Remembering John Densmore

I went through a Doors phase in Middle School and High School. You could even call it an obsession. I read every book I could get my hands on about the band and Jim Morrison. I bought everything I could that they had put out. I still have a pile of Doors albums, cassettes, and CDs. Most of all I was captivated with the drumming of John Densmore. I think this was because he was more than a drummer. He was an intricate part of the song, often playing against or accenting the vocals and antics of Jim Morrison. Much more than a timekeeper, Densmore was an auditory performer. He often self-identified himself as a percussionist.

Doors’ producer Paul Rothchild summed up Densmore in a March 1967 interview. “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 right! Now, you can’t plan those things.”

The Door’s music is unique. You could even say one-of-a-kind and that required Densmore to be a one-of-a-kind drummer. His use of different styles of beats from jazz-to-bossa nova-to swing-to-rock showed his incredible level of diversity. He simply played for the song. Whatever it needed Densmore delivered. Live shows also required Densmore to be constantly playing off of Jim Morrison who slithered about the stage. His constant awareness of Morrison’s body language and improvisation enhanced the “Lizard King’s” performance.

Clearly Jim Morrison was the face of The Doors, so John and the others took a backseat to the rock star. This did not seem to bother them in the least as they were more concerned with focusing on the music. Densmore’s contribution is evident as his beats are so original and appropriate for each song. “Light My Fire” for instance, features a perfectly suited bossa nova beat. Sometimes the simpler beats (ala Ringo Starr) propelled the song such a “Riders on the Storm.” The Door’s drummer’s diversity clearly contributed to the diversity of the band and gave us songs that still resonate today.

Following the end of The Doors in 1973 Densmore continued, and continues, to play in a variety of musical and theater projects, all of them calling on his unique ability for improvisation and creativity. In 1990, Densmore wrote a best-selling book titled Riders on the Storm about his life and the time he spent with Morrison and The Doors. It is available on Amazon here.

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