A quick note about the passing this week of Ray Manzarek, keyboardist for The Doors at age 74 from the just awful-sounding ailment of bile duct cancer.
For most Jim Morrison was and is the face/spirit/manifestation of the group with his stage presence, dark poetry, and “erotic politician” persona (just ask anyone to name another member). But it was actually Manzarek who is most responsible for the unique sound of the Doors.
It was his keyboard fills, runs, and solos – which could alternately sound like it was emanating from a carnival, a haunted house, a roadside juke joint, a Baroque cathedral, or the pits of Hell itself – that gave the group its sonic distinction.
Imagine if his instrument were wiped from songs like “Light My Fire,” “Five to One,” “Alabama Song,” “Riders on the Storm,” “Love Her Madly,” “Soul Kitchen” or much of their catalogue. And don’t forget he did double duty since the band had no bassist – playing bass chords with one hand and keys with the other.
Manzarek was also the #1 torch carrier for the group’s (and Morrison’s) legacy, waxing rhapsodically and enthusiastically about the Lizard King and the Promise of the ’60s in general for decades after the band ended with Morrison’s 1971 death.
We have no idea of Manzarek’s death will defrost the chilly relations between the surviving members, guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore, who were locked in a legal battle – with Manzarek siding with Krieger – over the use of the Doors name for live concerts and commercial licensing of their music.
Densmore even just published a book about the case, The Doors Unhinged: Jim Morrison’s Legacy Goes on Trial.
I saw “The Doors of the 21st Century” live in 2003 with Manzarek, Krieger, and the Cult’s Ian Astbury on vocals here in Houston (where they also filmed a live DVD, L.A. Woman Live). And I must say…they were fucking good.
Not the same as having the original lineup, of course, but they did the music justice and probably sent a couple of hundred people to the record store (remember those?) the next week to buy Doors CDs.
I’ll also always remember Manzarek’s bemused smile while hunched over his instrument when the stage was flooded by audience members at the finale (including my buddy, Eric Slezak).
So when you think of the Doors, give Ray Manzarek his due.