The Doors formed in 1965 in Los Angeles, California featuring Jim Morrison (vocals), Ray Manzarek (keyboards), Robby Krieger (guitar) and John Densmore (drums). The band took its name from the title of Aldous Huxley's book The Doors of Perception, which itself was a reference to a quote made by William Blake, "If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite." They were one of the most controversial and influential rock acts of the 1960s, mostly because of Morrison's lyrics and his charismatic but unpredictable stage persona.
The origins of the act began with a meeting between acquaintances Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek, both of whom had attended the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television in July 1965 when Morrison told Manzarek he had been writing songs. The members came from a varied musical background from jazz, rock, blues, and folk.
Keyboardist Manzarek was in a band called Rick & the Ravens with his brothers Rick and Jim, while drummer John Densmore was playing with the Psychedelic Rangers and knew Manzarek from meditation classes. In August, Densmore joined the group, which had by now been renamed The Doors. With bass player Patty Sullivan (later credited using her married name Patricia Hansen in the 1997 box CD release) they recorded a six-song demo in September 1965. This has circulated widely since then as a bootleg recording.
In mid-1965, after Manzarek's two brothers left, the group recruited guitarist Robby Krieger and the best-known lineup of Morrison, Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore was complete.
By 1966, the group was playing the Los Angeles club London Fog. The club did not attract many customers, so the band used the nearly empty club as an opportunity to work on their music, almost as if it were a private studio, to make The End, When the Music's Over and Light My Fire into musical epics. The band soon graduated to the more esteemed Whisky a Go Go, where they became the house band.
While looking for a label the band's first recording was a demo they did for Richard Bock's 'Pacific Jazz Records' subsidiary label, 'Aura Records', recorded on September 2, 1965.
The band was fired from the Whisky on August 21, 1966 when Morrison added an explicit retelling and profanity-laden version of the Greek myth of Oedipus during a performance of The End. But this didn't matter for back on the 18th the act signed a deal with 'Elektra' based on that night's performance and the Go Go.
The Doors' self-titled debut LP was released just after new year's of 1967. It featured most of the songs from their club set, including the nearly 12-minute musical drama The End. The album was the first recording to featuring famous logo, designed by an 'Elektra Records' assistant.
In November 1966, Mark Abramson directed a promotional film for the lead single Break On Through (To the Other Side). To promote the single, The Doors made their television debut on a Los Angeles TV show called Boss City, and then on a Los Angeles TV show called Shebang, miming to Break On Through, on New Year's Day 1967. This clip has never been officially released by the band.
In early 1967 The Doors appeared on The Clay Cole Show (which aired on Saturday evenings at 6 pm on WPIX Channel 11 out of NYC) where they performed their single Break On Through; sadly most recordings of this program were erased, including both appearances by The Doors.
Since Break on Through was not very successful on the radio, the band turned to Light My Fire. The song, however, was way too long for radio at the time being 7 minutes in length, so producer Paul Rothchild cut it down to three minutes by cutting the keyboard and guitar solos in the center section. The result was Light My Fire became the first single from 'Elektra Records' to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, selling over one million copies. The band's fame was set.
From March 7 to 11, 1967, the band performed at the Matrix Club in San Francisco, California. The March 7 and 10 shows were recorded by a co-owner of The Matrix, Peter Abram. These recordings are notable as they are among the earliest live recordings of the band. On November 18, 2008, the Doors published a compilation of these recordings, Live at the Matrix 1967, on the band's boutique 'Bright Midnight Archives' label.
From this point on, The Doors enjoyed a stream of successes Strange Days (also 1967), Waiting for the Sun (1968), The Soft Parade (1969), Morrison Hotel (1970), Absolutely Live (1970) and L.A. Woman (1971). The act has achieved 20 Gold, 14 Platinum, and 5 Multi-Platinum album awards in the United States alone. By the end of 1971, it was reported that The Doors had sold 4,190,457 albums domestically and 7,750,642 singles. The band had three million-selling singles in the U.S. with Light My Fire, Hello I Love You and Touch Me.
Of note was the production of the second album where they spent several weeks in Sunset Studios in Los Angeles recording, Strange Days, experimenting with the new technology, notably the Moog synthesizer they now had available. The chorus from the album's single People Are Strange inspired the name of the 2010 documentary of the Doors, When You're Strange. The album was the first Doors album recorded with a studio musician on bass on most of the tracks, and this continued on all subsequent studio albums.
But their success did not come without controversy. On December 9, 1967, The Doors performed a now infamous concert at New Haven Arena in New Haven, Connecticut, which ended abruptly when Morrison was arrested by local police, making him the first rock artist ever to be arrested onstage during a concert performance.
