Penthouse Retrospective

by John Densmore Originally Published: September, 1990

The Doors: Abre Las Puertas | 30 Years Ago This Month

The Drummer of The Doors recalls his Strange Days with rock’s most legendary madman.

Penthouse Magazine - September 1990Riders on the Storm

It seems that whoever met Jim Morrison walked away with a different impression: southern gentleman, prick, poet, brute, charmer, et cetera.

I lived with Jim for six years on the road and in the recording studio. This book is my truth. It may not be the whole truth, but it is the way I saw it. From the drum stool.

In my book Riders on the Storm: My Life with Jim Morrison and the Doors (Delacorte Press). I have also included some early autobiographical roots that shed light on my musical influences, and I’ve taken my story up to the nineties — a single parent, in my forties, and surviving.

In the spring of ’65, long hair meant rebellion. Most of my college classes were not compelling, and I knew I had to take a gamble on what I was best at — playing music. And it was then that my friend Ray Manczarek (that’s how he spelled it then) happened to give me a call. He invited me down to his parents’ place in Manhattan Beach to play. I entered by the beach house just in time to hear his parents make several unkind remarks about their son living with a Japanese girl. I exited quickly and went out to the garage/rehearsal room. Out came Ray with his beach things on and a daisy in his shirt. He seemed warm and friendly. Good-natured. I liked his frameless glasses, which to me looked groovy. Intellectual-like. He introduced me to his two brothers, Rick, the guitarist, and Jim, the harmonica player. Their band was called Rick and the Ravens.

Lurking in the corner of the garage, meanwhile, was this guy wearing standard collegiate brown cords, a brown T-shirt, and bare feet. Ray introduced him as “Jim, the singer.” They had met at U.C.L.A. film school. Ray was moonlighting while pursuing his master’s degree in film, after a B.S. in economics, and Jim was finishing up a four-year degree in film. He was in an accelerated two-and-a-half-year program. Smart guy. They had played together once when Ray was stuck with a union obligation for a sixth member of the band, and he convinced Jim to stand off to the side of the stage with a guitar that wasn’t plugged in. They were backing up Sonny and Cher. It was Jim’s first paying gig, and he didn’t play or sing a note of music.

The 21-year-old Morrison was shy. He said hello to me and went back to the corner. I suspected he felt uncomfortable around musicians, since he didn’t play an instrument. While Morrison moped around the garage looking for a beer, Ray grinned like a proud older brother as he handed me a crumpled piece of paper.

“Take a look at some of Jim’s lyrics,” Ray said to me.

You know the day destroys the night
Night divides the day
Tried to run, tried to hide
Break on through to the other side

Made the scene, week to week, day
to day, hour to hour
Gate is straight, deep and wide
Break on through to the other side

“They sound very percussive.”

“I’ve got a bass line, wanna try something?” Ray said.

“Yeah, let’s do it.”

Ray began and I used a knock sound on my snare, putting the stick sideways. Jim Manczarek joined us with some funky harp playing. Morrison, after a long wait, finally started singing the first verse. He was very tentative, not looking anyone in the eyes, but he had a moody kind of sound, as if he were trying to sound surreal. I couldn’t stop looking at him. His self-consciousness drew me in. Rick was playing very soft rhythm guitar, but Ray had nice energy coming from the keyboards. Then we played a couple of Jimmy Reed songs and Morrison’s energy picked up. I agreed to come down for some more rehearsals, as I loved to play. I knew they wanted me, and I thought I’d follow this lead for a while.

The next few rehearsals went about the same, but I was getting more and more interested in the originals. We eked out the arrangements together, and I felt I was with kindred spirits, Ray especially. Ray remembers: “We’d listen to Jim chant-sing the words over and over and the sound that should go with them would slowly emerge. We were all kindred souls — acidheads who were looking for some other way to get high. We knew that if we continued the drugs we’d burn out, so we went for it in the music!”

Also, Morrison was mysterious. I dug that.

By now all we lacked was a name. At the time most American groups had long psychedelic names, like the Strawberry Alarm Clock, the Jefferson Airplane, or the Velvet Underground.

People who have never heard of the The Doors could well be familiar with their music. An insider now opens The Doors for Penthouse.

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