Although it was Jim Morrison who hoarded the spotlight and dominated their image, no single musician contributed more to the Door's iconic sound than keyboardist and co-writer Ray Manzarek. Manzarek -- who died in a German clinic yesterday after succumbing to bile duct cancer -- was not only an integral part of the Doors' musical persona, but one of the most influential organists of all time.
It was Manzarek's chance reunion with Morrison in Venice Beach, California, following their graduation from UCLA's film school, that created the impetus for one of the most remarkable rock bands of all time, one cloaked in a sound that was dark, defiant, and apocalyptic. Morrison was the shaman of sorts, a charismatic front man who generated an unapologetic air of sexuality and seduction. But it was Manzarek, with his characteristic rimless specs, pinstripe suits, and thick mutton chop sideburns, who played the role of the quiet mastermind. With inventive keyboard designs, agile organ riffs, and complex chord progressions, he shaped their songs, while giving the music its gravitas and sophistication.
With Morrison's poetry, and drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger in tow, the band secured a recording contract with the budding Elektra Records and a residency at L.A.'s legendary Whiskey A Go Go, where their fame spread rapidly by word of mouth. Nevertheless, the run of their career, from 1966 to 1971, was a turbulent one. Oftentimes, the band seemed as if they were helpless onlookers when it came to coping with their singer's outrageous antics, even though the music the quartet created never faltered in terms of its brilliance and invention.
Morrison's death in Paris on July 3, 1971, created an obvious void, but Manzarek and his band mates gamely attempted to carry on, releasing two albums, Other Voices and Full Circle, with Manzarek singing lead. Predictably, the albums sold miserably, and the band disbanded. This left Manzarek to hopscotch through a number of temporary projects, including some incidental solo albums, occasional session work, a stint in a band called Nite City, an autobiography entitled Light My FIre: My Life with the Doors, and a pair of novels.
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A decade or so ago, he and Krieger reconvened and went out on tour performing as the Doors, a move that led Densmore to launch a lawsuit to prevent the duo from using the name. More recently, Manzarek recorded and toured with blues guitarist Roy Rogers, which drew renewed critical acclaim. Ironically, on the day of his death, Manzarek's website proudly proclaimed the pair were preparing for a new series of upcoming concerts.
But Manzarek's legacy will be forever intrinsically tied to the Doors. And the organ solo that weaved its way through "Light My Fire" will remain one of the most recognised riffs of all time. Unassuming to a fault, Manzarek was a musician who let his playing say it all.
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