Nearly 36 years after the Doors’ “Light My Fire” helped fuel the summer of love and 31 years after the band’s enigmatic frontman Jim Morrison died a mysterious death in Paris, keyboardist Ray Manzarek tells Billboard.com that the time was right to regroup. Only this time, due to legal issues, the band is known as the Doors 21st Century. It also features Cult singer Ian Astbury wearing the leather pants.
“Everything was fine, Doors records were selling and we had plenty of income,” says Manzarek. “There was no economic need to reunite. It was just a matter of reuniting when somehow the energies all came together. And we are going to do this for the next couple of years, and that’s it. You are going to see this one or two times, and that’s all man. It’s over with.”
The first inkling of a Doors re-grouping took place after the surviving members — Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger, and drummer John Densmore — performed on the VH-1 “Storytellers” series with a host of contemporary singers filling in for Morrison. Among the vocalists was Astbury, who has been compared to Morrison for decades and also appears on the Doors tribute disc “Stoned Immaculate: Music of the Doors” singing “Wild Child” and “Touch Me.” Then, last year, Harley Davidson contacted Krieger about reforming for its 100th anniversary and with the Cult on hiatus, the timing was right for Astbury to join the fold.
“He’s got that Celtic Christian aspect to him,” says Manzarek. “That shamanism. That darkness. He comes from the same psychic space that Jim Morrison came from. He’s not imitating Jim Morrison; he’s that kind of guy, and he just happens to be a great singer.”
Interestingly, Astbury wasn’t the outfit’s first choice to replace the Lizard King on stage. Some 30 years ago, the remaining members had talks with Joe Cocker and Audience singer Howard Werth, but neither scenario came to fruition. The Doors played together again in 1993, with Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder on vocals, when the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
With Astbury, the band found a permanent singer, but Densmore bowed out citing hearing problems. Recently, the drummer filed a lawsuit charging breach of contract and trademark infringement. Since then, the estates of Jim Morrison and his wife Pamela Courson have joined Densmore.
“The lawyers are going through their paces and as far as I look at it, it is a nuisance suit,” says Manzarek. “It is a frivolous lawsuit. The bile in John’s stomach [is] acting up and [Morrison’s and Courson’s estates] are jumping on John’s bandwagon to get a piece of change. What they are looking for is a little cash. You guys are playing live concerts? We’re not getting a taste of that. They want a taste.”
The Doors 21st Century open a new leg of touring May 22 in Tampa, Fla., and plan to be on the road through September. Included in the set list are hits (“Roadhouse Blues,” “Break on Through”), popular album tracks (“Backdoor Man,” “Peace Frog”), and a pair of new songs (“Cops Talk,” “American Express”) that will appear on a new studio album due out sometime in 2004. Manzarek, Krieger, and Astbury will be choosing from potential material submitted by such poets/songwriters as Jim Carroll, John Doe, Henry Rollins, and Michael McClure.
As for how fans should look to experience their show, Manzarek adds: “That’s up to you. We will make the soundtrack to the movie in your head.”