Yes, I've done yoga every day for 50 years and I haven't missed a day. And yes, playing when the music's over and especially the end was exhausting.
Hey John, thanks for doing this AMA. I have two questions; what was your favorite song to perform live, and who was your biggest influence that got you into drumming?
"Light my Fire" was my favorite to perform live because the long jazzy instrumental sections in the middle were really fun to spur Ray and Robby's solos with my drumming.
My idol was Elvin Jones, John Coltrane's drummer. I saw him as a kid and became his friend, and wrote an obit about him when he passed. At the end of his life, I helped him carry his cymbals to his car when he was in town for a gig.
What is your greatest memory of your time writing lyrics with The Doors?
Once again, LA Woman was my favorite, because the songs came so naturally. We would just be jamming on a corny melody and then it would morph into Riders on the Storm, or Jim would have some words and he would just sing them acapella, and we would quickly figure out how to have a musical mattress for him to lay those words on top of.
If you had the opportunity to say one last thing to Jim, what would that be? p.s. As a lifelong fan of The Doors, this is an incredible honour for me to speak to you. Thank you
Thank you, Jim, Much gratitude for your muse.
Hi Mr. Densmore! Huge fan of your guys' music and I've been wondering, how accurate was the biopic of The Doors?
Oliver Stone's movie took a six-year career and crammed it into 2 hours and blew it up the size of a few-story building… I had to realize that it would be an impression, not an exact print of our career. Val Kilmer should have been nominated for best actor. I am pleased that Johnny Depp narrated a documentary on us called "When You're Strange" which compliments Oliver's movie by bringing in more of the time period around the 60's.
Hi John, In the past you've sounded angry with Jim. Are you still upset with him?
No. I love him dearly, and I miss those percussive lyrics. Day destroys the night, night divides the day, try to run, try to hide, break on through the other side.
The reason I was angry at him was because of his self-destruction. But back then, we didn't know he had a disease called alcoholism.
First of all thank you so much for doing this. What was your favorite concert with the Doors?
I'm not going to narrow it down to one concert. I'm going to say my favorite time period was the transition from clubs to second-bill at small concert halls. That was when we were getting the feeling that my GOD, this train is leaving the station. We're going to make a living, we're going to pay the rent doing this, oh my God. the mass adulation at the large concert halls is great, but it's not as exciting as the feeling that this band is going to go somewhere. That's really something. That you're going to have a career is mind-blowing, because the arts are such a crapshoot.
Hello John, I am Anemarie, and this is such a huge honor, considering I got through some really hard stuff because The Doors inspired me so much. My question is, how was it the first time you played at the whiskey a go go? What was the feeling like? Thank you so much for your music, long live The Doors.
We were the house band at the Whiskey. And our first review in the LA Times was horrible. So horrible that a reader might want to see how bad this group was. And eventually we took pride in blowing off every headliner that came to town.
Would you do a concert if Ray and Jim were in the form of holograms? Just like they did at Coachella with Tupac?
I'm not sure. But there's only two Doors and two Beatles left, so maybe we should get together and form the DoorBeatles. That would be 2 drummers, a guitar player and a bass player who plays pretty good piano.
What Doors lyric has resonated with you the most?
I would say "Break on through," because those were the first lyrics of Jim's that I ever saw. And I immediately heard drums.
First I'd like to tell you how much I enjoyed your book Riders on the Storm. Second I'd like to ask what your favorite Doors song and memory from your time with the Doors is.
This is not a fair question. LA Woman is my favorite Doors album. From 1965-1971, those were my favorite memories.
If you didn't join The Doors, what career path do you think you would have taken?
I was going to go to college in San Francisco and that didn't pan out, but if it had I probably would have been the drummer in Jefferson Airplane or the Grateful Dead or Janis Joplin's band...
The first several years of our skyrocketing career we were together practically 24/7. If we weren't recording, which took 14 hours a day, we were on the road. So we were together having great fun most of the time. When we got a few days off, we went our separate ways because we needed alone time. We had a pinball machine in our rehearsal room where we eventually recorded LA Woman, and we had a blast in between takes playing pinball. I don't know what happened to the machine, it's probably in an auction house somewhere.
Hi Mr. Densmore, welcome to reddit. The Doors have been my favorite band for as long as I can remember, so I'm really excited to be able to ask you a few questions.
- If Jim Morrison hadn't passed away and The Doors had stayed together, how do you think the band's sound would have changed and evolved?
- In which, if any, of today's bands can you most hear The Doors' influence?
Thanks for doing this AMA, and for making music I have enjoyed for over two decades. I hope you enjoy reddit.
Well, if he became clean and sober and that would be the only way that he would not have passed, we would probably be doing blues-based songs and we would be getting into films. Ray and Jim went to film school, so we were very interested in visuals with music.
Oh boy, that's tough. I don't have my finger on the pulse of the latest stuff. I can tell you the latest books that are coming out, but I feel unqualified to answer that. Obviously U2 years ago, and there are a few singers.
