Yet another true gift to music has died: Ray Manzerek. Born Raymond Daniel Manczarek Jr. on Feb. 12, 1939, in Chicago, the keyboardist and founding member of The Doors died yesterday, Monday, May 20, 2013 at a clinic in Rosenheim, Germany. He was 74. As every member was, Manzarek was an essential element to what truly is one of the most idiosyncratic—and just plain strange—dynamics ever applied to the traditionally bricks-and-mortar art of Rock & Roll. But he always kept it in the pocket and he always let it simmer before he let it burn.

Jim Morrison, Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek, and John Densmore of The Doors: Venice Beach, CA 1969 (photo by Henry Diltz).

Before, I’ve touched upon his creations with The Doors here where I described their sound with these words:

When at their best, what distinguishes this group’s sound

from the majority of their contemporaries is that they not

only sound extraordinarily alive and on a journey, but filled

with dread at the awesome wonder of being so; the sound of

there being “something not quite right.” It is that underlying

but persistent sense of creation confronting dread that has

bestowed their music with longevity despite (or perhaps as a

side-effect of?) our desperate-for-the-next-hit culture.

[…] I still believe to this day that together, keyboardist Ray

Manzarek, drummer John Densmore, vocalist Jim Morrison,

and guitarist Robby Krieger had one of the most singular sounds

ever created by a rock band. I’m not even certain they qualify

to be labeled as “rock.” Cinematic in scope and theatrical in

presentation, The Doors fluidly merged jazz associated time

signatures with Latin rhythms, the primitive stomp and lustful

swagger of the blues, and the sinister yet jaunty gait of a

vaudevillian circus—the whole sound given flight by extended

flourishes of flamenco, surf-rock riffs, and sharp apoplectic

convulsions of psychedelia. Inexplicably, this sound could still

urge the listener to tap his foot and sing along. Play any album

by The Doors and tell me what other group (even those that are

attempting to emulate) sounds like this? I suppose the only

appropriate genre label for this group would be “weird.”

Yes, they were a band of weirdos.

The Doors in 1968 (photo by Gunter Zint).

Take for example their rough performance of “Universal Mind” on the night of August 21, 1970 at the Civic Auditorium in Bakersfield, CA, where a showtune lament suddenly cascades to take on Mongo Santamaría’s “Afro Blue” (in an arrangement made famous by John Coltrane in 1963). Morrison and Krieger might be placed sinuous in the front and center by Densmore’s precision driven rhythms, but it is a turn on an evil tone from Manzarek’s combo of Vox Continental organ and Fender Rhodes piano (which he used to simultaneously “play bass” for the group) that steers the whole ensemble further out into other zones.

The Doors, live at the Civic Auditorium in Bakersfield, CA, 8/21/70 (photo by Patty & Spike )

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The Doors on December 17, 1969 (photo by Henry Diltz).

On a more playful note, I’ve always loved the cool-jazz demo version of “Queen Of The Highway” recorded during the November 1969 sessions for The Doors’ fifth LP, Morrison Hotel; the album would eventually be released on February 1st of 1970. Here, Morrison’s brooding mythology of regret and his relationship with Pamela Courson within an American vortex of fame, madness, and open roads is plucked up by the band (accompanied by session bassist Harvey Brooks) and dropped into the set of some lounge-act long-stranded at some slightly sleazy club on the Sunset Strip. Here, it’s been 3am for thirty years but they just can’t seem to feel anxious about it, not even the heart-broken singer. The piano player has never sounded more carefree.

(Photo by Henry Diltz).

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Like it? Buy It.

The Doors live in 1970

Another two fine examples of The Doors’ exceptional sense of musical communion in a live setting (which I feel is their true context, where they were able to reach out in unison and achieve something other) come from their August 29, 1970performance at The Isle Of Wight Festival: the certainly familiar,Light My Fireand the medley ofThe Endthat they used to close their set. It might beKrieger and Densmore who place the cinders under Morrison’s ass here, but it’s Manzarek who serves as both the steam that drives the engine and as the excess vapor spitting out the top so that the pressure does not combust the whole operation. As melodramatic and histrionic as the overall desired affect could be, the components employed are often actually quite subtle in their shifts: from the chug of a blues train to a Latin shuffle to the stock sounds of suspense from a radio mystery play to a raga drone to the slash of flamenco to the snippet of a standard or two to anywhere else from always as long as it works to serve the theatrics of the piece.

“Morrison required all three of us diving into his lyrics and creating music that would swirl around him,” Manzarek told Rolling Stone in 2006, “[…] The Doors was the perfect mixture of four guys, four egos that balanced each other” (Greene, 2012, May 20). Together these four would construct an intricate lattice to prop up some strange new sound of expression, something monstrous and funky, something sincere and more than a little kitsch.

God, can you imagine how irritating even the titles of these two songs could have been to them by now, shouted as they were incessantly by fans who desired to show up to the show for a greatest hit or two and then be on their way with their heads remaining more-or-less in the same order it was in when they arrived. And yet, The Doors live would tear into what could be a tired number, split it open to descend into the interior of the nautilus shell construction of the tune and arrive at its center, to search for a new angle on its essence to stretch, to tease it out and present it when they come out burning on the other side. Manzarek was quoted as saying in January of last year, “If you’re interested in knowing what existence is all about, I highly recommend LSD” (Appleford, 2012, Jan. 23) and it is something to this effect that The Doors were trying to achieve.

Light My Fire

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“The End Medley: The End/Across The Sea/Away In India/Crossroads/Wake up/The End”

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To leave off my little tribute to the exceptionally talented Ray Manzarek, about a year ago I acquired his solo debut from 1974, The Golden Scarab, and it really is quite stunning at times. Handling all the organs, pianos, and synths himself, Manzarek assembles a superb crew for the sessions helmed by Bruce Botnick (such as Jerry Scheff on bass, Tony Williams on drums, Larry Carlton on guitar, and percussion by Mailto Correa, Milt Holland, and Steve Forman). Here, Manzarek expands upon certain territories of mystic rhythm & blues first explored in his time with The Doors, and he maintains that band’s quirky sense of comedy and theater. The standout track for me here has always been the instrumental “The Moorish Idol,” which sets out on a journey and just keeps going:

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Like it? Buy it.

As one last bonus, here’s Manzarek showing his Chicago roots with that album’s take on Chuck Berry’s blues burner “Downbound Train

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Like it? Buy it.

Ray Manzarek, R.I.P

“But now we must descend for there is another side to this vision”—Ray Manzarek.

—————————————–BOBBY CALERO——————————


Appleford, S. (2012, Jan. 23). The Doors Rise Again with New Documentary and Unreleased Song. Rolling Stone. Retrieved from http://rollingstoneindia.com/the-doors-rise-again-with-new-documentary-and-unreleased-song/

Greene, A. (2013, May 20). Ray Manzarek, Doors Keyboardist, Dead at 74. Rolling Stone. Retrieved from http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/ray-manzarek-doors-keyboardist-dead-at-74-20130520


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