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Credit: Elektra Records


Listen to the isolated drums of John Densmore on The Doors song 'L.A. Woman'


Within the annals of rock and roll history, John Densmore has gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to The Doors status as classic rock heroes.

There is, of course, the titanic presence of Jim Morrison hanging over all of the band members, but Densmore’s fellow musicians have gotten a fair amount of credit. Ray Manzarek’s haunted carnival organ has rightfully been recognised as creating the band’s signature sound, while Robby Krieger’s impressive blues-influenced playing has gained a fair amount of coverage, as has his songwriting skills on tunes like ‘Light My Fire’, ‘Love Me Two Times’, and ‘Peace Frog’.

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But Densmore’s skills were just as essential to the cosmic brew of psychedelia, hard rock, and jazz that was conjured up by The Doors. Without his driving Bossa nova beat on ‘Break On Through (To the Other Side)’, his orchestral percussion on ‘When The Music’s Over’, or his inhibited style on ‘Touch Me’, The Doors would surely be a lesser band. While he might not stand out next to his bandmates, Densmore’s indispensability is revealed the second that someone else tries to take on his parts. He’s singular, with the proper balance of nuance and power requiring more skill than most drummers can conjure up.

Densmore just kept getting better and better too. While he occasionally returned to the flamboyant flourishes that dotted nearly every track on the band’s seminal debut, he had an infatuation with groove that helped change the direction of the band away from psychedelic carnival music and towards blues or jazz. His gentle hits from ‘Riders on the Storm’ are just as essential within The Doors catalogue as any monster drum performance that he might have laid down.

But when it came to showing off the complete package, it’s hard to find a better example of Densmore’s skills than on the titular track for the band’s final album with Morrison, L.A. Woman. Over the course of nearly eight minutes, Densmore goes from propulsive pounding to slow-burning builds and back again without ever getting out of control or out of sync with his bandmates. With a song as dependent on dynamic and tempo shifts as ‘L.A. Woman’, it takes a drummer with supreme skill and an almost telepathic connection with his fellow musicians. Densmore was the only man for the job.

Densmore’s reputation, as well as the reputation of the band as a whole, took a major hit upon the release of Oliver Stone’s mythical fantasia film The Doors. In it, Densmore comes off as petulant and preachy, given ridiculously cliched lines to spit at Morrison when he goes off the rails. The reality was pretty far from the dramatisation, but the damage that The Doors received in its wake took years to undo.

Now, it’s once again easy to cite them as one of the best bands of the 1960s and early ’70s, and Densmore deserves a large amount of credit for keeping the band together as they went off into wild instrumental tangents or dark readings of Morrison’s poetry. Someone had to stabilise everything, but Densmore was able to hold it down and rock out all at the same time.

Check out John Densmore’s isolated drums on ‘L.A. Woman’ down below.