May 20, 2013 – Ray Manzarek Jr. was the architect of The Doors’ intoxicating sound. His evocative keyboard playing fused rock, jazz, blues, classical and an array of other styles into something utterly, dazzlingly new, and his restless artistic explorations continued unabated for the rest of his life.
He was born on February 12, 1939 to Polish immigrants Helena and Raymond Manczarek and grew up on the South Side of Chicago, and was introduced to the piano at the tender age of seven.
Growing up, he took private piano lessons from Bruno Michelotti and others although he originally wanted to play basketball, but only power forward or center. When he was sixteen his coach insisted either he play guard or not at all and he quit the team. Manzarek said later if it was not for that ultimatum, he might never have been with The Doors.
Though he would later be electrified by the sensual strut of boogie-woogie, the raw power of the blues and the transgressive energy of rock ‘n’ roll, Manzarek credits the “little red book”, written by John Thompson, that his first piano teacher gave him with ideas and motifs he would draw on throughout his career.
While at St. Rita high-school he began playing in a band with his brothers, Rick and Jim, earning pocket money at dances and talent shows. He continued this sideline as an economics student at DePaul University; upon graduating he moved west in the fall of 1961 to attend law school at UCLA. Unable to acclimate to the curriculum, he transferred to the Department of Motion Pictures, Television and Radio as a graduate student before dropping out altogether after breaking up with a girlfriend. Although he attempted to enlist in the Army Signal Corps as a camera operator on a drunken lark during a visit to New York City, he was instead assigned to the Army Security Agency as an intelligence analyst in Okinawa and then Laos. While in the Army, Manzarek played in various musical ensembles and first smoked and grew cannabis. However, because he wanted to eventually visit Poland, he refused to sign the requisite security clearance and was discharged as a private first class after several months of undesignated duty. According to Britt Leach, a fellow Army Security Agency enlistee, Manzarek “had collected an entire duffel bag” of cannabis specimens during his service in Laos; this may have been used to fund his subsequent graduate education.
In 1962, he re-enrolled in UCLA’s 3 year graduate film program, where he received a M.F.A. in cinematography in 1965. During this period, he not only met future wife Dorothy Fujikawa, but also undergraduate film student Jim Morrison. At the time, Manzarek was in a band called Rick and the the Ravens with his brothers Rick and Jim.
Forty days after finishing film school in 1965, thinking they had gone their separate ways, Manzarek and Morrison met by chance on Venice Beach in California. Morrison said he had written some songs, and Manzarek expressed an interest in hearing them, whereupon Morrison sang rough versions of “Moonlight Drive,” “My Eyes Have Seen You” and “Summer’s Almost Gone.” Manzarek liked the songs and co-founded the Doors with Morrison at that moment. The singer’s poetry wturned out to be a perfect fit for the classically trained keyboardist’s musical ideas.
When Robby Krieger and John Densmore came onboard as guitarist and drummer, The Doors were complete.
Manzarek met guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore at a Transcendental Meditation lecture. Densmore said, “There wouldn’t be any Doors without Maharishi.
Though several bassists auditioned for the group, none could match the bass lines provided by Manzarek’s left hand on the keyboards.
In January 1966, the Doors became the house band at the London Fog on the Sunset Strip. According to Manzarek, “Nobody ever came in the place…an occasional sailor or two on leave, a few drunks. All in all it was a very depressing experience, but it gave us time to really get the music together.” The same day the Doors were fired from the London Fog, they were hired to be the house band of the Whisky a Go Go.
The Doors’ first recording contract was with Columbia Records. After a few months of inactivity, they learned they were on Columbia’s drop list. At that point, they asked to be released from their contract. After a few months of live gigs, Jac Holzman “rediscovered” the Doors and signed them to Elektra Records. And from there their Shooting Star into one of the most defining band’s in Rock and Roll History was established until Jim Morrison passed away under dubious circumstances in Paris in July of 1971.
Signed to Elektra, The Doors released six studio albums, a live album and a compilation before Morrison’s untimely demise in 1971.
