Basic Background Info
LA-born rock and jazz drummer John Paul Densmore was a member of the Doors from 1965 to 1973. Drawn to music as a child, John Densmore grew obsessed with "the universal, ancient call of this heartbeat." John Densmore loved studying piano and often improvised with songs he learned during lessons. John Densmore tried to branch out and play the clarinet, but his orthodontist forbade it. So he made the logical choice: he moved on to the drums. John Densmore played in orchestra and marching band. Despite its amateur nature, John reflects, "I got a rush from playing with forty musicians." As a teenager John Densmore discovered jazz, particularly Elvin Jones's evocative grooves.
After meeting guitarist Robby Krieger, John and Robby started writing music and played together in Psychedelic Rangers. While playing with Krieger, John Densmore met Chicago keyboardist Ray Manzarek. At that time, Manzarek played with his own brother and vocalist Jim Morrison in another outfit called Rick and the Ravens.
Eventually Krieger, Manzarek, Morrison, and John came together to form their own band. They found that they all worked well together while trying to create a signature sound. John Densmore in particular incorporated a global flavor: for example, he used a bossa nova beat on the song "Break on Through."
After playing local bars and dancehalls, The Doors' 1967 debut album catapulted the band to prolific status. Later critics would claim that "the band's dark, sonically diverse sensibility, and Morrison's invention of the 'rock shaman' archetype set them far apart from their peers." The album, due in no small part to "Light My Fire," was an absolute magnum opus. Even today it is regarded as a groundbreaking composition. The novel incorporation of blues, classical, Eastern influences, and pop music was entirely unique. In fact, the album was so great, it was nearly impossible for The Doors to match it. They followed up the same year with Strange Days and, one year later, Waiting for the Sun. After a foray into brass instruments on 1969ís The Soft Parade, they steadily returned to cold, hard blues with 1970's Morrison Hotel and the fully-realized L.A. Woman in 1971.
Throughout the band's successes and struggles, charismatic frontman Jim Morrison grew more and more unstable. After recording L.A. Woman, Morrison died of a drug overdose while in Paris. John, Manzarek, and Krieger continued playing for a short time before ultimately disbanding after Morrison's death.
John Densmore moved on (literally, figuratively, and musically) to reggae music long before reggae was popular in the U.S. John Densmore and Krieger performed reggae with The Butts Band in the early 1970s. In the late 1970s, John, Krieger, and Manzarek reunited to record An American Prayer, an album of new music to Morrison's poetry.
Ready to get away from the rock & roll scene, John Densmore started working in theater. He created music for Tim Robbins' Methusalem. John Densmore described his contribution: 'This piece we did, I just approached it like Peter and the Wolf. I had a cymbal or a drum for each actor, and I improvised behind them continually while they spoke. It really worked. Tim let me do what I wanted; I would be so loud that sometimes you couldn't even hear their lines--but it was so in the moment. It was like jazz: this is [going to] happen right now. It's not [going to] be on a record. If you weren't there, you missed it. And that's precious.'
John Densmore started writing his own productions including the one-act performance Skins, in which he also performed. He also worked as a producer and received an award from the NAACP for his production of Rounds in 1987.
In 1991, John Densmore wrote his autobiography, Riders on the Storm: My Life With Jim Morrison and The Doors. The book was lauded as the best-written history of The Doors. In 1993, John, Manzarek, and Krieger reunited for The Doors' induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Since then, John Densmore created Tribaljazz, a unique group fusing ethnic drums with jazz saxophonist Art Ellis. They recorded several demos with guest performances by pianist Quinn Johnson, Egyptian bassist Osama Affifi, Guatemalan conga player Miguel Rivera, Italian-born/Brazilian-trained percussionist Christina Berio, and African drummers Marcel Adjibi and Azziz Faye. They finally recorded their self-titled debut album and released it in 2006. Tracks included guest vocals by Michael Franti and actress Alfre Woodard.
John Densmore also recently performed with Persian musician Reza Derakshani.
Instruments of Choice
Pics & Clips