Writer/singer Jim Morrison and keyboard player Ray Manzarek met at the UCLA film school and decided to form a band. Recruiting drummer John Densmore and ex-jug band guitarist Robby Krieger, The Doors began a club residency at the London Fog on Sunset Boulevard in early 1966.
Foregoing a bass player, the classically-trained Manzarek preferred to play bass notes on his Fender Rhodes piano (and later, his Vox Continental organ).
It was only when The Doors were hired for a six-month stint at the Whisky A Go Go that their reputation began to spread.
They were quickly snaffled by Elektra boss Jac Holzman on the recommendation of Arthur Lee from Love.
Their signature sound was first heard on record on Break On Through (To The Other Side), issued in January 1967.
A month later, The Doors’ self-titled debut album hit #2 in the US album charts and the single Light My Fire (the first song Robby Krieger ever wrote) catapulted the band to overnight fame.
The song ran for seven minutes on the LP but was cut down to three – with Krieger’s and keyboardist Ray Manzarek’s solos excised – on the single.
On 9 December 1967, while waiting to take to the stage in New Haven, Connecticut, Morrison was passing time with a young girl backstage when a policeman (failing to recognise Morrison) ordered the couple to leave.
Morrison responded with a verbal tirade causing the policeman to mace the singer. Once on stage Morrison took the first available opportunity to relate his dealings with the police to the crowd.
The police present in the venue were incensed and promptly turned on the house lights and arrested Morrison, charging him with breach of the peace and resisting arrest.
On 19 September 1968 a drugged and drunken Jim Morrison was taken to hospital after collapsing on the stage of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, having stumbled into the middle of a live set by Jefferson Airplane.
Morrison’s consumption of alcohol and hallucinogenic drugs was legendary, but the incident suggested he might no longer be in control of his intake.
His collapse in Amsterdam came after a day of heavy drinking, and sources close to the band revealed he swallowed a sizeable block of hashish given to him by a fan immediately before the show.
The Doors’ year had started well. Their second album Strange Days went gold in January and, in early February, Universal offered the band $500,000 to star in a feature film. Plans were also announced for an ABC-TV special, a ‘humour book’ by the group, and a book of Morrison’s poetry and lyrics.
Their artistic and commercial success was at risk, though, from Morrison’s personal failures. In April, life magazine writer Fred Powledge noted that the 24-year-old Morrison “appears in public and on his records to be moody, temperamental, enchanted in the mind and extremely stoned”.
On 10 May, Morrison courted disaster when he incited a Chicago audience to riot. After performing Five To One– a song about violent youth insurrection – Morrison took the group into When The Music’s Over, a lengthy dramatic piece climaxing in a scream of “We want the world and we want it now”.
The crowd screamed it back, louder. Raising them to fever pitch, Morrison virtually led the crowd to a riot which was only subdued by baton-swinging police reinforcements. Challenged about his position, he retorted;
“It’s all done tongue in cheek. I don’t think people realise it’s not meant to be taken seriously. When you play the bad guy in a western, that’s not you. It’s supposed to be ironic”.
Ironic or not, the kids bought what was on offer in bucket-loads. Waiting For The Sun was soon certified as the band’s third consecutive gold LP.
But while Morrison sang “I am the Lizard King, I can do anything”, the gap between what the Lizard King believed he could do and what he could actually handle became manifest more and more frequently.
A bloated and puffy Morrison was arrested on 1 March 1969 for exposing himself during a concert at the Dinner Key Auditorium in Miami.
As a result of the incident, The Doors were banned from playing live and had to return to LA and dedicate themselves to writing and recording.
In November he was forcibly removed from a Continental Airlines plane and arrested again on charges of assaulting an Air Hostess while on a flight from LA to Phoenix.
Once again, Morrison found himself arrested for public drunkenness in August 1970. He had been out drinking with a friend when he asked to be dropped at another friend’s house so he could crash. He banged on the door and fell asleep on the porch moments later.
Unfortunately for Jim, it wasn’t his friend’s porch, but that of a 68-year-old woman who saw fit to call the police.
A night out for Jim just wasn’t complete without drugs, booze, more booze, some more drugs and a violent encounter with one of his many lovers. One night, suspecting his muse Pamela Courson was cheating on him, he locked her in a wardrobe and set fire to it.
LA Woman, the Doors’ seventh album, was a turnaround from a band most people had written off by 1971. Featuring Riders On The Storm, Love Her Madly and the title track, the album was full of promise.
Sadly, that promise was never fulfilled. Jim Morrison was found dead in a Paris hotel in November 1971, prior to LA Woman‘s release.
The band limped on for two more albums and very nearly replaced Morrison with Kevin Coyne.
Then almost 30 years later Ian Astbury took the lead vocals spot with The Doors Of The 21st Century with spectacularly underwhelming results.
Keyboard player Ray Manzarek passed away in 2013.
To avoid the draft, Morrison stuffed himself full of drugs in order to mess up his blood pressure, temperature and balance during his medical examination. For good measure, he also announced that he was gay. He was refused.