Devastated the remaining band members attempted two albums without Morrison, featuring Manzarek on vocals as Manzarek occasionally sang for the Doors, including the live recording “Close To You” and on the B-side of “Love Her Madly,” “You Need Meat (Don’t Go No Further).” He sang on the last two Doors albums, recorded after Morrison’s death, Other Voices and Full Circle. Additionally, he provided one of several guitar parts on the song “Been Down So Long” but fan support was low and the band slowly fell apart.
In 1973, he released his first solo album, The Golden Scarab, and began to tour again. 1974’s The Whole Thing Started with Rock and Roll Now It’s Out of Control came next, but Manzarek was itching to work with a band again and eventually started Ray Manzarek’s Nite City, which invited comparisons to Mott the Hoople and Aerosmith. The quintet released its self-titled debut in 1977 and the follow-up “Golden Days Diamond Nights” the following year, but they failed to capitalize on the success of the original Doors and fell apart again. The sixties were gone forever.
The surviving Doors reunited to create a musical backdrop for Morrison’s recorded poetry on the 1978 release “An American Prayer.”
It was soon after that that the punk movement became a driving force in Los Angeles, and the band X contacted Manzarek about working with them in a production capacity. The end result was Los Angeles, one of the all-time most important punk albums, which remains one of the high-water marks of the punk movement.
Reinvigorated, he began work on Carmina Burana, a high-concept solo album about opera and minstrels that was released in 1983. Unfortunately, the effort was viewed as too pretentious and he quietly faded away for almost ten years.
When Oliver Stone’s film biography The Doors was released in 1991, Manzarek came out of semi-retirement to voice his displeasure in how the band was portrayed by the controversial filmmaker. In 1993, he released an album of Michael McClure’s beat poetry over his keyboard playing, Love Lion, to a warm reception. The duo toured the country with the act, while Manzarek worked on his autobiography and a Doors tribute album. Both eventually came out, and he continually voiced his desire to make a musical based on the career of his former band. At the turn of the century, he released an album with British musician/actor Darryl Read and saw his son score a major-label record deal with his band A.I.
Other collaborators have included acclaimed modern-classical and film composer Philip Glass; poet Michael McClure; glam-punk icon Iggy Pop; the British band Echo and the Bunnymen; U.K. poet-musician Darryl Read; writer Scott Richardson, with whom he recorded the innovative spoken-word-and-blues series “Tornado Souvenirs;” guitarist Roy Rogers, who joined him for the 2008 collection “Ballads Before the Rain” (featuring instrumental takes on a couple of Doors songs, among other material); and pop parodist Weird Al, for whose 2009 Doors homage “Craigslist” Manzarek did a spot-on salute to his own work.
The keyboardist’s memoir “Light My Fire: My Life With the Doors” was published in 1998; he subsequently published two novels, 2001′s “The Poet in Exile” (riffing on the urban legend that Morrison faked his own death) and the ghostly 2006 Civil War tale “Snake Moon.” He also flexed his cinematic chops as the writer-director (and score composer) of the 2000 thriller “Love Her Madly.”
In 2002, Ray rejoined forces with Robby Krieger and they toured together for over ten years, playing classic Doors material to sold-out crowds composed of longtime fans and newcomers alike.
Although he subsequently made some challenging and interesting music, including the soundtrack to the film Love Her Madly in 2006, his huge influence over the world of rock will forever associate him with the Doors, and luckily Manzarek seemed completely comfortable with that legacy.
He died on May 20, 2013 in Rosenheim, Germany after a brief battle with bile duct cancer; Ray Manzarek was 74 years old.
There was no keyboard player on the planet more appropriate to support Jim Morrison’s words.”
Greg Harris, President and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, said in reaction to Manzarek’s death that “The world of rock ‘n’ roll lost one of its greats with the passing of Ray Manzarek.” Harris also said that “he was instrumental in shaping one of the most influential, controversial and revolutionary groups of the ’60s. Such memorable tracks as ‘Light My Fire’, ‘People are Strange’ and ‘Hello, I Love You’ – to name but a few – owe much to Manzarek’s innovative playing.” At 9:31 on May 21, 2013 The Whisky a Go Go and other clubs where the Doors played, dimmed their lights in his memory.