Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Late Great Ray Manzarek of The Doors

Ray Manzarek, keyboardist for The Doors, died on 20 May 2013 at the age of 74. The cause was bile duct cancer.

 Ray Manzarek was born Raymond Manczarek Jr. (he later simplified the spelling of his surname by dropping the "c") on 12 February 1939 in Chicago, Illinois. He attended Everett Elementary School and St. Rita High School in Chicago. Growing up he studied piano. He also played basketball, but abandoned the sport when his coach insisted he play guard when he wanted to play forward or centre. He attended DePaul University and graduated with a degree in economics.

In 1962 Mr. Mazarek moved to Los Angeles to attend the film school at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). There he joined his brother Rick and Jim's band Rick & the Ravens as vocalist and occasional pianist. It was in 1965 that Ray Manzarek met Jim Morrison, who also attended UCLA. The two shared a number of interests in both music and art. Eventually Mr. Manzarek invited Mr. Morrison to sing with Rick & the Ravens at one of their performances. It was not long afterwards that he joined the band. John Denismore, who had been the drummer with The Psychedelic Rangers, joined Rick & the Ravens in August 1965. It was this line up that recorded a demon on 2 September 1965 that included songs that would later be played by The Doors (most notably "Hello, I Love You" and "Moonlight Drive"). Rick and Jim Manczarek were disappointed with the lack of response from the record industry that the demo received. They also did not particularly care for Jim Morrison's new songs. The two then left the band, as well as Patricia Sullivan, leaving Ray as the last of the Manczareks as a member. Guitarist Robby Krieger, who had been playing with The Psychedelic Rangers, was later recruited into the band. Of course, with Rick Macnzarek no longer a member of the band, the group needed a new name. It was Jim Morrison who suggested the name "The Doors," taken from the title of Aldous Huxley's book The Doors of Perception.

In early 1966 The Doors, now consisting of the classic line up of Ray Manzarek, Jim Morrison, John Densmore, and Robby Krieger, began playing regularly at the night club London Fog in Los Angeles. It was not long before they became the house band of the Whisky a Go Go. Love vocalist Arthur Lee suggested to Elektra Records president Jac Holzman that he go see The Doors perform at the Whisky a Go Go. Mr. Holzman did so on 10 August 1966. He saw more sets of the band with producer Paul Rothschild and The Doors were signed on 18 August 1966. Despite having scored a record contract, The Doors would not remain at the Whisky a Go Go long. They were fired after a performance of "The End," complete with the "F" word.

The Doors recorded their eponymous first album from 24 August to 31 August 1966 at Sunset Sound Recording Studios in Hollywood. Released in January 1967, The Doors steadily climbed the Billboard albums chart until it peaked at #2 in September 1967. It was helped considerably the success of the single "Light My Fire". Although now regarded as a classic, The Doors' first single "Break On Through (To the Other Side)" only went to #126 on the Billboard singles chart. On the other hand, "Light My Fire" would go all the way to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, where it stayed for three weeks.

The Doors' second album, Strange Days, was recorded between March and May 1967, and it was released in September 1967. Strange Days performed extremely well, going to #3 on the Billboard albums chart. It produced two hit singles: "People are Strange," which went to #12 on the Billboard singles chart and "Love Me Two Times," which went to #25 on the Billboard singles chart.

The Doors' third album, Waiting for the Sun, would see tensions begin developing within the band, as Jim Morrison's dependence on drugs and alcohol grew. Most notably, producer Paul Rothschild and the other members of The Doors opposed recording the entirety of Jim Morrison's epic suite of poems "Celebration of the Lizard" for the album. In the end one portion of "Celebration of the Lizard," the song "Not to Touch the Earth," did appear on Waiting for the Sun. Regardless, Waiting for the Sun proved very successful upon its release in July 1968. It went to #1 on the Billboard albums chart. It also produced one hit single, "Hello, I Love You," which went to #1 on the Billboard singles chart.

