A short biography on Jim Morrison, who was the lead singer of The Doors and a legend in his own time.
Jim Morrison was born on December 8, 1943 in Melbourne, Florida to Rear Admiral George Morrison and Clara Morrison. Jim had two siblings, Anne Robin Morrison, born in 1947 and Andrew Lee Morrison, born in 1948. Because Mr. Morrison was an Admiral in the Navy, the family moved around a lot durning Jim’s childhood.
In 1947, when Jim Morrison was 4 years old, he witnessed a car accident involving American Indians. Morrison claimed that there were bodies scattered around, and a spirit of one jumped in to his soul. Jim talks about it on Dawn’s Highway on the American Prayer CD, which was taken from an interview…..He also sang of it in the song Peace Frog from the Morrison Hotel CD.
Jim Morrison was said to have an IQ of 149 and had a voracious appetite for reading. He studied Friedrich Nietzsche and Arthur Rimbaud as well as Jack Keruac and Allen Ginsberg. He seemed very interested in testing people and had a fascination with crowd manipulation. Morrison also had a fascination with Elvis Presley and would demand people be quiet when Elvis came on the radio. Morrison had a very strange sense of humor, for example, Jim would start telling jokes, to no one, while riding the bus, making people feel very uncomfortable.
Jim Morrison graduated from George Washington High School in Alexandria Virginia, and then moved in with his grandparents in Clearwater Florida. Jim attended classes at St. Petersburg Junior College and in 1962 transferred to Florida State University. He did quite a bit of hitchhiking during this time. Morrison was arrested drunk while attending FSU on September 28, 1963. Jim did quite a bit of drinking while living with his grandparents, against their wishes, again just testing people.
In 1964, Morrison transferred to UCLA’s film school, and graduated in 1965. Ray Manzarek was in his class as well and they knew each other. Possibly influenced by the beat poets and writers, Jim adopted that lifestyle in Venice, actually living on a rooftop at some point. Jim had no car and other than his books, notebooks and a few clothes, essentially no personal belongings. Jim had told his friends at UCLA that he was moving to New York after graduating, so Ray was surprised to see Jim walking on the Venice beach in the summer of ’65. Although Jim seemed to be interested in poetry and film, he surprised Ray by telling him he had been writing lyrics and heard songs in his head. After singing the lyrics to Moonlight Drive, Ray was hooked, blown away by Morrison’s lyrics, and The Doors were born.
At the time, Ray was in a band with his brothers, called Rick and the Ravens. Manzarek had met John Densmore in a meditation class and soon asked him to jam as their drummer. A demo was made of Summer’s almost gone, End of the night, Moonlight drive, Go Insane, My eyes have seen you, and Hello, I love you, all recorded at World Pacific Studios in 1965. It is very hard to recognize Morrison as the singer on these demo songs. The style is nothing like The Doors would become, Jim’s voice is not the surreal tenor/baritone it would become.
Shortly after, Ray’s brothers decide to leave the band, not seeing the Morrison genius that Ray is seeing. John Densmore suggests they give his friend Robby Krieger a try as their new guitarist. As soon as Robby plugs in and does bottleneck slide, Morrison is hooked “We’ll use that on every song!” Thus, the final formation of The Doors is complete.
Now, The Doors need a rehearsal place, and Manzarek comes up with a great idea. They can rent this really cool, long, one room beach house to rehearse in, and Ray and Dorothy can live there as well. At first, the idea didn’t go over too well with the other Doors, but eventually they accepted and actually enjoyed it. There, they could work on their songs as long as they wanted with no body to bother them.
Sometime in 1966, when The Doors were playing at the London Fog, Jim met Pamela Courson. There is an early picture of Jim with Pam and Jim’s sister Anne. Pam was there by Jim’s side even before The Doors became famous. While Morrison may have had other relationships, Pam may have been his soul mate. Pam had said the reason she lasted so long with Jim was because she was the only one that would stand up to him.
It’s amazing how many times The Doors “almost” didn’t make it. After shopping around their demo and Columbia signing them, John Densmore stopped by Billy James’ office one day to see why nothing was happening. When he had the chance, he sneaked a peak at some papers on the desk to realize The Doors were on the “drop acts” list. Next, after several months of playing to an empty house at the London Fog, right as they were getting fired, Ronnie Haran stopped in to see them. She convinced the owners of The Whisky A Go-Go to hire them. So that gig goes really great for a while, The Doors are actually making some real money, but Jim Morrison never seems to be happy when things are too easy. One evening, after expanding his mind a bit too far, he decides to drop in the Oedipus Rex section of The End. The Doors are fired once again. But, not right before Jac Holzman, owner of Elektra Records, sees them and gives them a record deal. Fate must have been intervening to finally get The Doors signed and in the recording studio.
