On the eve of a February 7th Doors reunion show in Los Angeles -- with former Cult frontman Ian Astbury sitting in for the late Jim Morrison and former Police drummer Stewart Copeland playing for John Densmore -- Densmore filed a legal action against the band hoping to convince the group to alter its name.
The drummer charges the remaining members, keyboardist Ray Manzarek and guitarist Robbie Krieger, along with Astbury and Copeland, of breach of contract, trademark infringement and unfair competition. Densmore says he has no problem with his former band mates touring together and playing Doors material, but he claims that using the Doors name and logo has caused confusion.
"The Doors are Jim, John, Ray and Robbie," Densmore says. "I don't care if they call themselves 'former members of the Doors,' 'the Hinges' or 'the Windows.' I just want clarity. I don't want deception."
According to Densmore, he contacted Krieger and asked him to change the name, and though the guitarist agreed, the band only tweaked its handle. "I've had to give them a wakeup call," Densmore says. "I'm not after money. I could have had an injunction and stopped the concert. The [Morrison] estate and I could have said give us half the money. The claim is written lightly. I didn't write injunction. If they don't make it real clear, I don't know, then we'll get heavier."
After a three-decade break prompted by Morrison's death in 1971, Manzarek, Densmore and Krieger performed with a rotating group of singers including Astbury, Scott Stapp and Scott Weiland at a taping of VH1's Storytellers in 2001.
Then, last September, the remaining Doors took the stage of the House of Blues in Los Angeles for what was initially to be a one-off gig with Astbury singing. Densmore passed on the event, and Copeland filled his seat for that performance and a subsequent appearance. Though Densmore's absence was initially attributed to tinnitus, a hearing affliction, he said his ears were better at that point, but he didn't feel comfortable doing a Doors show without Morrison.
Following the House of Blues performance, talk turned to a possible 2003 tour and a new album. "The tragedy and loss of Jim Morrison weighs heavily on all of us," Manzarek said at the time, "but this ain't no tribute band." The band continued to play as the Doors, even recently appearing on The Tonight Show, introduced by Jay Leno as "the Doors." The band did recently tweak the name to "Doors for the 21st Century," but Densmore says his former mates are using the iconic font from the first album, and that the "for the 21st Century" tends to be undetectable in any promotional materials.
Densmore saw the VH1 show as an enjoyable opportunity to reheat the Doors classic songs, as well as honoring Morrison. "No disrespect to Ian and Stewart," he says, "these are great musicians. But that show made sense to me: Six guys taking turns singing as a tribute to Jim. But one guy doing the whole night filling Jim's leather pants? Sorry. There's Doors cover bands in every major city."
Despite Morrison's charismatic role as frontman, the band was hatched with each member holding an equal share, a system that continued after his death, with estate (and that of his wife Pamela Courson) filling one-fourth of the business. "It's all completely four parts, equal," Densmore says. "It's a sweet little democracy that Jim orchestrated with no lawyers, in a garage in Venice, California. And he included veto power in case anybody didn't like what went down. I'm just trying to keep the integrity of what we did a long time ago."
Another point of contention is that Densmore has been playing with a new jazz ensemble, Tribal Jazz, and feels his reputation as a drummer has been undermined by an implied expendability due to the Doors touring without him. "The performances and advertising by the defendants as the Doors has resulted in substantial confusion to fans," read the complaint filed by his attorney, Jerome Mandel. "That there has been a drummer playing with that band who is not John Densmore has minimized and diminished the reputation and stature of Densmore by causing people to believe that he was not, and is not, an integral and respected part of the Doors."
Densmore will actually be playing with Tribal Jazz over the weekend at a benefit for the Arts, to help restore music programs in Los Angeles schools. The band plans to release an album on Hidden Beach over the summer. "I mouthed off about being a jazz drummer before the Doors," he says, "but I never put my sticks where my mouth is."
The Doors for the 21st Century were not available for comment at press time.