In December 1968 The Doors released the single "Touch Me," which went to #3 on the Billboard singles chart. It would be included on the group's fourth album The Soft Parade. The album was recorded from July 1968 to May 1969 and released in July 1969. The album departed from previous Doors albums in two respects. The first was the inclusion of both brass and string sections, a sharp contrast to the more basic approach of their earlier albums. The second was the appearance of individual writing credits. On the first three albums the songs were simply credited to The Doors. The Soft Parade peak at #6 on the Billboard albums chart.

It was on 1 March 1969, prior to the release of The Soft Parade, that The Doors gave what is likely their most notorious concert. At the concert the Dade County Sheriff's office alleged that Jim Morrison had exposed himself to the audience and issued a warrant for his arrest on 9 March 1969. In September 1970 Mr. Morrison would be sentenced to six months in prison and a $500 fine. He remained free on a $50,000 bond, awaiting an appeal. Jim Morrison would die before the matter was ever resolved. Regardless, Ray Mazarek, Robby Krieger, and John Densmore have all stated that Jim Morrison never exposed himself.

The Doors' fifth album, Hard Rock Café/Morrison Hotel (side one was titled Hard Rock Café and side two was titled Morrison Hotel) was mostly recorded in November 1969 and released in February 1970. Hard Rock Café/Morrison Hotel produced no hit singles ("You Make Me Real" peaked at #50 on the singles chart), but the album did very well. It peaked at #4 on the Billboard albums chart. The Doors' first live album, Absolutely Live, was released the following July.

Unfortunately, while The Doors continued to be a successful recording act, their days of performing live with Jim Morrison would be numbered. On 12 December 1970, midway through a performance at the warehouse in New Orleans,  Jim Morrison smashed a hole in the stage with the microphone and then simply sat down and refused to perform for the rest of the concert. After the show John Densmore, Robby Krieger, and Ray Manzarek agreed that they would no longer perform live as Jim Morrison had simply become too unpredictable.

It was from December 1970 to January 1971 that The Doors recorded their sixth studio album, L. A. Woman. It was their final album with Jim Morrison, who would die on 3 July 1971. L. A. Woman did well, going to #9 on the albums chart. It also produced two hit singles: "Love Her Madly," which went to #11 on the Billboard singles chart and "Riders of the Storm," which went to #11 on the singles chart.

As mentioned above, Jim Morrison died on 3 July 1971. The remaining members of The Doors discussed replacing him with a new lead vocalist, but ultimately they decided to remain a trio with Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger taking over the vocals. The Doors recorded their first album without Jim Morrison, Other Voices, from June to August 1971. Unfortunately Other Voices did not meet with the success of The Doors' earlier albums. It went to #31 on the Billboard albums chart. Its single, "Tightrope Ride," only went to #71.

The Doors' final album (unless one counts An American Prayer, in which the remaining Doors recorded backing tracks for Jim Morrison's recitation of his poetry), Full Circle, was recorded in the spring of 1972. It peaked at #68 on the Billboard albums chart. One of its singles, "The Mosquito," peaked at #92. "Get Up and Dance" did not even chart. It was then in 1973 that The Doors disbanded.

Following the break up of The Doors, Ray Manzarek released his first solo album, The Golden Scarab, in 1973. His second solo album, The Whole Thing Started with Rock & Roll Now It's Out of Control, was released in 1974. The album included Joe Walsh on guitar, Flo & Eddie providing backing vocals (on the song "The Whole Thing Started with Rock and Roll Now It's Out of Control"), and Patti Smith (providing vocals on "I Wake up Screaming").

Afterwards Ray Manzarek formed the supergroup Nite City with Paul Warren on guitar, Nigel Harrison on bass, Jimmy Hunter on drums, Noah James on vocals, and himself on keyboards an vocals. Nite City released their eponymous debut album in 1977. A second album, Golden Days Diamond Night, was released in 1978, without Noah James on vocals. In 1978 An American Prayer was released, with the reunited Doors providing backing tracks to Jim Morrison's poetry.

