Tuesday, 21 May 2013

R.I.P. Ray Manzarek - The Music Lives On

“Is everybody in? Is everybody in? Is everybody in? The ceremony is about to begin. The entertainment for this evening is not new, you've seen this entertainment through and through. You have seen your birth, your life, your death....you may recall all the rest. Did you have a good world when you died? Enough to base a movie on?”*

The lights dim, the audience's cheers build to a deafening crescendo.

Centre stage, the slim, leather clad singer grasps the microphone. Charismatic, unpredictable. Who will he be tonight? Hardworking Jim or lazy Jim? At least he showed up on stage this time!

During the next hour, The Doors' Jim Morrison will veer from sensual baritone to screaming shaman. He'll whirl, taunt, tease and shock. And through every extreme of his performance, one man will sit quietly at his keyboards, head bowed, eyes half closed, his metal rimmed spectacles giving him the academic air of the serious musician he is. He, drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger are alert and prepared for the unexpected diversions and lyrical deviations their lead singer might choose to take. They are masters of the art of improvisation and can follow each other without missing a beat. 

The keyboardist's name was Ray Manzarek and, in a career of diverse achievements, he created one of the best known intros in the history of popular music - the distinctive first few bars of Light My Fire.

Raymond Daniel Manczarek was born on February 12th 1939 and raised in Chicago. As a child he took piano lessons and in 1962, he enrolled at UCLA to study in the Department of Cinematography. There he was to meet the two people who most would influence the rest of his life - his future wife, Dorothy Fujikawa and a certain James Douglas Morrison.

After finishing film school, Ray and Jim had their fateful reunion, quite by chance, on Venice Beach, California. Ray asked Jim what he had been doing and he replied that he had been working on some songs. Ray then asked him to sing one of them for him. Jim chose Moonlight Drive. It blew Ray away...and the concept of The Doors was born. Drummer, John  Densmore and guitarist, Robby Krieger, joined them and they started to write some songs together. This would be the pattern for the future with all four Doors sharing credit for their songs - except on their album, The Soft Parade.

In 1966, they secured the position of house band at a rundown nightclub called 'The London Fog', on Sunset Strip which tended to attract drunks and a few sailors home on leave, but it gave the band a chance to gel and work on their songs and performance, until they were considered good enough to become house band at the much more popular and cool 'Whisky A Go Go'. Unfortunately, their stint there ended when Jim decided to debut the infamous 'Oedipal' section in the song The End. They were fired that night.

After an unproductive experience with Columbia, Jac Holzman signed The Doors to Elektra Records where Paul Rothschild produced their albums, until he walked out during the recording of L.A. Woman.

As they had no bass player, it fell to Ray to provide the solution, and he did so using a Fender Rhodes piano. He developed the unique Doors sound using a Vox Continental combo organ, later switching to a Gibson G-101.

Through the heyday of The Doors brief, but stellar, career, Jim Morrison's behaviour and addictions to alcohol and other substances led to a number of occasions when he couldn't make it on stage. Then, the steady, reliable and consumately professional Ray Manzarek would simply step in and do the vocals himself. Following Jim's tragic early death in Paris in 1971, he continued to take on this role on the albums, Other Voices and Full Circle.

Ray continued to perform and write music, including a collaboration with classical composer Philip Glass on Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. Other collaborations included work with poet Michael C. Ford, Scott Richardson, Echo and the Bunnymen and many others. For the rest of his life, Ray remained open and receptive to fresh musical ideas and ways of successfully combining different styles - fusing jazz, rock, ethnic and classical in an album Atonal Head with composer/trumpeter Bal.

Always innovative and creative, Ray's career encompassed not only writing, performing, recording and producing music but also novel writing.  He was a lifelong apologist for Jim Morrison and very publicly denigrated Oliver Stone's 1991 'biopic', The Doors in his 1998 autobiography, Light My Fire:My Life With The Doors.

His marriage to Dorothy, in 1967, was long and happy, lasting until his death yesterday, in a German clinic, where he was being treated for complications resulting from his bile duct cancer. His wife, two brothers, son Pablo, daughter in law and three grandchildren, were by his side. He was 74 years old.

R.I.P. Ray. The music isn't over...


(*Extract from An American Prayer by Jim Morrison)