Ray Manzarek, keyboardist and founding member of The Doors, passed away on May 20 2013 at the RoMed Clinic in Rosenheim, Germany after a lengthy battle with bile duct cancer. He was 74. At the time of his passing, he was surrounded by his wife Dorothy Manzarek, and his brothers Rick and James. “I was deeply saddened to hear about the passing of my friend and bandmate Ray Manzarek today,” said The Doors’ guitarist Robby Krieger. “I’m just glad to have been able to have played Doors songs with him for the last decade. Ray was a huge part of my life and I will always miss him.”
Drummer John Densmore adds, “There was no keyboard player on the planet more appropriate to support Jim Morrison’s 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. I will miss my musical brother.”
Manzarek famously met Jim Morrison properly (in fact the two had bumped shoulders many times before when they were attending film study courses at U.C.L.A.) when the two men shared an LSD trip and discussed their mutual love of R&B on Venice Beach in Los Angeles.
“It was mid-afternoon. We talked about forming a group and we talked about, ‘Let’s make a million dollars!’ but that was really a stoned joke,” he told this writer. Manzarek’s Vox and Fender organ playing, established via his brotherly band Rick And The Ravens, became the foundation on which much Doors music was built. But his keyboards weren’t his only contribution to the band’s sound. In the absence of a regular bass player, at first he also supplied a left- hand Vox organ ‘bass’ part that was both rudimentary and effective in giving many older Doors songs a peculiar Germanic marching beat.
“But that was from necessity. Boy was I glad when we hired people like Doug Lubahn or Jerry Scheff as bassist. I do like to play with both hands, y’know!”
Ray was always the go-between when Morrison’s onstage antics threatened to destabilise the band. Acknowledging his friend was “a fully fledged alcoholic and was his own worst enemy”, Manzarek frequently persuaded John Densmore and Robbie Krieger back into the ranks. On occasion, in Europe and America, Manzarek filled in for Morrison if the singer was catatonically indisposed, and his slow-paced baritone wasn’t too bad either. You can hear him tackle Close To You (on Absolutely Live) and catch him on LA Woman’s Love Her Madly single B-side oddity (You Need Meat) Don’t Go No Further.
After Morrison’s death, Ray provided most of the decent vocals on The Doors/Other Voices (1971), notably on Tightrope Ride and Hang On To Your Life. The follow-up, Full Circle (1972), was another hybrid jazz/funk/rock effort that showcased Manzarek again on The Mosquito Bird and The Peking Queen And The New York Queen, which was inspired by Manzarek’s long-term marriage to Dorothy Fujikawa.
Manzarek made his own albums for a while. A vague interest in Egyptology was nurtured by a visit to the King Tut exhibition in the British Museum and resulted in an album, The Golden Scarab (1974). A fine piece of nonsense, it was not without merit and featured outstanding collaborators, including Patti Smith, Joe Walsh, Larry Carlton, Scheff and a host of jazz luminaries like Milt Holland. The follow-up, The Whole Thing Started With Rock & Roll Now It’s Out Of Control, was similarly star studded. Manzarek formed LA-based Nite City, who made two albums, and then interpreted Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana with producer Philip Glass.
Then came the many Doors reunion tours. It seemed to be Manzarek’s plight, one he gladly suffered at first, to be a kind of spokesman from the grave for Jim Morrison. Even his bestselling book Light My Fire: My Life With The Doors suffered from that trait. Later books The Poet In Exile and the Civil War novel Ghost Story were better received.
As for The Doors’ legacy, Manzarek told me this: “Whenever you want to listen to our music, treat it seriously and have some fun. That’s what we do. Relax, set aside an hour, light a joint, pour a beer and turn down the lights.” Good advice.
Among the warm tributes to Manzarek are the following…
Slash: “The Doors represent the LA sound to me. It was the first band I remember hearing when I came from England. Light My Fire. I’ll never forget.”
Matt Sorum (Guns N’ Roses): “I’m honoured to have known him and played with him. A genius.”
Billy Idol: “Sad to hear about Ray Manzarek passing. I was lucky to get a chance to rock out with him and the other two Doors. Cheers mate, say hi to Jim.”
Alice Cooper: “Stunned by the loss of my old friend Ray Manzarek of The Doors.”
Joe Perry (Aerosmith): “I am very saddened by the loss of Ray Manzarek. The Doors mean as much to me today as they did 40 years ago.”
Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers): “Bless his heart. One of a kind. A rock original.” Indeed he was.
MANZAREK - A LIFE
He was born on February 12, 1939.
Manzarek graduated from DePaul University with an economics degree.
He produced the 1980 debut album from X, titled Los Angeles.
When Manzarek married in 1967, the two witnesses were Morrison and Pamela Courson.
Manzarek had three grandchildren.