The issue started when Morrison had been 'making out' with a female fan backstage in a bathroom shower room prior to the start of the concert when a police officer happened upon them. The officer, not knowing who he was talking to, told Morrison and his companion to leave. Instead of introducing himself or excusing himself from the area, Morrison chose to reply with a quick, "Eat it!" The policeman grabbed his can of mace and warned, "Last chance!", to which Morrison countered, "Last chance to eat it!" There are conflicting points of view as to what happened next but needless to say, the mace was used and Morrison, at least, was sprayed.
The Doors took the stage very late that night to allow Morrison to recover. It seems, however, that the matter was not over, insofar as the police were concerned, because they surrounded the stage during the band performance. Halfway through the first set, Morrison proceeded to create an improvised obscenity-laced song describing what just happened backstage with the "little men in blue." The concert was soon after abruptly ended when Morrison was dragged offstage by the police. The audience, which was already restless from waiting so long for the band to perform, became unruly. Morrison was taken to a local police station, photographed and booked on charges of inciting a riot, indecency and public obscenity. Charges against Morrison, as well as those against three journalists also arrested in the incident, were dropped several weeks later for lack of evidence.
Recording of the group's third album in April 1968 received tension as a result of Morrison's increasing dependence on alcohol and other drugs, and the rejection of his new epic, Celebration of the Lizard, by band producer Paul Rothchild, who deemed the work not commercial enough.
By now they had used up all of their original material from the old days, they began writing new material. These new efforts proved successful for Waiting for the Sun became their first No. 1 LP, and the single Hello, I Love You was their second US No. 1 single. Following the 1968 release of Hello, I Love You, the publisher of the Kinks' 1964 hit, All Day and All of the Night announced they were planning legal action for copyright infringement due to what they thought was too many similarities between the two songs, but it never happened.
A month after riotous scenes took place at the Singer Bowl in New York, the group flew to Britain for their first performance outside of North America.
On March 1, 1969, at the Dinner Key Auditorium in the Coconut Grove neighborhood of Miami, Florida, the band gave their most controversial performance of their career, one that nearly "derailed the band". The auditorium was a converted seaplane hangar that had no air conditioning while the seats had been removed by the promoter in order to boost ticket sales. Morrison, for his part, had been drinking all day and had missed connecting flights to Miami, and by the time he eventually arrived the concert was over an hour late in starting, and he was well lubricated with alcohol. Morrison's singing was strained from the beginning of the performance and often left periods of silence. Morrison taunted the crowd with messages of both love and hate, saying, "Love me. I can't take it no more without no good love. I want some lovin'. Ain't nobody gonna love my ass?" and alternately, "You're all a bunch of fuckin' idiots!" and screaming "What are you gonna do about it?" over and over again. As the band began their second number, Touch Me, Morrison started shouting in protest forcing the band to a halt. At one point, Morrison removed the hat of an onstage police officer and threw it into the crowd; the officer, in turn, playfully, removed Morrison's hat and threw it! During the proceedings someone jumped on the stage and poured champagne on Morrison so he took his shirt off, "Let's see a little skin, let's get naked," and the audience started taking their clothes off. Having removed his shirt, Morrison held it in front of his groin area made hand movements behind it. The restless crowd of 12,000, packed into an non-air conditioned facility designed to hold 7,000 on a steamy night, was subjected to this bizarre hallucination during the entire performance.
On March 5, the Dade County Sheriff's office issued a warrant for Morrison's arrest claiming he deliberately exposed his penis while on stage, shouted obscenities to the crowd, simulated oral sex on guitarist Robby Krieger, and was drunk at the time of his performance. Morrison turned down a plea bargain that required the band to perform a free Miami concert. He was later convicted, sentenced to six months in jail, with hard labor, and ordered to pay a $500 fine. He remained free pending an appeal of his conviction, and would die before the matter was legally resolved.
Morrison died on July 3, 1971 at age 27. He was found in a Paris apartment bathtub by his girlfriend Pamela Courson. Under French law, no autopsy was performed because the medical examiner claimed to have found no evidence of foul play. Officialy the death was a result of heart failure but the absence of an official autopsy have left many questions regarding the real cause of death.
A posthumous pardon was issued on December 10 over the Date County event while Densmore, Krieger and Manzarek all deny Morrison exposed himself.
After Morrison's death in 1971, the surviving trio released two albums Other Voices and Full Circle with Manzarek and Krieger sharing lead vocals before officially disbanding in 1973. The three members also collaborated on the spoken word recording of Morrison's An American Prayer in 1978 and on the Orange County Suite for a 1997 boxed set. Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore reunited in 2000 for an episode of VH1's Storytellers and subsequently recorded Stoned Immaculate: The Music of The Doors with a variety of vocalists.
The remaining members have had a variety of one-off reunions since.