Ray Manzarek produced X's first four albums: Los Angeles (1980), Wild Gift (1981), Under the Big Black Sun (1982), and  More Fun in the New World (1983). In 1983 Ray Manzarek released a rock adaptation of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. In 1987 he produced Echo & The Bunnymen's cover of The Doors' "People are Strange" for the film The Lost Boys (1987). He also provided keyboards for the track. In 1989 he produced The Escape Club's cove of The Doors' "20th Century Fox". In 1995 he worked with Prong on their cover of The Doors' Strange Days for the 1995 film of the same name.

Over the years Mr. Manzarek would occasionally reunite with the remaining members of The Doors. They reunited for the first time since An American Prayer when The Doors were inducted into the Rock and' Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. They reunited again in 1997 to complete Jim Morrison's unfinished  "Orange County Suite" for a Doors boxed set. In 2000 they reunited for a performance on VH1's Storytellers and again that year for the Doors tribute album Stoned Immaculate: The Music of The Doors. They reunited one last time  in 2011 for Re:GENERATION music project, a documentary which followed various artists collaborating with producers DJ Premier, Mark Ronson, Skrillex, Pretty Lights, and The Crystal Method. The Doors collaborated with Skrillex on the track "Breakn' a Sweat," which also sampled a Jim Morrison interview from the Sixties.

In 2002 Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger reunited to form a band generally referred to as "Manzrek-Krieger". Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger maintained that they had invited John Densmore to be a part of the band, although Mr. Densmore has said otherwise. They had initially meant to perform under the name "The Doors of the 21st Century," but were prevented from continuing to do so because of legal reasons. They have then performed as variously as D21C, Riders on the Storm, Manzarek-Krieger, and simply Ray Manzrek and Robby Krieger of The Doors. Over the years Stewart Copeland, Angelo Barbera, Ian Astbury, Brett Scallions, Miljenko Matijevic, Ty Dennis, Phil Chen, and Dave Brock have performed with them. Manzarek-Krieger exclusively performed Doors material. Sadly, the band would come to an end with Ray Manzarek's death.

Ray Manzarek also released more solo albums. He released Love Her Madly in 2006. He collaborated with  slide guitarist Roy Rogers on the albums Ballads Before The Rain (2008) and Translucent Blues (2011).

In addition to his music, Ray Manzarek also wrote books. His biography, Light My Fire: My Life with The Doors, came out in 1998. In 2001 he published The Poet in Exile, a novel that examines the urban legend that Jim Morrison faked his death. In 2006 he published Snake Moon, a novel set during the War Between the States and dealing with ghosts.

In my humble opinion, Ray Manzarek was one of the greatest keyboardist in rock music, if not the greatest. Indeed, as The Doors did not have a regular bassist, it was often the case that Mr. Manzarek would play a keyboard bass with one hand while playing an organ with the other. To me it is impossible to think of The Doors without thinking of Ray Manzarek's keyboard work. Indeed, it is Mr. Manzarek's singular organ playing that opens "Light My Fire," for many the quintessential Doors track. He provided an emulation of rain with his electric piano in the song "Riders on the Storm." Mr. Manzarek's piano also provides much of the mood for the song "L. A. Woman." For me, however, the stand out track for Ray Manzarek's keyboard work will always be "People Are Strange (also my favourite Doors song)." It is the jangly sound of Ray Manzarek's piano that give the song much of its creepiness, the perfect soundtrack for things that go bump in the night. Of course, Ray Manzarek was also a talented producer. It is in a large part because of him that X's first four albums sound as good as they do.

In the end, while many, perhaps most, people are drawn to The Doors because of Jim Morrison, for me it was mostly Ray Manzarek's keyboard work that made me a Doors fan. He was a skilled keyboardist who brought with him influences from such diverse sources as jazz, blues, Bach, Dvorak, and others. In the end he made The Doors sound unlike any other rock band in the Sixties. While Robby Krieger and John Densmore also made their contributions, I think the argument can be made that The Doors would not be The Doors without Ray Manzarek. He was the only possible keyboardist for the band.

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