Ray Manzarek: The Doors’ peace-maker and torch-carrier
Max Bell remembers encounters with the late Doors man.
I first met Ray in August 1978 when The Doors were in London to promote the posthumous An American Prayer. Manzarek was the spokesman, as always, in Jim’s absence. A tall man impeccably dressed with every hair in place, Manzarek calls the interview shots. Understandably, the last survivors of Los Angeles’ premier revolution band do not suffer fools gladly.
Manzarek famously met Jim Morrison (in fact the two had bumped shoulders many times before when they were attending film study courses at UCLA) when the two men shared an LSD trip and discussed their mutual love of R&B on Venice Beach in Los Angeles.
“It was mid-afternoon. We talked about forming a group and we talked about ‘Let’s make a million dollars!’ but that was really a stoned joke,” Manzarek told me. “I’ve always been taken with sun worship, ever since I lay out on that beach at Venice one day high on acid, infused by the power of the huge orange disc.”
During that meet Morrison pulled a sheet of paper out of his jeans and read it to Ray.
“This is called Moonlight Drive. Here goes:
“Let’s swim to the moon, let’s climb through the tide
Penetrate the evening that the city sleeps to hide
Come on baby, gonna take a little ride
Going down by the ocean side
Gonna get real close, get real tight
Baby, gonna drown tonight.”
“I was interested to say the least,” Manzarek said. “The American fantasy of making it on a beach, sung by the most sinuously suggestive sex symbol since Sinatra… That was all I thought about in the days ahead.”
Manzarek’s careful, sinuous Vox and Fender organ playing became the foundation on which much of The Doors’ music was created. In some ways his style had already been established via his brotherly band, Rick & The Ravens. “Jim liked our sound I guess but it was his poetry, because that’s what his lyrics originally were, that convinced me we could do something else. At our first rehearsals, and even at some early college shows, Jim was so petrified he’d perform with his back to the audience, or skulk in the wings, reading out his words and only occasionally giving them a singer’s voice. Luckily he discovered himself!”
Morrison, Manzarek and production coordinator Frank Lisciandro had all attended UCLA’s film school in the 60s. Lisciandro was a long-time buddy of the singer’s. Together they’d prowl down Sunset Boulevard and hang out on the Strip preparing footage for class, and from here arose the beginnings of Morrison’s pet project A Feast Of Friends – pointing the camera at passing soft parades, the blocks of cars on Sunset & Vine that continued to fascinate Morrison.