Some 40 years after The Doors formed and began shaking up the pop charts with their unique brand of shamanistic, poetic and psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll, drummer John Densmore is as ready as ever to explore new musical terrain.
“I don’t care if I’m playing to a big audience or a small audience, as long as I’m doing something cutting-edge and new,” says Densmore. “The Doors were always interested in searching, and that’s what I’m interested in to this day.”
Tribaljazz is the name of Densmore’s latest musical endeavor, which combines tribal African polyrhythms with jazz and Densmore’s Doorsy, hypnotic percussive touch.
Tribaljazz concerts are scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 19th and 20th, at the Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice. Tickets are $25.
African tribal-style drummers Aziz Faye and Marcel Adjibi, and percussionist Christina Berio round out the group’s percussion section with Densmore. The rhythms are accompanied by flute, piano, bass and voice.
In songs like “Violet Love” and a version of The Doors classic “Riders on the Storm,” Tribaljazz fuses world music styles and jazz with rhythms people can dance to, says Densmore.
For 30 years, Densmore has been saying he is a jazz drummer, citing Elvin Jones as a major influence, and now he gets to “put his sticks where his mouth is,” he says.
The upcoming shows are Densmore’s first performances at Venice’s Electric Lodge. After a few local performances, Densmore says he plans to take the group on the road touring.
A Santa Monica resident for much of his life, Densmore says a tremendous amount of musical influence came from the time he spent in Venice during the early days of The Doors.
“When we were completely unknown, Jim [Morrison] and I would drive to the Venice West CafÈ to hang out. We were amazed at the fact that, years ago, people like Allen Ginsberg had read there.”
At the time, the Venice boardwalk was “completely deserted” and Venice resembled a wasteland, says Densmore.
The landscape provided just the sublime setting The Doors needed to make their mystically-coated rock.
“We rented a Victorian house with ten rooms for $200,” says Densmore, contrasting today’s gentrified and pricey Venice real estate, often far exceeding the budgets of today’s young artists and musicians.
During the early days of The Doors, Jim Morrison was like a mentor for Densmore, he says.
Those in the group were experimenters, taking influence from the Beat poets, Native American shamanism and what Densmore called the “cosmic experience” of psychedelic drugs.
“Our experience exploring other states of consciousness was positive,” says Densmore. “However, these substances can be very dangerous. You have to really plan your environment, and some people shouldn’t do it at all.”
In the decades following Morrison’s death in 1971, Densmore says he has had disagreements with former Doors members Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek over use of Doors music in commercial advertising. And in the case of The Doors, who made a rare agreement that all music licensing decisions must be unanimously approved by all living band members, Densmore has thus far been an insurmountable hurdle for prospective commercial buyers.
Last year, he successfully sued his former bandmates to stop touring under the name The Doors or The Doors of the 21st Century.
Densmore also made headlines and left many in disbelief after he vetoed a staggering $15 million offer by Cadillac to use The Doors hit song “Break on Through” in one of the automaker’s television commercials.
Densmore, along with Neil Young, is one of the few remaining holdouts from the classic rock era with an unyielding belief that the music is too sacred to be sold for pushing random consumer products.
“I would say, if you’re a new band trying to pay your rent, if you’re an unknown trying to get a leg up, then go for it,” says Densmore. “You might want to first consider what kind of product you’re selling and not go for something that’s damaging to people or the environment, but go ahead. But I can only speak for our situation.”
But The Doors, who have continued to sell millions of records and hordes of merchandise in recent decades, hardly are strapped for cash, he says.
A second reason Densmore states for his refusal allow commercial use of the music is that Morrison was adamantly against the idea and he says he wants to respect Morrison’s wishes.
“One time we had signed a deal for ‘Light My Fire’ to be used in a Buick commercial when Jim [Morrison] was out of town. When he found out, he was livid and threatened to smash a Buick on stage if the deal went through. The deal was canceled.”
Densmore also says that what an ad is selling is a factor in his decision-making process.
“If we were offered an ad for a new type of hybrid vehicle or a new progressive technology, that’s certainly better than a deodorant advertisement,” Densmore says, mocking an actual offer the group had received.
Tensions have made it unlikely that fans will ever get to see the three living Doors perform together again, but Densmore doesn’t completely dismiss the idea.
“Maybe if it was a benefit for something worthwhile, and if we had some truly amazing guest singers come up and perform the songs, then perhaps I’d be interested,” he says.
In the meantime, Densmore plans to continue moving forward in his musical journey through the hybrid sounds of Tribaljazz.
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