“It was a pretty standard set-up. One tom-tom on the bass drum and a floor tom. Real spectacular! I never went for the two bass drum routine; there are lots of people who can do more with one than most guys can do with two. I liked to take the bottom heads off my toms to make them bark and growl. I hated new skins – I loved the sound of ’em after they’d been beaten to death for months, Snarling as hell – that was my sound.”
– John Densmore
John Densmore Drummerworld Interview.
Reflecting on his musical contribution to the band, Densmore seizes on an attribute he’s long admired in his favorite jazz players. “I found myself wanting to really comment on what was going on musically, especially with Jim–and Ray and Robby, on their solos,” he points out. “Just to push them or lay back or whatever was happening in the moment, to encourage that moment.
“My main thing is dynamics,” he elaborates. “I think this comes from the school orchestra, fortissimo [very loud] and pianissimo [very soft] and everything in between. That’s music. You can drum that way. Like in ‘The End,’ it’ll be real soft, and then bam-bam! I drop these cannonballs on the tom-toms–in a real quiet section! What the fuck am I doing? I didn’t even know. But later I listened and thought, oh, that heightened the tension, didn’t it? Bridges and verses–contrast them, loud and soft.”
These drums date to 1968 with 6xxxxx serial numbers, and are somewhat transitional – the 14×20 bass drum and 8×12 small tom have clear interiors, and the 14×14 floor tom which has a white painted interior.
Ludwig Downbeat Drum Kit (Mod Orange) The Mod Orange Ludwig Drum Kit has become known as John Densmore’s signature set up. He first used it on Sept. 9, 1967 at the Village Theatre. In 1968, he acquired a bass drum cover with “The Doors” logo on it, but with the exception of the Madison Square Garden concert, only used it for TV appearances. John did use the Mod Orange kit in the studio and continued using the set throughout 1969. John Densmore played the rare Mod Orange Ludwig drum sets from 1967 to 1971. This was his signature set on most of The Doors videos and photo shoots.
He also played a White Marine Pearl Ludwig set alternating between the two.
He is seen playing a White Marine Pearl Gretsch set in some photo and video shots.
This was his first set with The Doors.
I cannot believe how lucky and blessed I am to own such an iconic item from one of my drumming heroes.
Here is a photo of Vince Treanor holding the last remaining piece of John’s iconic Mod Orange kit, John’s floor tom.
Vince Treanor and Jim.
Here are various photos of John playing the Mod Orange kit.
Photo below by Frank Lisciandro
John played this iconic kit on the Ed Sullivan show when The Doors performed “Light My Fire” for the first time on national television. Here’s a screen grab from the show.
One of the most famous chapters in this battle was waged on national television in front of millions of Americans. The night was September 17, 1967 when The Doors appeared live on The Ed Sullivan Show.
The story began with the group forming in Venice Beach, California where two UCLA film school students, Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek, met in 1965. They began playing music together and soon recruited drummer, John Densmore and guitarist, Robby Krieger. Inspired by a line from William Blake’s poem,The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite,” the band found their name. At first they called themselves The Doors of Perception, but soon shortened their name to simple, “The Doors”.
They began playing clubs on the Sunset Strip in 1966 while working on songs for their debut album for Elektra Records. Their self-titled LP, The Doors, was released in January, 1967. The album sold well with “Light My Fire” quickly reaching number one on the Billboard singles chart. To promote the group, The Doors’ manager booked the band to appear that fall on The Ed Sullivan Show. As important as this booking was, for some reason, he failed to tell the band about it.
Ray Manzarek recalls how he found out The Doors were going to appear on the popular variety show. “My wife and I were watching at home…Ed, at the end of the show came on and said, ‘Next week we’re going to have…a rock group from California, The Doors doing their number one hit ‘Light My Fire.’ We looked at each other, saying ‘Oh I guess we’re on The Ed Sullivan Show next week.'” The next morning the band’s manager, Bill Siddons, confirmed the news and booked the group for their flight to New York.
On the afternoon of September 17th 1967, The Doors were in CBS’s Studio 50 rehearsing for that night’s live performance. Shortly after they finished, and with only about 15 minutes before air, Ed Sullivan came back to The Doors’ dressing room and said, “You boys look great, [but] you ought to smile a little more.” The comment was a little odd coming from Ed who, of course, was sometimes known as “the great stoneface”.
After Ed stopped by, a producer from the show came into The Doors’ dressing room. He told the group they needed to change a line in the song, “Light My Fire,” specifically the lyric, “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher.” He explained the word “higher” was inappropriate for a family show on national television because of its association with illegal drug use. Though Jim Morrison was furious and adamant about not changing the song, the group relented and told the executive they would alter the lyrics as requested. However, as soon as the producer left the room, Morrison declared, “We’re not changing a word.”