Hey John, Being a native of Connecticut, I was wondering if you remember that night in 1967 when Jim got arrested on stage in New Haven. What were you and the band feeling afterwords. Thanks
Of course I remember Jim's first bust in New Haven. I was very worried about them beating him up at the police station. He accidentally got maced before the concert by one of the cops mistaking him for a fan, and he belligerently told the story onstage. And then they arrested him. They didn't punch him, they shoved him around I'm sure. And this was the time when we longhairs were, you know, in New York and LA there were long haired kids but you get out in the hinterlands a little bit and they'd call you names. Not "Gay" because that wash't in the vernacular, but that word with the F, know what I'm saying? I drove across the country with Ray in the early days and we were called that because there weren't many males with long hair.
What can you tell us about Jim's death? There are so many conspiracies out there.
I'm sad to say he drank too much. The theories that he still is alive are because we all miss him so much.
Hi John. Thank you for all the music and for your integrity as a musician and a person.
How has Ray's passing affected your relationship with Robby?
First of all, let me say that I sent the late great Ray and Robby my last chapter in the unpublished "Doors: Unhinged" with a note saying I want to make sure you get to this, because this is where I say I love you guys and we're musical brothers. Then when I heard Ray was getting really sick, I called him, and we were kind of estranged, I was estranged with both of them (Ray and Robby) due to the litigation and trying to figure out who owned the Doors name. Fortunately Ray and I had a closing phone call (I didn't know it would be our last) but he was going to Germany for alternative cancer treatment, and I told him I had heard that was the place to go. He sounded weak but hopeful, and died a few weeks later. And then, I called Robby and said "Listen, death trumps everything. Let's get together and play Doors music." which we haven't done in 15 years or whatever, and make it a concert in Ray's honor, and a benefit for cancer or something. So that's in the works.
Did you ever try to play a gong or some other percussive instrument in on a song and get voted down? Do you think something like that would have improved one of your songs?
Haha! Bang a gong, get it on. I was the percussionist and the music dictated or told me intuitively to put what on there, so I didn't hear a gong on there. But I do have one funny story: on the song "Spanish Caravan" I heard cymbal crashes every 4 or 8 bars, after we had recorded it, and at the time the Beatles were experimenting with Sgt Pepper and different electronic sounds, and I recorded cymbal crashes just using my mouth, not a cymbal, going "tssssh tsssh" I just mad ethe sound and we recorded that, which was really cool. It sounded kind of electronic and like a cymbal.
I have two thing to ask you, how was your day and how you like reddit?
Wow. I'm finding reddit really fun because the questions are unique. Questions I don't normally get. And it's a beautiful day here. I feel guilty because we need rain.
Hi Mr Densmore,
I'm curious what you think of Snoop's version of Riders on the Storm. Do you enjoy hearing other artists putting their personal touches on your songs?
I do. And especially when someone does an arrangement entirely different from ours, like Jose Feliciano turned "Light My Fire" into a ballad. We never saw that coming.
Hello John, I love the Doors and respect the hell out of you. Now, just how pissed off was Ed Sullivan after you guys played his show? I know the whole "We already played the Sullivan show"story", but could you give me your first hand account of that experience?
First of all, we were rehearsing before the show, and Ed walked in on that, and we were kind of goofing around and he said "You boys, when you do the show, you should smile. You look great when you smile." Which we didn't do. And then we were supposed to edit out the word "higher" from "Light My Fire" which Jim did not do. It was not Ed who said "We will NEVER do this show again" it was one of his assistants, but we just sort of said we did it and we don't need to do it again. We just couldn't change our lyrics, you know? Censorship.
John, I can't begin to express my admiration for you. You've been the soundtrack to a large portion of my life. I've always been a sucker for drummers. From Gene Krupa to Ringo Starr to Peter Chris to, hell, John Densmore. Who are some of the drummers past and present who speak to you. And God Bless You, Sir
Well, Elvin Jones is my mentor. I loved Mitch Mitchell, and I love Ringo, even though he isn't as fast as Mitch Mitchell, the feel is everything. If you don't have the feel you have nothing. And drums are the first instrument for you people who say things like "If you want to see if the stage is level, see what side of his mouth the drummer is drooling." (there are a lot of dumb drummer jokes).
I'm hoping that Colbert is gonna have me on so he can make fun of "how did you ever write a book being a drummer?"
Thank you for the great gift. This great gift being that I get to listen to THE DOORS whenever i want to. Not because someone has some car or computer to pimp or some mortgage to pay . I just finished reading « THE DOORS UNHINGED » and i didn’t expect to get emotional while reading it, but i cannot thank you enough for the months you spent in that courtroom fighting for yourself. For Jim. For us. And to some of us, it means the world. Thank you for fighting the good fight.
So my question is this: How protected are your songs in the long run? Who will decide in 50-60 years?
