John Densmore: The Doors’ Super Sharp Drummer

Drummer John Densmore sitting behind his kit
Densmore at work.

A look today towards the sharp hitting, jazzy fills for one of the best bands of the 1960s. And its rather brilliant drummer.

Who is John Densmore?

Why, he’s The Door’s former sticksman. And he’s an author and playwright. But certainly most famous for his beats off the ’60s band and its various albums.

Having been in a band with guitarist Robby Krieger in 1965, they then merged with the others in a group called Rick & the Ravens.

After two members left, we had the classic line-up. And in 1965 Morrison changed the title to The Doors after Aldous Huxley’s drug warped The Doors of Perception.

Densmore’s contribution to the band’s music is often skimmed over. When you have Jim Morrison leaping about the place look shamanic it’s tough to stand out.

But he’s a world class drummer, no doubts. His unusual style of playing lent itself magnificently to the band’s sound.

And he was kept very busy on tracks such as LA Woman. Whilst having the capacity to reign it in on the likes of People Are Strange.

Despite being so young, the band members (thanks to their musical prowess, advanced song structures, and formal clothes) had a poise and assurance about proceedings.

Although often very drunk, Jim Morrison was a naturally charismatic frontman. And with his handsome presence, ladies flocked to see the band live.

But they were terrific musicians. Ray Manzarek hunched over his Vox Continental, guitarist Robby Krieger inventive and memorable, whilst Densmore is just so sharp.

His snare drum has a quality sound to it, jazzy and powerful. Which all complemented the band’s energetic (if often chaotic) live performances.

Parents were genuinely worried if their kids went off to see The Doors, primarily due to Morrison’s hedonistic and confrontational reputation.

His style mixes traditional jazz playing with the exploding rock scene of the era. He’d watched (rather startled, as he admitted) Keith Moon playing and was taken aback.

In many respects, Densmore was the timekeeper of the group. So his style is often minimalistic and unobtrusive.

Like all great drummers (except maybe Moon, ironically) he was able to take a back seat and let the others show off their talents. All whilst keeping everyone in check.

Yet, at the right moments (and with perfect timing) he could launch in some virtuoso flourishes to show just how much he was holding back.

For many people, though, he’s just the guy who played the drums for The Doors. Jim Morrison (thanks also to his early death in 1971) was the main draw.

Although the singer was keen to promote it all as a band, often chastising anyone who called them Jim Morrison and The Doors, his good looks and charisma got most of the attention.

Densmore doesn’t seem to mind all that. Morrison did, after all, write all the songs.

The drummer is now 75 and still touring. However, he’s also dabbled in works as a playwright with success. And recently written two books on his time with The Doors.

Inevitably, it’s his playing on the likes of The End which folks will remember him for most. And perhaps rightly so!

In March of 1967, the band’s producer, Paul Rothchild, had this to say of his playing on the track so good it didn’t cause the end of humanity.

"That’s some of the greatest drumming I’ve ever heard in my life; irrespective of the fact that I’m involved in this album, it’s incredibly creative drumming—he has an instinct for when. During a very quiet part he’ll just come in with three drum shots that are about as loud as you can hit a drum, and they’re right, they’re absolutely right!"

4 comments

Have some gibberish to dispense with?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.