1939 – Born on this day, Ray Manzarek, keyboards, The Doors

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1939 – Born on this day, Ray Manzarek, keyboards, The Doors, (1967 US No.1 & UK No.9 single ‘Light My Fire’ & 1971 single ‘Riders On The Storm’).

Raymond Daniel Manzarek, Jr. or Manczarek is an American musician, singer, producer, movie director, writer, co-founder, and keyboardist of The Doors from 1965 to 1973, and the Doors of the 21st century (renamed Riders on the Storm) since 2001.

Early life and career

Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, Ray Manzarek is of Polish descent, as were his parents. Growing up, he took private piano lessons from Bruno Michelotti and others. He went to Everett Elementary School on S. Bell St. and attended St. Rita High School in Chicago. He majored in economics at DePaul University.

He studied in the Department of Cinematography at UCLA in 1962-65, where he met another film student named Jim Morrison. Forty days after finishing film school, thinking they had gone their separate ways, they met by chance. Morrison said he had written some songs, and Manzarek expressed an interest in hearing them, whereupon Morrison sang a rough version of “Moonlight Drive.”

The Doors became the house band at a club on the Sunset Strip called The London Fog in January 1966. 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. Their first performance at the Whisky was with the group Them.

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.

The Doors lacked a bassist, so Manzarek usually played the bass parts on a Fender Rhodes piano Bass. His signature sound is that of the Vox Continental organ, an instrument used by many other psychedelic rock bands of the era. He later used a Gibson G-101 Kalamazoo (which looks like a Farfisa) because the Italian Continental keys “sticked” and remained “down” without pushing it.

Manzarek occasionally sang for The Doors, with a voice more bluesy than rock, including the live recordings of “Close To You.” He also sang on the last two Doors albums, recorded after Morrison’s death, Other Voices and Full Circle.

On 4 August 2007, Manzarek hosted a program on BBC Radio 2 about the 40th anniversary of the recording of “Light My Fire” and the group’s musical and spiritual influences.

Later career and influence

Manzarek has been in several groups since the Doors, including, Nite City on a series of spoken word and blues recordings entitled “Tornado Souvenirs”.

His memoir, Light My Fire: My Life with The Doors, was published in 1998. The Poet in Exile (2001) is a novel exploring the urban legend that Jim Morrison may have faked his death. Manzarek’s second novel, Snake Moon, released in April 2006, is a Civil War ghost story.

After living many years in Beverly Hills, Manzarek now resides in Napa County, California in a house he remodeled extensively. “Ray Manzarek was a very good man. He had lots of friends,” said Jim Morrison.

Discography

The Doors

Main article: The Doors discography

Solo

* The Golden Scarab (1973)
* The Whole Thing Started With Rock and Roll & Now It’s Out Of Control (1974)
* Nite City (1976)
* Golden Days And Diamond Nights (1978)
* Carmina Burana (1983)
* Ballads Before The Rain (With Roy Rogers) (2008)

Trivia

* His birth name was Raymond Daniel Manczarek. The c was dropped in 1966 when he, Jim Morrison, Robby Krieger, and John Densmore signed with Elektra as The Doors.

* Ray wore (and still wears) glasses that are typical of the 1960s.
* In Oliver Stone’s biopic The Doors, Manzarek was played by Kyle MacLachlan.

* The first Doors album included a cover of “Alabama Song,” from a 1930s German opera called The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. This cover resulted from Manzarek’s playing a record of that opera, sung by Lotte Lenya, to Jim Morrison, and suggesting that The Doors do a rock version of the song.

* The solos in “Light My Fire” are based on John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things”. Other examples: a Thelonious Monk line from “Straight, No Chaser” appears in “We Could Be So Good Together”, the opening organ passage of “When The Music’s Over” is inspired by Herbie Hancock’s “Canteloupe Island”, and finally the organ solo in “Take It As It Comes” is inspired by Bach. During a May 2006 public performance, Manzarek named Erik Satie as an influence.

* He is known for playing the keyboard while shaking his head and not looking at the keys.

* In a televised interview, Manzarek advised listeners to “open the doors of consciousness… but stay away from white powder!”

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