Ray Manzarek: The Doors’ peace-maker and torch-carrier
On occasion, in Europe and America, Manzarek filled in for Morrison if the singer was catatonically indisposed – and Ray’s slow-paced baritone wasn’t too bad either. While the original band was extant you could hear him tackle Close To You (on Absolutely Live) and catch him crooning LA Woman’s Love Her Madly single B-side oddity You Need Meat (Don’t Go No Further). After Morrison’s death, Ray provided most of the decent vocals on The Doors’ Other Voices (1971) notably on two songs, Tightrope Ride and Hang On To Your Life, which had been tried out in rough form before Morrison left the group to live and die in Paris.
The follow-up, Full Circle (1972) was another hybrid jazz-funk-rock effort that showcased Manzarek again on the almost parodic The Mosquito and The Peking Queen And The New York Queen, which was inspired by Manzarek’s long-term marriage to Dorothy Fujikawa.
Thereafter Manzarek made his own albums for a while. A vague interest in Egyptology was nurtured by a visit to the King Tut exhibition in the British Museum and an album, The Golden Scarab (1974). An aural crash course in the legends of sun worship, Heliopolis and the legend of Nefertiti was the result.
The critics refused to accept that a Door could achieve anything of merit in the absence of Morrison and panned it mercilessly. Needless to say, it’s a bargain bin regular and a fine, amusing, relaxing piece of nonsense. The Golden Scarab was not without merit however and also featured some outstanding collaborators, including Patti Smith, Joe Walsh, Larry Carlton, Jerry Scheff and a host of jazz luminaries like Milt Holland.
After discussing a Doors-type band with Iggy Pop (Stooge) Manzarek formed LA-based Nite City, who made two albums, and then interpreted Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana with producer Philip Glass. Then came the many Doors reunion tours which eventually led to disharmony between Ray, Robby and John. It seemed to be Manzarek’s plight, one he gladly suffered at first, to be a kind of spokesman from the grave for Jim Morrison.
It’s true that Ray’s tales, though rooted in fact, would become slightly fanciful as whole chunks of recalled dialogue tumbled out on occasion. Even his best-selling book Light My Fire: My Life With The Doors suffered from that trait. Further books The Poet In Exile and the Civil war novel Ghost Story were better received.
But as Manzarek said in his own defence: “It’s true that we seldom got recognised for our musical contributions even when Jim was alive. Session musicians used to say: ‘That playing on LA Woman or Riders On The Storm, now that was special.” But generally it was assumed that we were submerged behind an image. It really was too bad, the papers always calling Jim the prophet of acid rock or orgasmic rock. That and the continual harassment by the narco squad wore us all down in the end.
“We won the fight for appearance, but not power. Now the greed is upon the land. In LA, everyone talks of a quick killing, real estate, me, me, me. There is no united front, no universal spirit. Vietnam was an easy focus to distract the people – we had to band against an insidious enemy. Now the enemy is death, and people ward against it with prosperity.”
As for The Doors’ legacy, Ray Manzarek told me this: “Whenever you want to listen to our music treat it seriously and have some fun. Relax, set aside an hour, light a joint, pour a beer, turn down the lights.” Good advice.
RIP, Mr Manzarek. You will be sorely missed.