Ray Manzarek the keyboard player and one of the original founders of the band The Doors is gone at 74 according to his publicist. Manzarek lived in Northern California’s Napa Valley wine country for the past decade. He had been seeking treatment in Germany for bile duct cancer. He died in Rosenheim, Germany, surrounded by his wife and brothers.
Singer Jim Morrison and, the then, UCLA film student Manzarek formed The Doors in 1965 after a chance meeting at Los Angeles’ Venice Beach. Ray Manzarek’s keyboard work would go on to be a touchstone of hits like Break On Through to the Other Side and Light My Fire.
The Doors’ original lineup included drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robbie Krieger but they were only together for a few years. The group disbanded after Morrison died at the age of 27 in Paris. Allegedly he died of a heroin overdose, but no autopsy was ever performed and the exact cause of his death is still disputed. Rumours of him faking his own death to escape the pressures of fame have been in circulation for years.
The Doors have sold more than 100 million records and songs such as “Light My Fire” and “Riders On the Storm” are still considered “classic” rock standards. To Doors fans, the band symbolized the darker side of the Los Angeles lifestyle, what happened to the city after the sun went down and the Beach Boys went home.
Next to Morrison, Ray was the most distinctive looking band member with his glasses and wavy blond hair making him look more like a young English professor than a rock star. In terms of looks, Manzarek was the Apollonian figure to Morrison’s Dionysian one.
Manzarek’s keyboard work on Light My Fire is, perhaps, the most instantly recognizable sound in rock history. Ray seemed to be searching for the perfect touch for a wide and varying range of songs. For Riders on the Storm, the keyboard is almost languid and sleepy; The Crystal Ship, the sound was flowing and smooth and Roadhouse Blues felt vivid and saloon-like.
The band members of The Doors always felt that they were more than a rock band and Manzarek, Densmore and Krieger often managed a flowing rapport that blended rock, blues and jazz behind Morrison’s self-consciously poetic lyrics.
Manzarek continued to work in the music business long after Morrison died and he did try briefly to keep the band together as he took over as the vocalist for the group. Ray played in other bands over the years, produced other acts, became an author and worked on films.
In a 1967 interview with Billboard, Manzarek told how he and Morrison met at the UCLA film school and then ran into each other a few months after graduation. Morrison read Ray the lyrics for a song he’d written called Moonlight Drive.
Manzared said, “I’d never heard lyrics to a rock song like that before. We talked a while before we decided to get a group together and make a million dollars.”
Manzarek is survived by his wife, Dorothy, his son Pablo and two brothers, Rick and James. Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.
By Michael Smith