WHEN THE MUSICâS OVER
By Matthew Cheadle
Ray Manzarek, co-founder and keyboard player with the âDoorsâ, sadly died on Monday (May 20th) of bile duct cancer at a clinic in Germany, aged 74.
He moved from his hometown of Chicago to Los Angeles in 1962 to study film at UCLA where he famously met Jim Morrison a few years later on Venice Beach, and the two of them decided to put a band together.
Teaming up with guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore, they began gigging around the clubs of LA, most famously the âWhisky a Go Goâ on Sunset Strip, and in 1966 were signed to Elektra Records. The following year they released their debut album âThe Doorsâ, and their first single from it âLight My fireâ went to number one in the USA, thus beginning a prolific and stormy four years that ended with the death of Morrison and effectively the band too.
The history of the âDoorsâ is a well documented part of rock n roll history, with singer Morrison making most of the headlines for his taboo-testing, censorship-defying behavior, fuelled often by drink and drugs, reflecting a period in the US fraught with social and political upheaval.
What is less well catalogued, however, is Manzarekâs crucial role in the making of the music, and the steering of the direction that the âDoorsâ took during that period. Jeff Jampol, who manages the band, says of Manzarek,
âHe was the one that took Jim by the hand and took the band by the hand and always kept pushing. Without that guiding force, I donât know if the Doors would have been.â
Musically, the bandâs sound drew on many different genres. Although known as a rock group, Manzarek brought elements of jazz and even classical into their recordings, as shown in his famous intro to âLight My fireâ.
Playing a Vox Continental electric organ, which he claimed to have chosen because it was âeasy to carryâ, Manzarek also played bass lines with his left hand on another keyboard when the band performed live, a revolutionary concept in itself at the time, with his playing ranging from haunting plaintiveness to swirling psychedelia, through corridors of baroque-tinged blues.
Drummer, Densmore said in tribute, âThere was no keyboard player on the planet more appropriate to support Jim Morrisonâs words. Ray, I felt totally in sync with you musically. It was like we were of one mind, holding down the foundation for Robby and Jim to float on top of.â
After the âDoorsâ finished, Manzarek continued to show his eclecticism by working on such diverse projects as producing Californian punk band âXâ and recording a rock adaptation of Carl Orffâs classical masterpiece, âCarmina Buranaâ with composer Phillip Glass.
In 2002 he joined forces once again with Robby Krieger to revisit the music of the âDoorsâ with the help of some of LAâs finest musicians, touring at first as âThe Doors of the 21st Centuryâ and then after some legal wrangling about the name with Densmore, as Manzarek-Krieger. The band still had dates booked this year to sell out crowds around the world.
Not only was Ray Manzarek a hugely innovative and influential musician, but he was also a fine person. One story in particular epitomizes his largesse.
This story was told to me by a friend of mine, Ty Dennis, who was the drummer in the âDoorsâ at the time.
In 2006, shortly after his son was born, Ty received a call from Rayâs accountant informing him that Mr. Manzarek had not only set up a college fund for his son, but had also deposited a very generous sum of money into it. Ty, naturally, was blown away and will always be grateful to and never forget his dear bandleader and friend.
It is common for musicians that tour together for years to often end up feeling like family, but even so, this extraordinary gesture of generosity and love says as much about the manâs character as forty plus years of great music says about his creativity and vision.
RIP Ray Manzarek.Â