Doors rocker Ray Manzarek embodied an iconic era

Ray Manzarek, second from right, flanked by his fellow band members Jim Morrison, far right, John Densmore, far left, and Robbie Kreiger.
Ray Manzarek, second from right, flanked by his fellow band members Jim Morrison, far right, John Densmore, far left, and Robbie Kreiger. Contributed

KEYBOARD player and songwriter Ray Manzarek was a founding member of the Doors, the Los Angeles group which seemed to embody the possibilities, contradictions and limitations of the rock medium more than any other in the late sixties.

Manzarek died in Germany this week of bile-duct cancer, aged 74.

The tall, professorial-looking musician exuded a gravitas commensurate with the dark, questing nature of the band's tours de force The End, When The Music's Over and Riders On The Storm and with the fate that befell their shamanic frontman Jim Morrison, who died in mysterious circumstances in Paris in July, 1971.

This added to the mystique around the group, which has sold more than 100 million albums and been the subject of several documentaries, and Oliver Stone's biopic (Kyle MacLachlan portrayed Manzarek).

Their sequence of ominous albums such as Waiting For The Sun, Morrison Hotel and LA Woman created a rich template for groups as diverse as Blue Oyster Cult and Simple Minds, while their 1967 hit Light My Fire, prominently featuring Manzarek's trademark Vox Continental organ has been covered by José Feliciano, among others. Ultimately, The Doors also became the go-to group for filmmakers including Francis Ford Coppola, whose Apocalypse Now used The End.

The eldest of three brothers, Manzarek was born in Chicago in 1939. "My ethnic lineage is Polish," he wrote in his 1998 autobiography Light My Fire: My Life With The Doors.

Piano lessons proved a chore until he began studying with the dance band leader Bruno Michelotti.

"He taught me virtually everything I know ... Boogie-woogie is what hooked me. That rolling snake beat in the left hand. That repetitive mantra of hip-swaying sex rhythm."

That highlighted two of the ingredients that would make the Doors irresistible: Morrison's brooding sex appeal and his own mastery of the keyboards.

His parents expected him to be an attorney and he graduated from DePaul University in economics.

However, he had become a movie buff and in 1962 went to study film at UCLA where he met Morrison, who impressed him with his rich baritone delivery of Moonlight Drive.

Morrison joined Rick & the Ravens, the band Manzarek had formed.

Adding drummer John Densmore, whom Manzarek knew from meditation classes, and Densmore's friend Krieger, the new band was named after Aldous Huxley's The Doors Of Perception.

In 1966, they began playing an LA club, the London Fog, before moving to the Whisky A Go Go.

They achieved a minor success with Break On Through (To The Other Side) but made their mark with Light My Fire, topping the US charts in July, 1967.

They scored further hits with Love Me Two Times, The Unknown Soldier, Touch Me and Hello, I Love You, another US No.1 in 1968.

However, Morrison's on-stage behaviour was landing him and his bandmates in jail.

He was arrested at New Haven in December, 1967, and again in Miami in March, 1969, for flashing his penis, and the group became mired in legal trouble.

But The Doors triumphed at the Isle of Wight Festival in August, 1970, and then made LA Woman.

Morrison next embarked on his fateful sabbatical to France. Manzarek began his autobiography: "We don't know what happened to Jim Morrison in Paris. To be honest, I don't think we're ever going to know."

In 2001, he returned to the myths around Morrison's death with a novel, The Poet in Exile.

The Doors soldiered on, Manzarek and Krieger sharing vocals on Other Voices and Full Circle, before working with various British frontmen, including Kevin Coyne, and breaking up in 1973.

Manzarek cut two decent solo albums before forming the short-lived Nite City.

In the 1980s, he recorded a rock adaptation of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana with Philip Glass.

The surviving Doors members reunited to add backing to spoken-word performances recorded by Morrison, for 1978's An American Prayer.

The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, and 10 years later Manzarek and Krieger joined the Cult's Ian Astbury as The Doors of the 21st Century until Densmore slapped an injunction on his former bandmates, forcing a series of name changes.

Topics:  band editors picks entertainment music rock and roll

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