Thursday, May 23, 2013

Ray Manzarek

I must recognize the death this past weekend of Manzarek, keyboard player for The Doors.  Hardly a sideman, he added more than his share to their sound.  He was also the most steadying influence this volatile rock band ever had.

As a classically trained musician, he performed relatively difficult rock keyboard parts well, but I would think he also had a major role in writing the music (writing credit was generally shared).  If one reviews The Doors membership and the instruments they played, you'll see that, very rare for a rock band, they had no bass player:  Manzarek also played the bass line on his keyboards for most of the pieces.

In the history of rock 'n roll, Manzarek has a prominent place.  The late Sixties/early Seventies was the heyday period for featured keyboards, and his performances were right in the heart of that movement, which burst into full flame with progressive rock and the full emergence of the synthesizer after Jim Morrison died in 1971 and The Doors ended their meteoric career in 1973.

After Morrison, Manzarek largely faded from view for quite a long time, while admiration for the Doors' music re-emerged periodically as each new generation discovered its subversive appeal.  Praise for their music was mingled with hero worship of Morrison the rogue, and Manzarek's role became witness and explainer of his sometimes inexplicable lyrics and behavior.  He did reunite  with guitarist Robbie Krieger in the later years to play the old favorites. 

As keyboard player and part-time vocalist in an early-Seventies cover band, Manzarek was one of my role models and heroes (he also sang, as needed, especially after Morrison's death or when he was too trashed to perform properly).  I learned note-for-note the opening/closing organ solo on "Light My Fire"--that was pretty much required at the time, and, as for the longer solo in the middle, I basically knew where I needed to start and end up (for the segue to the guitar solo) and faked my way through the rest OK.  Doing the vocal part was more of a challenge, though I certainly wasn't going to go the Jose Feliciano short-cut route. I didn't have the whiskey-hardened tone of Morrison nor a fully-formed baritone, though I could yell a pretty good "Try to set the night on fire!"

Anyway, thanks, Ray!  I would say he did a real fine job of maintaining both his professionalism and his public support for the Doors' transgressive philosophy, all the way through "UNTIL THE END!"

My favorite Doors songs:  "Break on Through" (their first single), "Five to One", and "L.A. Woman". 

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