Editor’s note: Doors keyboardist and founding member Ray Manzarek was born on February 12, 1939 in Chicago, Illinois. To mark the occasion we’re posting some classic Doors Examiner articles about Ray’s life and times, before The Doors, during, and after. Thanks for the music, Ray!
Today is the 76th anniversary of the birth of Doors co-founder and keyboardist Ray Manzarek. The meeting of Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek on Venice Beach is the stuff rock ‘n’ roll legend and mythology. If Morrison was the creative spark that set off The Doors, Manzarek was the guiding hand that worked out Morrison’s ideas for songs (some of which Morrison had only a vague idea of a melody for), found John Densmore and Robby Krieger to round out The Doors and was the counterbalance to Morrison’s excesses.
The best way to honor Manzarek is to let him tell his story in his own words. In 2000 Manzarek put out the CD “Myth and Reality” which told his story of his life, in that vein on we’ll present a condensed version of Manzarek’s life up until The Doors (that part of Manzarek’s history is pretty well documented) through his own eyes and in his own words.
The young Ray Manzarek growing up in Chicago learned of a culture beyond his middle class upbringing when his parents took him to Maxwell street, a famous Chicago area in “black side of the city” where he learned of the blues. Manzarek became enamored of Chicago blues and had plenty of opportunities to learn the style which would later reap benefits playing keyboards for The Doors.
After a love affair gone bad Manzarek dramatically and impulsively joined the army, and after he discovered that was a mistake returned to Los Angeles and enrolled in the UCLA film school. To make ends meet Manzarek joined his brothers surf band Rick and the Ravens which frequently played clubs like the Turkey Joint West. Rick and the Ravens was able to secure a recording contract at World Pacific records, under their label Aura, which would lead directly to the earliest iteration of The Doors.
Much has been made of Pam Courson being Jim Morrison’s ‘cosmic mate’ but Dorothy Fujikawa, who would later become Dorothy Manzarek, was there from before the beginning of The Doors. She was Manzarek’s muse in his student films, she supported Ray and Jim as they put together the band and those early years of struggle, and was influential in suggesting they use “Alabama Song” as part of The Doors repertoire.
“Myth and Reality” covers the same ground as Manzarek’s autobiography, from his Chicago childhood, stint in the army which includes the half hour he spent in the Saigon airport, his time at the UCLA film school, the creation of The Doors, and his life with Jim Morrison. What sets this apart from anything else Manzarek has done is his talking about how he worked up the original Doors songs. Demonstrating on a piano, Manzarek cites influences, plays a piece, add another influence, and then what The Doors added in creation, and it’s almost like magic to hear the song come together recognizably as a Doors song. Manzarek has a real zest and enthusiasm for talking about creating the songs, he seems to enjoy the role of teacher and gone are the usual condescending undertones of his words. It truly is amazing to hear all the disparate elements that make-up a Doors song come together, and it’s a rare experience for an artist of Manzarek’s ability to let someone into the process of creating. This is a must have for anyone who is a fan and is interested in the musical influence of The Doors.
Originally published February 12, 2015.