Famed Rock Musician Passes
By Raymond Rolak
CHICAGO — Ray Manzarek, the famed keyboard artist for The Doors, passed after a long battle with bile duct cancer. He was 74 and under treatment at a clinic in Rosenheim, Germany. He was surrounded by family. He became part of Rock-and-Roll history with his jazz influenced electric organ renditions for the historic band. It is reported that The Doors sold over 100 million albums.
Born of Polish decent and attending Chicago St. Rita’s High School, his first real passion was basketball.
Manzarek was responsible for the left handed bass keyboard sound that became the unique signature of The Doors. He was in film school in 1965 at UCLA when along with Jim Morrison, they started their historic band. They enlisted drummer John Densmore and another friend, guitarist Robby Krieger. Because Manzarek did double duty with the keyboard they never had a bass guitar player. He also did some vocals on The Doors hit recordings.
In 1966, The Doors started to find their niche as the house band at the famed Los Angeles Sunset Strip nightclub, Whisky a Go-Go. The band developed what was described as a unique new L. A. sound and released “Break On Through (to the Other Side)” in early 1967. Then “Light My Fire” shot to No. 1 just two months later. Manzarek will always be known for the opening riff on “Light My Fire.”
His silky keyboards on “Riders On the Storm” are now considered iconic and classic rock. His art set the distinctive musical sound of the Doors apart from everyone else. This L.A. underground sound made The Doors both national and global rock stars.
Manzarek had said in a 2011 interview, “We had auditioned at a club in Los Angeles, and I saw the Fender Rhodes keyboard bass onstage, which belonged to another band. And I thought, ‘Eureka, that’s it. I’ll play that.’” “It worked out fine because it’s basically the way I play the keyboard anyway, with my left hand playing the bass line. And it kept The Doors as a four-side diamond, rather than an evil pentagram, he added.”
Manzarek married Dorothy Fujikawa in Los Angeles on December 21, 1967.
The band carried the baggage of controversy because of Morrison’s alcohol and drug use. Their 1976 performance on the Ed Sullivan Show was mired in giant television dispute because of a censored lyric.
After Morrison’s death in 1971, the band eventually broke up. Manzarek and Krieger had a contentious lawsuit with Densmore about licensing The Doors’ name for commercial purposes. Manzarek also became an author, writing “Light My Fire: My Life with the Doors” in 1998 and “The Poet In Exile” in 2002. He also became a successful producer especially with Punk Music in California.
In a Rolling Stones Magazine article in 1974, Manzarek said, “The Doors’ success was so quick it frightened me. The adulation we received was ridiculous. Nobody was saying much about the music – it was just mystique. The Doors became so mythical in such a short time. It was too much too soon.”
The Doors were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. Manzarek also reinvented himself playing jazz club dates and some Chicago style Blues. He last recorded in 2010, a blues album with slide guitarist Roy Rogers.
He was born Feb. 12, 1939 in Chicago and his real last name was Manczarek. He dropped the “c.” to simplify the spelling. He also had earned an Economics degree from DePaul University. In semi-retirement he had settled in Napa County. Manzarek is survived by his wife, Dorothy; a son, Pablo; three grandchildren and two brothers, Rick and James Manczarek.
Editor’s Note: Raymond Rolak was one of the producers for the recently released to DVD Hawaiian comedy, Get A Job.