John Densmore prevails in preserving the legacy of The Doors 

Break on Through

Doors drummer John Densmore says he had to put 'The Doors back on their hinges'

Bonnie Perkinson

Doors drummer John Densmore says he had to put 'The Doors back on their hinges'

Jim Morrison made one thing perfectly clear to his bandmates: The music of The Doors is sacred, never to be sold for corporate purposes. But in 1968, Buick made an offer drummer John Densmore, guitarist Robby Krieger, and keyboardist Ray Manzarek couldn't refuse — and they didn't. With Morrison away in London, the young men accepted the company's $75,000 purchase of "Light My Fire" to use in a commercial, changing it to the appallingly titled, "Come on Buick, Light My Fire."

Thankfully, that deal-with-the-devil, as Morrison called it, never happened. For one, each member had equal rights to the songs from the get-go, meaning his say did count. And two, well, Buick learned not to mess with the Lizard King. "When Jim was alive, he said, 'I don't know how to write songs — why don't we split all the money and let the songwriting credits be The Doors, not me as a lyricist, and we'll all have veto power,'" Densmore tells us. "And then, this author of 'Come On Buick, Light My Fire' came along and offered a lot of money. And [Jim] went crazy. He said, 'Yeah, I'll smash the car on television with a sledgehammer.' And we thought, 'Oh, I guess he's against this.' And he didn't really write 'Light My Fire' — he wrote a line or two. It was primarily Robby's lyrics — so what does that say? It says that he just really cared about all the songs — the whole catalog."

Morrison's selfless loyalty to the music made an impression on Densmore. Thirty-some-odd years later, he was incensed over another big car commercial offer. With Morrison long since buried in Paris, Cadillac offered the band a whopping $15 million for "Break on Through (To the Other Side)." Densmore dismissed it, but he says Krieger and Manzarek simply didn't want to walk away.

Adding to Densmore's fury, Krieger and Manzarek began touring under the misleading moniker The Doors of the 21st Century. Using Morrison's face to market themselves, they got The Police drummer Stewart Copeland and The Cult singer Ian Astbury onboard, too. But to Densmore, The Doors died with Morrison way back in 1971. It was now up to him to defend the band's name and Morrison's wishes. "I can only go on what he wanted when he was alive," Densmore says. "I'm trying to preserve that. And since we did split everything, everybody has a nice house and some groovy cars — that's not a problem. So, I stuck to my guns."

That meant teaming up with Morrison's family to take Densmore's former bandmates to court in 2004. He wanted to stop them from taking the Cadillac money and using The Doors' name. Not only was Densmore counter-sued for $40 million, but he was also bizarrely accused of being un-American, a communist, and an al-Qaeda supporter. But all the craziness ended when Copeland admitted he too disagreed with the greedy reincarnation of The Doors. Densmore's side won, and Morrison's spirit could rest peacefully again.

Last year, Densmore thought the time had come to clear the record, and so he sat down to write what would become The Doors Unhinged: Jim Morrison's Legacy Goes on Trial, a memoir that chronicles the legal battle. "When I first initiated this very painful lawsuit," he says, "the idea of suing my bandmates — some hardcore fans were mad at me, thinking I was ruining the band they loved. And I thought, 'I gotta write all this down, the struggle I went through, so they can understand that I was actually trying to preserve the legacy of the band they love.'"

And he did just that. The tell-all includes a slew of supportive testimonies from friends like Neil Young, Tom Collins, and Tom Waits. Their endorsements went a ways in reassuring Densmore. "It made me think I'm not crazy. Yeah, Eddie Vedder, Tom Petty, Randy Newman? That felt good," he says.

So, does Densmore still miss Morrison? "Oh, sure. I don't miss his self-destruction," Densmore admits. "It was very hard on me. This was back in a time when we didn't have substance abuse clinics. I didn't know he was an alcoholic — I didn't know he had the disease. I mean I knew he had a problem, but it wasn't as defined then. So, I was worried all the time about him."

As for Manzarek and Krieger, Densmore doesn't have to worry about the loss of his musical family forever. Rather than let them read it and weep, Densmore contacted his friends before the book was published. "I sent the last chapter," Densmore says. "I have not one, but two self-centered memoirs — this new one I sent the last chapter to Ray and Robby before it was published with a note, saying, 'Well, this book's probably going to be a hard read for you guys, but I wanted to make sure you got to this chapter.' And here I also say, 'How could I not love you? We're music brothers who created magic in a garage.' "

Densmore was fortunately able to reach Manzarek before he died of cancer last year. "When Ray got really sick, I gave him a call," says Densmore, his voice heavier. "Our relationship has been pretty strained — my relationship with both of them. It took years of litigation. And I was very thankful that he picked up the phone, and we had a sweet conversation, mainly about his medical problems. And I didn't know it was going to be the last phone call, which it was, but there was closure there."

"And then I called Robby and said, 'Listen, let's play a concert for Ray. Make it a benefit for cancer and a tribute to him,'" Densmore continues. "We've been struggling with getting that together. Hopefully [it'll happen] in the spring. It's hard getting famous musicians all together in one night in the same town. But we're gonna do it — whether it's in a club or a giant hall — but we'll do it."

At Sunday's book signing, Densmore is happy to sign one additional Doors-related item. And while some photos are allowed, they'll be limited due to time constraints.

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