I know that I haven’t written in this blog in a long time, but like Jim Morrison wrote in his 1969 book of poetry, the Lords and the New Creatures…
It takes large murder to turn the rocks in the shade and expose the strange worms beneath. The lives of our discontented madmen are revealed.*
Okay, maybe there was no murder, but we had a large tragedy last week and it has turned the stones and I find myself writing once again in this blog. Whenever anyone asks me for my favorite band, I list several, but when pressed for one name, it is the Doors. Last week Ray Mazarek passed away at the age of 74 and the world lost a magnificent and versatile musician. Ray lost his battle with cancer and died in Rosenheim, Germany, with his family at his side.
Ray was born on February 12, 1939, in Chicago Illinois. He learned to play piano at an early age and it became his passion, along with basketball. The two passions competed for his attention and, gratefully for my generation, music eventually won. He went to college to study law but soon learned that he was not cut out for it. He enlisted in the army in 1961 and served as a concert pianist stationed in Okinawa. When he finished his enlistment, he returned to the states and college, attending UCLA in 1965. It was there, studying film, that he met another film student, Jim Morrison.
Morrison saw himself as a poet and had written quite a bit of poetry. Ray had played in a band, Rick and the Ravens, with his two brothers, but he mostly played classical, jazz and blues. It seems unlikely that a rock band would evolve from these two artists, but L.A. in the late 60s was a magic time and psychedelia was all the rave. Morrison suggested they start a rock band on what seemed to be almost a lark. Morrison had been writing song lyrics alongside his poetry and with the addition of John Densmore and Robby Krieger, the Doors were born.
1967 was an amazing time. The hippie movement had come of age and the “Summer of Love” brought it all into full swing. There were four albums that were released in 1967 and most baby boomers had them in their collection. They were Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles, Surrealistic Pillow by the Jefferson Airplane, Are You Experienced by the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the Doors self-titled debut album. These four albums became the soundtrack for the Summer of Love.
Ray Manzarek was in many ways the architect for that captivating Doors sound. He was both their keyboardist and their bass player. Ray had a Fender Rhodes keyboard bass that he placed on top of his main keyboard, a Vox Continental organ. It was small, only two octaves, and he placed it on the left side so he could play bass with his left hand. (See picture below.) He would play the organ with his right and that is why most Doors’ keyboard parts can be played with just one hand. I used to relish the response I’d get in symphonic band in high school when I was playing the chimes/tubular bells. With just a single hammer in one hand, I used to bang out the opening to "Light My Fire" when there was down time.
The Doors went on to release seven albums before Morrison died on July 3, 1971. Ray and the other surviving members held together and released two more albums without Jim. These were Other Voices in 1971 and Full Circle in 1972. In 1973 they broke up and went their separate ways.
Ray played in a number of bands after the Doors including Nite City, Manzarek-Krieger and the Manzarek-Rogers Band. He collaborated, or provided keyboards for Iggy Pop, Michael C. Ford, Echo and the Bunnymen, Michael McClure, X, Darryl Read, Bal and "Weird Al" Yankovic. Ray released his last album, Translucent Blues, in 2011. It was a blues record he recorded with guitarist Roy Rogers (not the cowboy star).
In my opinion, his greatest post-Doors work was his version of the Carmina Burana in 1983. The Carmina Burana was written by Carl Orff in 1935. He took verses written by medieval monks in Latin and put them to music. The music has since been a favorite of TV and movie soundtracks of the medieval and fantasy genres. Ray took this work and redid it with a Rock and Roll feel, including electric guitars, but retained the Latin versus.
Ray wrote two books. The first was his memoir, Light My Fire: My Life with the Doors. He also wrote a Civil War ghost story, Snake Moon, in 2006.
This death has hit me harder than most. Tonight, I’m dedicating my entire set to Ray Manzarek. I will dig deep in the vault and put together a two hour retrospect on Ray and the Doors. I will include snippets of interviews with Ray, extreme rarities and I even completed a tribute remix of Peace Frog/Blue Sunday this morning that I will debut. Join me tonight at 7 PM SL time at a Woman’s Touch.
"There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception."
Aldous Huxley, 1954
*James Douglas Morrison, The Lords and the New Creatures (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1969), page 16.