Wow, now first of all, your tears are balm to my soul. We've got something in our trust fund that keeps the songs pure at least 25 years. My kids know my principles, but it's hard to retain control from the grave.
Where did "Lizard King" come from? Also, really too bad about Ray Manzarek RIP.
Jim was fascinated with reptiles. He even had a suit made out of lizard skin. And that's when I wrote in my first autobiography that I don't know if he can breathe with that thing on! Maybe he's buying his own mythology, watch out.
Hello John! Did you ever get to know any of Jim's extended family, like his brother Andy or sister Anne? If so did you see similar personalities?
Yes, I met Jim's brother in the early days. He kind of looked like Jim. And I met his sister Anne during the trial because Jim's estate joined me in trying to preserve the legacy of the name. And Anne was very friendly. I didn't see any Morrison characteristics, but she said to me "Did he tease you a lot? Because he sure did us when we were kids" and I said "Definitely."
Hey John, lifetime fan here. How is your health behaving? You need to stay with us for long! Thanks for the ama and for the wonderful music you, robby, jim and ray gave us.
Sweet question. Due to the fact of having a 21 year old son, let alone grandkids, I am making sure that I am going to be around quite a bit longer. Thank you very much.
Hi John , by coincidence I just received your old book "Riders on The Storm" today from Amazon, My question is why The Doors music isn't featured in movies or T.V shows of today ? Is this a conscious decision or the complexity of votes making it difficult or something else ? I'm sure many requests have been made for use of your music, you guys made some amazing pieces of art that would accompany film very well.
First of all, thank you for buying my first self-centered memoir (I have two!). The Doors' music is so strong, sometimes it overpowers visual images, so it's gotta be a strong movie for it to work. I look forward to more of those.
I know that you have Tinnitus and so do I. I still like to play my drums and I wear ear plugs with headphones to keep the tinnitus under control. I met you in Rochester NY at Record Archive and we talked briefly about it. What I wanted to ask you is do you still play your drum set and if so do you wear headphones? My wife would like to know if you ever get the chance to play in your spare time and if so do you play to any of the Doors songs? Thanks much Dan & Patty Whaley
I wear earplugs that are molded to my ears, custom-made earplugs, with 15 and 25 db filters. I also am going to try these new in-ear monitors. Well, I played with Robby actually a few months ago when we did a Q&A after a screening of "The Making of LA Woman" a Doors documentary film. And I suggested, after all that blah blah, that we just jam a little, and we played some Doors songs on a little hand drum and a little acoustic guitar. I said "we're known for our drumming and guitar playing, and would you guys be able to help us with the singing?" so the whole audience sang "People Are Strange." Then we did "Love me 2 Times" and a couple others. So they helped us with the singing.
Would you agree that, with music, you must breakthrough the "ego" in order to reach to soul? I think I "get it" when listening to the doors
Wow. If your music is to be soulful, you do need to leave your ego outside the recording studio door. If the art does not have much ego, then it's more universal, and more people can relate to it. Although one of the main premises of rap is ego, but that's with a tongue thoroughly inserted into a cheek.
Check Jay-Z's lyrics in my new book!
Where is the strangest place that somebody has asked you for an autograph?
Haha! I don't mind autographing female breasts.
Favorite ice cream flavor?
Vanilla with fudge.
What is the best advice that was ever given to you?
Wow. I've learned that it's best not to focus on the goal as much as the process of getting there. In other words, I was excited to play with African drummers in my jazz group because it was new. And the audiences were small, but it was still really stimulating. Like I played with an Iranian musician as well, and that tweaked my brain cells. So I think what's kept me sane is enjoying the process, and it doesn't matter if it's Madison Square Garden or the Whiskey a go go.
Hello John will you be touring anytime soon?
I will be doing a book signing at VIA records in Las Vegas on March 6th, Memphis Tennessee on March 8th (I don't know the store) and I will be a guest professor, Professor Densmore will be speaking at a college in New York. Bergen Community College on March 11th at 7:30 PM.
If you could 5 artists or bands to perform at your dream music festival, who would they be?
Thanks for doing this man!
I'll let you know in a month! Hopefully this concert for Ray will be my dream festival.
I've read one of your books years ago and I really enjoyed it. The doors was one of the first bands I started listening to when I was 8. You guys were way ahead of your time. Thanks for the music.
Thanks for your interest. I have another book if you can't get enough!
Someone asked what was the craziest thing I ever witnessed Jim Morrison do and deleted their comment, so here's my answer: One time in the early days, I was driving Jim around in my little VW bug, and he pulled out a quarter, and he said "You wanna bet that we're gonna make it or not?"
And I said "Uh…tails"
and then instead of flipping the coin, he flipped it into his mouth and swallowed it. This was a quarter. Oh my god. And then (this is a bad joke) later I forgot to ask him if it came out tails. Sorry! Crude, John, Crude! Oh well.
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