Ray Manzarek, keyboardist and co-founder of The Doors, died Monday in Rossenheim, Germany, after a long battle with bile duct cancer. He was 74.
The Doors are one of the more controversial rock acts in history, due mostly to singer Jim Morrison’s bizarre poetry and their unpredictable live performances.
I continue to spin Doors’ discs, especially the live ones, because there is this level of performance art that goes along with the visual storytelling, psychedelia and barroom blues, that has never returned since.
A Doors concert is akin to conjuring up a spirit. You get Morrison cranked up on the right night with the right drugs and there really is no telling where the show may lead. There is this expectation that anything could happen, and regardless it will be memorable.
A big part of making that happen was Ray Manzarek and his organ playing. If there were to be a soundtrack to The Doors, it would start with Manzarek. His organ at the beginning of several songs lured listeners inside the looking-glass.
Few rock bands would attempt forgoing the addition of a bass guitar. It sets the low rhythm and gives the music its thump. The Doors flipped the traditional sound by substituting Manzarek’s organ. He still played bass lines but used his Vox Continental combo organ instead, putting the low-end much more up front.
This lent a carnival atmosphere to the music of The Doors, like a demented carousel was backing Morrison’s dark sexual musings. It remains a wholly unique sound.
[The Doors | Back Door Man|Five To One | Hollywood Bowl 07.05.68]
“There was no keyboard player on the planet more appropriate to support Jim Morrison’s words,” said John Densmore, drummer for The Doors. “It was like we were of one mind, holding down the foundation for Robby and Jim to float on top of. I will miss my musical brother.”
Manzarek was born on February 12, 1939 in Chicago. After graduating from DePaul University with a degree in economics, he came to California. From 1962 to 1965 he studied cinematography at UCLA. This is how he met Morrison.
After film school had ended in 1965, the two parted ways, but a few weeks later Manzarek ran into Morrison by chance at Venice Beach in Los Angeles. Morrison sang him a rough draft of the song “Moonlight Drive,” and The Doors were formed.
The name is taken from the title of Aldous Huxley’s book “The Doors of Perception,” which itself was a reference to a William Black quote, “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”
The band’s lineup was filled out after Manzarek met Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger at a Transcendental Meditation lecture.
After starting out at the London Fog club on Sunset Strip in L.A., The Doors became the house band at the Whisky a Go Go in 1966 and signed with Electra Records. Their self-titled debut album came out in January 1967, and the ride didn’t stop until Morrison’s death in July 1971.
Manzarek could sing and play guitar as well, and added vocals to The Doors’ 1971 release “Other Voices,” and “Full Circle,” from 1972, subsequent to Morrison’s death.
The Doors officially broke up the following year, but not before they became the first American band to accumulate eight consecutive gold LPs. Total, they are credited with 19 Gold, 14 Platinum and 5 Multi-Platinum album awards in the U.S. alone.
The band’s popularity has persisted and according to the Record Industry Association of America, The Doors have moved another 32.5 million certified units in the U.S. since their recording career ended. Overall, they have sold over 100 million albums worldwide.
In 1993, The Doors were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Manzarek continued playing music, co-founding Nite City in 1977, and collaborated with the likes of Philip Glass, Echo & the Bunnymen, X, and Iggy Pop. In 2002, he began touring again with Robby Krieger as The Doors of the 21st Century.
He wrote three books, including his 1998 memoir, “Light My Fire: My Life with The Doors.”
[The Doors | Texas Radio|Love Me Two Times | Europe 1968]
Manzarek is survived by his wife, Dorothy Fujikawa, who he met at UCLA as well. They were married in Los Angeles on December 21, 1967, with Jim Morrison and his companion, Pamela Courson as witnesses. Manzarek remained married to Fujikawa until his death, and they had a son, Pablo.
For anyone looking for new releases of live music from The Doors, I highly recommend the Bright Midnight Archives. All of these releases have been spectacular. Of the newer available ones check out: The Pacific Coliseum-Vancouver 1970, Live at the Matrix-San Francisco 1967, or Boston Arena 1970. Of the harder to find releases, either of the Aquarius Theatre shows are immaculate, as is Cobo Hall-Detroit. They will not disappoint.
These really showcase what The Doors were capable of delivering when motivated and focused. There is a vitality and electricity that gives a listener pause to appreciate what it must have been like to be in a room with Jim and the boys.
Rest easy Ray – No doubt you were one bad MoFo!