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What A Life! Iconic rock drummer from "The Doors" set to speak in Santa Barbara talks about his career

John Densmore visited the Santa Barbara Museum of Art Thursday in a sold-out event to talk about his life, career, and his latest book "The Doors: Unhinged."
Jeff Katz Photography
John Densmore visited the Santa Barbara Museum of Art Thursday in a sold-out event to talk about his life, career, and his latest book "The Doors: Unhinged."

John Densmore calls Jim Morrison a troubled genius. Densmore won a legal battle to protect the band's legacy from exploitation.

He was part of one of the most iconic bands in rock and roll history. John Densmore was the drummer for The Doors. More than a half century after their first performance, he said it’s exciting to see longtime fans, and new generations appreciating their music.

"I'm thinking that each generation needs Jim Morrison to help them cut their umbilical cord...that's my new theory," said Densmore.

All four members of the group played in different bands before they came together in 1965.

"We jelled right away. We rehearsed about a year and a half, and then played about a half year in a club, and then got a record deal," said Densmore. "It was kind of an instant American gumbo...tasty!"

Densmore gives much of the credit for the band to Morrison. The band's legendary lead singer died in 1971 at the age of 27. "He was extremely, extremely talented, (but also) self-destructive," said Densmore.


The Doors drummer John Densmore
Paul Ferrara
© Doors Property, LLC
The Doors drummer John Densmore

Densmore was set to speak at a sold out Santa Barbara Museum of Art event Thursday, but it was postponed because he was ill.

The band recorded six studio albums in five years, selling more than 100 million copies over the decades. Over the years, Densmore fought to protect the band’s legacy. He battled with the other two surviving band members to prevent the use of The Doors music, and name for commercial purposes, eventually winning the fight.

"We had this offer...Come on Buick, Light My Fire. It was a lot of money, and we were drooling," said Densmore. "And Jim said yeah, okay...I'll do a commercial on TV, and I'll smash the car with a sledgehammer. Well, that's a no."

Densmore said that's when he realized that Morrison wanted to protect their legacy. He stood up to protect their name, and music, calling Morrison his "ancestor."

That battle is the subject of his latest book, The Doors Unhinged. The books look at the legal fight between Densmore, and Ray Manzarek and Robby Kreiger, the two remaining Doors, for their use of The Doors brand while touring.

Since the Doors, Densmore added acting and writing to his career.

"The downside of a big peak like The Doors is dangerous. People die, or don't know what to do," said Densmore. He said he stumbled into acting. "I thought this was going to keep me out of trouble, and that (acting) then led to writing"

But, he also still perform musically, and has done some movie soundtracks. He's currently working on an album with rapper Chuck D.

 Densmore admits his life has been a fantastic ride, one he could have never imagined.

"Well, I hoped I could pay the rent for ten years, and it's 50," said Densmore. "My hair is gray, and I'm still talking about this friggin' band...which I am very proud of."



Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.