The Doors were one of the most influential bands of the ’60s. With the charismatic, mysterious Jim Morrison as their front man, they captivated an entire generation of music fans.The band rocked hard but their music possessed a melodic edge, which perfectly complemented Morrison’s mystifying poetry.
Ray Manzarek formed The Doors with Morrison and is not averse to talking about those days. He is well aware he is a major part of rock history but is not caught up in his own legend. “In my mind it’s one day after another. One day at a time. I’m alive on the planet, having a grand time and, yes, I used to play with Jim Morrison, and Jim and I put a band together called The Doors.”
These days Manazarek, 72, has other projects keeping him busy. Recently he contributed a track to I’m Back! Family and Friends, the Sly Stone tribute album on Cleopatra Records. A friend who works for the record company asked if he wanted to play on the album. “Who wouldn’t, for God’s sake. Yeah I was very excited, of course. I’m a big fan of Sly and the Family Stone.”
Manzarek put his own spin on the Sly classic “Dance To the Music,” infusing it with the famous “Light My Fire” organ riff. “Yeah,” he said, “[Sly] is 'Light My Fire' and 'I Want To Take You Higher.' Baby, baby, baby, light my fire. So [it’s a] tip of the hat one way, a tip of the hat the other way.”
He’s also just released Translucent Blues, a collection of gritty rock-tinged blues songs recorded with his friend and fellow bluesman, Roy Rogers.
“I’m from Chicago.” Manzarek explained. “Roy Rogers and Sly Stone are from the same town in northern California. We both grew up on Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker. Roy was an associate of John Lee Hooker for a goodly amount of time, produced his big Grammy winning album The Healer.”
Manzarek’s keyboard playing on Translucent Blues is reminiscent of his work on such Doors classics as "L.A. Woman" and "Riders on the Storm," and his past writing collaborations with artists like Warren Zevon and Jim Carroll make up a good percentage of the material.
“I worked with Jim Carroll about a decade ago," Manzarek said. "We put a bunch of tunes together and never got around to [recording them]. He was off writing his novel. It took him a long time to write that novel. He finished the novel and then he died. Way too young, way too young. Warren, of course, we did a quick collaboration before he passed on. We also got somebody who refuses to die: Michael McClure, an actual beatnik poet. Michael McClure was a friend of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. A poet from the beat era. He’s still on the planet. Still talking, still dancing, still alive.”
One song on the album is very different from anything else on it. “As You Leave” is a sad, beautiful piano piece that seems almost out of place on a blues album. Manzarek has a soft spot for the tune; he talks about it wistfully, as if it’s playing behind the film in his mind.
“That is a film noir French movie, black and white in ’59. You’re in 1959. You are a girl or a guy who has broken up with her or his French lover. It’s about five o’clock. You’re having a glass of wine with her, taken from the guy’s perspective, and she tells you, 'I’m sorry, Ray, I’m in love with Jean-Claude.' She stands up and walks away, and you watch her with a broken heart, walking down the street in late August, early September, Fall just about to begin. And that’s the music that’s playing on the soundtrack of that film.”
Inevitably the conversation drifts back to The Doors, a part of his life he recalls with a good deal of pride and some sadness. He described the infamous New Haven, Connecticut show, where Jim Morrison became the first rock star to be arrested onstage.
“God, what a gig that was,” he said. “I have that one seared in my memory. I can see him on stage talking to the audience but also talking to the police. A line of police, a phalanx of police at the foot of the stage protecting us, the band, from the audience, as if they were the villains of the piece. The kids weren’t going to do anything. They were having a great time. But the police, one by one turned and looked at Morrison until a couple of them finally ran out and grabbed him and stopped him, including Captain Kelly, the late Captain Kelly. 'You’ve gone too far, young man,' he said. 'You’ve gone too far.' I thought, ‘Yeah, that’s the fate of an entire generation. Your children are going too far. They have become psychedelic.’ That was the ‘60s.”
Keeping The Doors music alive has been a rewarding pursuit for Manzarek and Doors guitarist Robby Krieger. “Krieger and I go out and play Doors songs. We’re the ultimate tribute band. We are a tribute to ourselves. I wonder if you can do that.” He laughed before continuing. “This is the 40th anniversary of Jim Morrison’s death. Robbie and I and the band, the Doors band, we were...not The Doors, can’t say that or we’ll get locked up. Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger OF The Doors. We were in Paris on July 3rd, the 40th anniversary. We went to Père Lachaise cemetery and lit some incense and some candles along with a lot of other people. At night we played a place called the Bataclan in Paris to a screaming, insane, manic, wild French audience celebrating Jim’s life. It was really terrific.”
Finally, did Ray Manzarek have a philosophy about being part of one of the most revered rock bands ever to grace the planet? “Enter the zen state of oneness that music allows you to submerse yourself into. That’s the great joy of being a musician and that was the great joy of being in The Doors. We hit that zen spot. Timelessness, universal, infinite, oneness. That’s what it was all about.”