Friday, February 12, 2010

Rock N Roll Birthday: Ray Manzarek of The Doors

Happy Birthday to Ray Manzarek of The Doors, who turns 71 today.

Of Polish descent, Ray was born and raised on the south side of Chicago; he took private piano lessons as a kid, but his original passion was basketball. Ray had his mind set on playing either power forward or center – either one or not at all; so, when his high school coach wanted to play him as a guard, Ray quit, turning his attention to music and, later, film.

After getting a bachelor’s degree in economics at DePaul University in Chicago, Ray moved out west in the early 60s to study film at UCLA; it was there that he crossed paths with fellow student Jim Morrison. Ray was in a jazz band for a while, and Jim would occasionally come out to see him play. Ray was also in Rick & The Ravens, a band his brother Rick had formed; they played on weekends for the college crowds, with sets consisting of original material mixed in with blues and r’n’b covers. One night, to everyone’s surprise, Ray invited Jim up to sing and they played “Louie, Louie”: legend has it that it was Jim’s first public performance.

When school finished, the two parted ways and, as fate would have it, they connected forty days after graduation on the beach in Santa Monica. Jim sang Ray the lyrics to “Moonlight Drive” and a few other things, and Ray was hooked: they needed to form a band.

Ray and Jim went into World Pacific Studios on September 2, 1965, to record a six song demo, which included “Moonlight Drive” and five other tunes. The band that played on the demo was not The Doors, but Rick & The Ravens, which now included future Doors drummer (and ex-Psychedelic Ranger) John Densmore, who had only been in the band for about a month. Both of Ray’s brothers left the group shortly thereafter and guitarist Robby Krieger, also ex-of the Psychedelic Rangers, joined in October ’65: they dropped their bassist, changed their name to The Doors and, the rest, they say, is history.

Ray’s keyboard sound is (and was) such a huge part of dynamic of the band; consider that there was no bassist when they played live, so Ray handled lead keys with his right hand while covering the bass notes with his left hand on the newly introduced Fender Rhodes PianoBass.

Ray is not only one of the most important and influential keyboardists in rock history, he is also the keeper of the legacy of The Doors.

I had the distinct pleasure of working directly with Ray (and the late Danny Sugarman) on a live Canadian broadcast back in the fall of 1995, as well as working on about a half dozen Doors specials heard across Canada between 1991 and 2008 – everything from retrospectives to box sets. In person, Ray is exactly as he comes across in any interview you’ve ever seen him in: he’s a charming, engaging, personable guy who you really could just picture yourself hanging out with - he still radiates a 60s hippie vibe…and it suits him.

There’s no shortage of amazing tales Ray can pull out off the top of his head and tell as enthusiastically as if it were the first time he’s done so. Over the years, I’ve come to realize and appreciate the skill in doing this: artists are continually being asked to recount stories and events throughout their lifetime, but the art is to make it sound fresh every time you deliver. And Ray does that in spades.

Ray Manzarek – the story of connecting with Jim Morrison on the beach

The Doors - Essential Rarities - Moonlight Drive (Demo)( Recorded at World Pacific Studios, 1965 ) The Doors - Essential Rarities - Moonlight Drive (Demo)( Recorded at World Pacific Studios, 1965

The Doors - The Future Starts Here - The Essential Doors Hits - Moonlight Drive The Doors - The Future Starts Here - The Essential Doors Hits - Moonlight Drive

The Doors – Moonlight Drive
(Live At The Hollywood Bowl 1968)