When the Doors are mentioned, Jim Morrison's name immediately follows.
Yet, Ray Manzarek's always-inventive keyboard adventures were an equally indelible aspect of the Los Angeles band's mysterious, striking and strangely spooky sound.
While Morrison provided the vocal dramatics, sexual tension, tortured persona and most of the darkly poetic lyrics, Manzarek's keyboards acted as instrumental poetry with metrics derived from his background in classical music and jazz.
Manzarek, who had receded from the wild world of Los Angeles rock-and-roll glamour and excess to the life of a gentleman farmer in Napa, died Monday at 74 in Rosenheim, Germany. The cause was bile-duct cancer.
"I play the words," Manzarek told The Record in November 2009. "Whatever the words require. Whoever's with me on stage."
When the Doors emerged from University of California, Los Angeles, and Venice Beach in 1967 -- as the sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll age started peaking -- that was Morrison (1943-71). A transplant from Melbourne, Fla., and archetypal "rock star," Morrison seemed as if he'd appeared from a separate metaphysical universe.
Guitar player Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore joined Manzarek and Morrison in a group that took its name from Aldous Huxley's "Doors of Perception." During a relatively brief career (1965-73), they altered the way millions of young people viewed the world.
While Morrison's often crazed, drug- and alcohol-addled antics attracted tabloid attention -- his grave in Paris, France, remains a rock mecca -- Manzarek meticulously crafted the swirling, often subtle and intricate, organ figures that so distinctly identified the band's avant-rock sound.
How many "rock" groups -- even in 1967 -- would record a version of German composers Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's "Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)," from "The Threepenny Opera" (1928, a time of pre-Nazi decadence in Germany)? To most teenagers, it sounded as though the Doors had written it themselves.
While Morrison's "come on baby, light my fire" refrain from "Light My Fire" -- the band's break-out No. 1 single from the summer of 1967 -- rang through the culture, it was Manzarek's extended keyboard solo that helped turn it into an ideal freeway-driving song.
Even traditional AM radio DJs defied convention by playing the 7-minute, 5-second song -- the lyrics mostly were written by Krieger -- instead of the truncated 2:52 edit that chopped out much of Manzarek's virtuosity.
Manzarek, who was born in Chicago, also empowered Morrison and the band's fertile imaginations with his background interests in theater, film, poetry and literature -- helping lend a kind of gravitas that elevated the Doors artistically, despite snobbish reactions from some in the just-emerging field of rock-music "criticism."
"There was no keyboard player on the planet more appropriate to support Jim Morrison's words," Densmore, 68, said in a statement.
"Ray, I felt totally in sync with you musically. It was like we were of one mind, holding down the foundation for Robby and Jim to float on top of. I will miss my musical brother."
Manzarek, who was studying film at UCLA and steeping himself in the Beat poetry scene when he met Morrison on the beach, also slithers sublimely through Doors' standards such as "Riders on the Storm," "The Crystal Ship," "Roadhouse Blues" and even "Alabama Song."
After Morrison's death and the Doors' demise, Manzarek continued his inquisitive musical ways -- including Nite City; a rock version of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana" (with Philip Glass); playing with Iggy Pop (James Osterberg); collaborating with X, a seminal L.A. punk band, and England's Echo and the Bunnymen; and recording blues-spoken word CDs with Scott Richardson.
Prior to performing on piano during a November 2009 poetry reading with Michael C. Ford at San Joaquin Delta College, a genial and erudite Manzarek said, "We're reading the same things and doing whatever is appropriate to the words. It's not free-form playing with poetry over the top. It's creating a piece for the poem. We improvise. But it's the tone of each piece. I'm aware of what that tone is and I'm playing accordingly."
Manzarek, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, had lived on a 2-1/2-acre Napa County farm (corn, tomatoes, melons, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, cauliflower).
"I served my time in hell," Manzarek said of his years in L.A. "It's more intense here. There's more time to think. You're not as distracted by the energy of the city. I got my headful."
Contact columnist Tony Sauro at (209) 546-8267 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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