Remembering Ray Manzarek (1939-2013)
by Jim Allen | May 21, 2013
Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek was not your average '60s rock star. He was a bookish type who was already pushing 30 when The Doors released their epochal, self-titled debut album in 1967. The woman he married that year would remain his wife for the rest of his life. And while Chicago-born Manzarek loved the blues, he was also grounded in jazz and classical music. Of course, many of the idiosyncrasies that made Manzarek a bit of an odd man out in the blossoming counterculture were crucial to creating the sui generis sound that made The Doors both so special and so successful.
When Manzarek's unique blend of influences collided with the complementary approaches of guitarist Robby Krieger, drummer John Densmore and frontman Jim Morrison -- a poet and aspiring filmmaker who had never sung a lick before -- they created something that contained elements of blues, Bach, flamenco and rock, but could only be called The Doors. With Morrison's charismatic wail and free-flowing poetic lyrics up top and Manzarek's carefully constructed framework holding it all together (besides piano and organ, he provided keyboard bass lines with his left hand), The Doors unleashed a heady storm of hits between 1967 and 1971. Along the way, they opened the world's eyes up to what was possible under the broad banner of "rock."
The Doors soldiered on for two more albums after Morrison's 1971 death, but the band was basically over when the breath left Jim's body. In the years that followed, Manzarek began a sporadic solo career, but mostly remained far from the spotlight. By the time the punk revolution (and its stylistic successor, post-punk) rolled around at the end of the '70s, The Doors' style (especially Manzarek's signature organ sound) came back into play as a key influence on a new crew of rock 'n' roll bad boys. Iggy Pop himself had been a Doors fan, and subsequently, everyone from The Damned to Joy Division assimilated the band's sound. It wasn't too surprising, then, that Manzarek -- always the most analytical Doors member -- found a new calling as a producer in the '80s, most famously with L.A. post-punk pioneers [X,](art.6442] whose widely heralded first four albums were all Manzarek productions. He also played on tracks by Doors disciples Echo & The Bunnymen, who weren't afraid to cover a couple of the seminal '60s band's tunes along the way either.
After mingling his music with Morrison's words, Manzarek never got poetry out of his system, and he would eventually perform and record with poets like Michael McClure and Darryl Read. But in the later years of the keyboardist's life, much of his time was spent trying to recreate the magic of The Doors' music in a live setting alongside Krieger and various vocalists. Obviously the odds were stacked against catching that kind of lightning in a bottle again, but even after Ray passed away at the age of 74 on May 20, 2013 of complications from cancer, the moody, mysterious aura of The Doors (and the definitive keyboard contributions of Manzarek) remained ubiquitous. Enter Manzarek's world for a while with this memorial playlist, including classic Doors cuts, solo sessions, Manzarek producing and accompanying other artists, and a generous stack of tracks from those who fell under The Doors' spell.