During the recording of their first album, The Doors, Jim must have thought the sessions were really hot. Late one night, after everyone had left the studio, he broke in and hosed the studio down with a fire extinguisher. He might have gotten away with it, had he not left his stuck shoe in the fence outside to be discovered the next morning. Over breakfast, he feigned innocence and the other Doors were never sure if he really didn’t remember or were just putting them on.
Before being signed to a record deal, Jim asked the rest of The Doors to try to come up with some songs, focusing on universal images; fire, water, earth, etc. It seems Robby Krieger was the only one to do his “homework” The first song Robby ever wrote was “Light My Fire”. After The Doors first album is released on January 4, 1967, they decide to release “Break on Through” as the first single. It only reached #126 on the charts. Not exactly what they were hoping for. After “Break on Through” fizzles out, they decide to give Robby’s song a try. The only problem is, the song is 7 minutes long with the guitar and keyboard solos, which is, at that time, much too long to be released for a single. After some surgery in the studio, they cut out most of the solos and get the song down to about 3 minutes. The song is released in April of 1967, and it goes to #1 in the U.S. One year later, José Feliciano covers the song and it goes to #3 in the U.S.
“Light My Fire” puts The Doors on the national scene and it leads to a performance on the Ed Sullivan show. They perform “Light My Fire” and “People are Strange” on September 17, 1967. They had been asked to change the lyric in “Light My Fire” …”Girl, we couldn’t get much higher”, because at that time, you couldn’t say “higher” on television. The Doors agree to change the lyric, but of course, this is Jim Morrison. What else can he do, other than sing the original lyric? After the performance, they are told they will never play Sullivan again, to which Jim shrugs “We just did Sullivan”. While in New York, right after the Sullivan appearance, some very historical photos are taken of Jim. First he goes to Gloria Staver’s apartment for a photo session. She is in charge of 16 magazine and apparently fancies Jim. It seems they may have done more than just take pictures that night! The next day, Morrison takes perhaps his most famous pictures, which are the Joel Brodsky shots, called “The Young Lion” photos. Jim is still wearing a bead necklace he borrowed from Gloria the night before.
The Doors 2nd album, “Strange Days” is released on September 25, 1967. The album consists mainly of songs written before the band is signed, songs that didn’t make it onto the first album. The Doors get to experiment more in the studio and enjoy using the studio as an instrument, getting some really interesting effects. The song “Strange Days” is the best example of this, with some great effects added to Morrison’s vocals. The album hit #3 on the album charts, while “People are Strange” reaches #12 on the singles chart. At the same time, their debut album is still in the top 10. The second single released from “Strange Days” is “Love Me Two Times” and it reaches #25.
December 9, 1967, The Doors perform in New Haven Arena in Connecticut and Jim Morrison is in rare form after being maced by a police officer. Apparently, Jim and a female friend were hanging out backstage and the officer didn’t realize this is Jim Morrison, lead singer of the group he is here to protect. Jim hits the stage and during “Back Door Man” he decides to share the story with the audience. As Morrison relates the story “….a little blue man in a little blue cap” the police begin to turn around and face the singer instead of the fans. Jim is taunting the cops at this point and the audience is really getting on edge. Finally, the lights come on, and here come the cops. “Say your thing, man!” Morrison shoving the mic in front of the cop’s face. Well, Jim is arrested and that’s the end of that show!
Shortly after Morrison’s arrest (the charges were eventually dropped), The Doors go back into the studio to start recording their 3rd album, titled “Waiting for the Sun”. It was released on July 11, 1968 and it becomes the group’s second #1 album. Two singles are released, “Unknown Soldier” which peaked at 39 on the charts, followed by “Hello, I Love You”, which finds The Doors once again at the top of the singles chart. Some critics didn’t enjoy the sound of “Hello, I Love You” too much, as it didn’t sound like “The Doors”. While the music was different, the lyrics were pure Morrison, and had been written some time before the group was even signed. Some claimed it sounded like The Kinks.
“Waiting for the Sun” was not the easiest album to record. Jim had wanted “Celebration of the Lizard” to take up most of the second side and valuable studio time was spent on it. While the lyrics were printed on the inner sleeve, very little of it made it to the album. “Celebration of the Lizard” is where the very famous Jim Morrison quote “I am the lizard king, I can do anything” comes from. The Doors did create a very interesting music video (before they were called that) for “Unknown Soldier” It was banned, for once again, Morrison had went too far. At the end of the video, he is “shot” and blood drools from his mouth onto some flowers. The scene then shifts to the rest of The Doors walking along the beach without Jim. Even though the networks were showing the bloody battles of Vietnam on tv, I guess the sight of Jim Morrison bleeding was too much for them.
The Doors fourth album, The Soft Parade, so a big change in The Doors sound. Some fans and critics were not happy with the brass and strings on the album. The Soft Parade also has the distinction of the most singles of any Doors album; Touch Me, which peaked at #3, Wishful Sinful peaking at #44, Tell All The People at #57, and finally Runnin’ Blue reaching #64. Also, all four singles were written by Robby Krieger. This album also saw the first time the song writing credits were split. Previously, The Doors wrote all the songs. Apparently, Jim didn’t want fans to think he had written “Tell All The People”, telling people to follow him, so he insisted that Robby was known as the writer. Even with the album’s criticism, it still reached #6. The Soft Parade took over 9 months to record. It was released on July 18, 1969, however the single “Touch Me” was released much earlier in December of 1968.
