WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – The Doors last played the Sunset Strip's Whisky a Go Go on Aug. 21, 1966, and lead singer Jim Morrison's rebellious, shamanistic shouts burned memories into the audience.
The group, whose sound helped define the 1960s, was fired by the famous club that night — Morrison, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, drummer John Densmore, and guitarist Robby Krieger. They never played the Whisky again ... until now.
On Wednesday night, the rock band's remaining three members — all gray-haired and in their 60s — hosted a cacophony of events on the Strip to celebrate the group's 40th anniversary, including a thunderous performance at the Whisky by Manzarek, Krieger and guest musicians. The repertoire included such Doors anthems as "L.A. Woman" and "Light My Fire."
Densmore, estranged from his former mates after a lawsuit over use of the group's name, showed up at the club, but didn't play. A judge last year issued a permanent injunction banning Krieger and Manzarek from calling themselves the Doors and any likeness of the late Morrison to promote a renewed version of the band.
Earlier in the night, the 61-year-old Densmore expertly beat hand drums and joyfully read snippets of Morrison's darkly sexual and quasi-political poetry down the street at Book Soup. The bookstore fills the site of Morrison's old stomping ground, Cinematique 60.
All three Doors members signed copies of the newly released coffee-table book "The Doors by The Doors."
"To honor whatever creative muse came to us, gifted to us, I do these things. Ray and Robby, whether we're having a rift right now, are musical brothers. I thought if we lasted 10 years, that would be something. Forty? Really? Jeez...," Densmore told the Associated Press in a recent phone interview.
Hundreds of fans, from parents toting kids to starry-eyed 21-year-olds and aging rockers, were ecstatic at meeting their idols, even without the larger-than-life presence of Morrison, who died of heart failure in 1971 at age 27 after years of hard living.
"I miss Jim as a friend. Artistically, he was a great poet," Manzarek said over the phone. "That's why we put the band together in the first place, to marry poetry and rock and roll, like the beatniks married poetry and jazz."
Morrison's image, of course, will forever remain that of a hip, young voice of a generations. While impossible to know how the ensuing years might have changed that, Krieger, in a phone interview, offered his thoughts.
"Jim Morrison was not the kind of guy who would get old gracefully," Krieger posited. "He would kind of be a mess. I wish he was still here, and I wish we were still making music."
Self-described No. 1 Doors fan and collector Ida Miller, who runs the site www.idafan.com, stood in the VIP tent behind the Whisky watching videos of a young, lush-mouthed Morrison.
"The first time I saw Jim, I haven't been right since," said the smiling 59-year-old, who saw the group five times, starting in 1968. "I never got tired of the Doors."
Twenty-one-year-old Kevin Bloomberg would agree.
The lanky, long-haired guitarist crushed into the packed Whiskey to see Krieger, who hosted a listening party earlier in the evening of the band's new "Perception" box set, due out Nov. 21.
Wearing a ripped black Doors T-shirt, which he had Krieger sign, Bloomberg gushed about meeting the slight-of-build musician.
"It's like my soul became one," he said. "My parents were into the Doors, so I got into them."
Just next to the Whisky, at the Cat Club — formerly the London Fog, where the Doors first played — a line of admirers snaked around the sidewalk to greet Manzarek, who hosted a mini-version of the Doors' Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum exhibit opening next year.
Appropriately, the night ended on musical notes.
Incense curled through the hot air as audience members sat and soaked in Densmore's spiritually minded acoustic poetry performance.
Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington and Former Jane's Addiction singer Perry Farrell joined in with parts of Morrison's "An American Prayer" and other poetry, backed by members of Farrell's new band, Satellite Party.
Later, the two singers turned up the volume at the Whisky with Krieger and Manzarek, aided by Satellite Party members and former Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash.
As a bespectacled Manzarek pounded his keyboard, Krieger jammed on his guitar.
Though neither Bennington or Farrell could rival Morrison's stage furor, and Densmore's absence was felt, the joyful attempt brought the Whisky to roars of approval — mirroring earlier words of wisdom from Manzarek.
"You play music as long as you can breathe. When you stop breathing is when you stop playing rock and roll. Rock and roll will never die. It will always be, it will always go down in history."