The band, being the last act of the evening, had to wait for about an hour before going on. During that time, Manzarek remembers a nervous comedian sweating and pacing backstage as he prepared to perform his routine before the live national audience. That man, Manzarek later found out, was none other than Rodney Dangerfield on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Following Dangerfield’s act, The Doors took the stage to perform two of their biggest hits. Ed’s introduction was short and simple, “Now, The Doors…here they are with their newest hit record, “People are Strange.” Against a hanging backdrop composed of an assortment of actual doors, the band opened to the screams of adoring fans. Morrison sang the haunting number with a vacant look in his eyes. Immediately following that song the band segued into their number one hit, “Light My Fire.”
When it came time for the line, “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher,” Morrison, the unyielding poet and uncompromising artist, sang it just as it had been written. As he finished the now infamous lyric, the camera caught guitarist Robby Krieger with a quick but telling smirk. But Sullivan’s producer and CBS executives were not smiling.
Following The Doors’ performance the ever gracious yet stoic Sullivan can be seen clapping his hands and mouthing the words, “That was wonderful. Just great!” to the band. But instead of shaking hands with the group, he went straight to a commercial for Purina Dog Chow.
Backstage, the show’s producer was furious and told the band “Mr. Sullivan wanted you for six more shows, but you’ll never work The Ed Sullivan Show again.” To which Morrison purportedly replied, “Hey, man. We just did the Sullivan show.”
This recording of The Ed Sullivan Show is itself rare for having captured a live performance of two of The Doors’ most famous songs, delivered at their peak. Manzarek’s dexterity on keyboard is wonderfully showcased during his organ solo. That night audiences watched the charismatic Jim Morrison, with his long curls, tight leather attire and his pure rock ‘n’ roll attitude.
The Doors may have appeared only once, but they changed the The Ed Sullivan Show forever. Their influence spawned a shift in the type of music that was booked on the show, and more gritty rock acts would be soon be showcased to cater to the increasingly influential teen audience.
Following their controversial appearance on Sullivan, The Doors continued to tour and create music, but it would not be for long. Morrison’s unpredictability due to drug and alcohol abuse and the legal troubles that followed took a toll on the band. After Morrison’s breakdown on stage during a performance in New Orleans on December 12th, 1970, the band decided that would be their final performance. Morrison moved to Paris to focus on his writing, but on July 3, 1971 was found dead in his bathtub at the age of 27.
Although The Doors’ active career ended in the early 1970’s, their music, popularity and legend persist to this day. To date, the band has sold more than 74 million albums worldwide. Their distinctive style, poetic lyrics and uncompromising approach to music personify the undying spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. Perhaps the William Blake poem proved to be prophetic. The influence of The Doors “…appears to man as it is, infinite.”
Live At The Hollywood Bowl, 1968.
The Doors supplied plenty of post-Independence Day fireworks on July 5, 1968 when the legendary quartet played the Hollywood Bowl, a concert that is considered to be the band’s finest on film. For the first time, the film from the historic performance has been painstakingly restored using the original camera negatives and the audio has been remixed and mastered from original multi-tracks by the group’s engineer Bruce Botnick. This new restoration offers a stunning visual upgrade from earlier versions and will give fans the closest experience to being there live along side Jim Morrison, John Densmore, Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek, who opined, “You can hear it as if you were at the Hollywood Bowl, on stage with us.”
From The Doors website.
Drummer John Densmore was far more than merely the rhythmic engine of The Doors. Strongly influenced by jazz skinsmen like Elvin Jones and the supple grooves of the Brazilian wave, he brought a highly evolved sense of dynamics, structure and musicality to his beats.
Inexorably drawn to music from childhood, Los Angeles-born Densmore honed his sense of dynamics playing with his high school marching band. In the mid-’60s he joined guitarist Robby Krieger in a band called Psychedelic Rangers; shortly thereafter they hooked up with keyboardist Ray Manzarek and Morrison, and an explosive chapter in the development of rock ‘n’ roll began. A raft of paradigm-shifting recordings and epochal live performances would follow.
Morrison’s death in 1971 marked the end of an era, though the surviving trio recorded two more albums of songs and an instrumental backdrop for the late singer’s recorded poetry.
The versatile musician explored reggae and jazz in subsequent projects, wrote books and articles and became active in L.A.’s adventurous theater community. He earned an L.A. Weekly Theatre Award for the music he created for the Tim Robbins-directed stage production Methusalem.He also co-produced the play Rounds, which was given the NAACP award for theatre in 1987.
Densmore’s autobiography, Riders on the Storm: My Life With Jim Morrison and The Doors, was published in 1991 and was a New York Times bestseller. He’s written articles and essays for Rolling Stone, London Guardian, The Nation, and many nationally syndicated newspapers.