Between the time “Touch Me” was released and the album “The Soft Parade” was released, there was this little incident in Miami Florida. Morrison had been going to performances of The Living Theatre, which was very antagonistic, challenging the social mores of the day. Morrison went to several shows, sitting right up front. He really got into what they were saying, total freedom. With this fresh in his mind, and after several drinks, he boards a plane headed for Miami for a concert at the Dinner Key Auditorium. Getting more and more drunk and missing flights, Jim finally arrives about an hour late. It’s hot, the venue was oversold by about 5 thousand and the fans are not happy. The band is not happy with the situation, or with Jim’s drunken tardiness. A drunk Morrison begins to berate the audience, telling them they are all idiots and slaves. Everytime The Doors try to begin a song, Morrison interrupts to scream at the audience more. Then Jim begins his own version of The Living Theatre, telling people to take their clothes off. Jim pretends to take his off, although out of all the photos taken that night, not one shows Jim showing anything. Fans rush the stage, which collapses, cops are throwing fans off the stage, including Morrison at one point. And just like that, the concert is over. No police officers arrest or even hint towards arresting Jim. The Doors had already planned a vacation, which they go to. Four days later, Dade county sheriffs office issue a warrant for Morrison’s arrest, saying he exposed himself, simulated oral copulation on Krieger, shouted obscenities, and was publicly drunk.
February 1970 saw the release of The Doors fifth album, “Morrison Hotel”. The album peaked at #4 on the charts. The cover photo was of the band inside a real hotel in LA called Morrison Hotel. The owners told The Doors that they could not take pictures, but as soon as they had the chance, the band ran inside and the cover picture was taken from across the street. “Morrison Hotel” saw the band returning to their roots, blues based rock and roll. Gone were the horns and strings of “The Soft Parade”. The song “Waiting for the Sun” was originally recorded for the third album of the same name, recorded back in 1968 was included as was “Indian Summer” which was recorded in August of 1966. Critics saw “Morrison Hotel” as The Doors comeback album, and they started getting more concert dates after the Miami fiasco.
On August 29th, The Doors performed as the Isle of Wight festival. Unfortunately, Morrison had been up for 2 days by the time The Doors hit the stage and he was spent. He didn’t move much and the energy just wasn’t there. The Doors played 7 songs that night. On December 8, Jim’s 27th birthday, he recorded hours worth of poetry in the studio, some of which wound up on the 1978 album “An American Prayer”. 3 days later, The Doors played a concert in Dallas Texas in which The Doors first played some songs from the upcoming album, “L.A.Woman”. The show went well and The Doors thought maybe things were getting better with Jim. However, the next night, The Doors performance in New Orleans ended with Morrison slamming the mic stand into the stage until it started to splinter. He then sat on John’s drum riser, not moving for over 10 minutes. After the concert, without Jim’s knowledge, the remaining Doors called it quits, as far as public performance went.
The last Doors album, “L.A.Woman” was recorded between December 1970 and January 1971. Paul Rothchild had been the producer for all of The Doors albums up to this point. However, when he found himself falling asleep during the L.A.Woman sessions, he walked out, calling The Doors new music cocktail music. The Doors, along with long time engineer, Bruce Botnick decided to co-produce the album themselves. The set up the recording equipment in their office and recorded the whole album within 2 weeks. Quite amazing considering the last two albums had taken several months each. There are very little overdubs, it essentially was recorded live. Some fans regard it as their best album. “L.A.Woman” was release in April of 1971 and peaked at #9 on the album charts. Two singles were released; “Lover Her Madly” which reached #11, and “Riders on the Storm” that reached #14.
After “L.A.Woman” was recorded, Morrison went to Paris to escape his LA lifestyle. He had hoped to slow down his drinking, start writing poetry again, and travel around Europe with Pam. Pam had said that Jim had, in fact, slowed down the alcohol consumption and lost weight. He also shaved his beard and looked better than he had in a while, but it was not to last. He started to drink again and was becoming depressed. What happened on July 2nd of 1971 is up to much debate. Where Morrison went, what he did, who he saw, what he took in, have all added to the mystery. What we know for sure is that Pam called The Doors manager, Bill Siddons to say that something was wrong with Jim, he needed to come to Paris immediately. Jim was gone and a small ceremony was held at Père Lachaise in Paris, before the public even knew what had happened. 6 days after Jim was gone, Siddons released a statement.
Jim Morrison may have broke on through to the other side on July 3rd, but he is still on this side for those of us who continue to read his words and listen to his music. As long as there are Jim Morrison fans, the music will never be over.
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