News Column

X, B-52's Play Tribute to Ray Manzarek

July 16, 2013

Daily Pilot

So much about the punk band X is a testament to Ray Manzarek -- from its music to its lingering presence.

"The fact that we exist is in and of itself a tribute to Ray," said Exene Cervenka, co-lead vocalist of the Los Angeles ensemble.

She recalled receiving a text about the death of the Doors' founding member and keyboardist, who produced four albums for X in the '80s, and praying it was a mistake.

It wasn't. Manzarek, 74, succumbed to a prolonged battle with bile duct cancer on May 20. Having last played alongside him at West Hollywood's Roxy Theatre in summer 2012, Cervenka retired to bed that night in tears.

X will take the stage at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Pacific Amphitheatre for the first time since Manzarek's passing. The B-52s, named in honor of the bouffant hairdo and lauded for hits such as "Love Shack," "Roam" and "Rock Lobster," are also part of the evening's lineup.

According to Dan Gaines, entertainment director for the OC Fair's Toyota Summer Concert Series, the B-52s were secured first, and X came to the forefront when ideas were tossed around to boost the program.

"When we learned X was available, we jumped at the chance because we felt this was a very strong pairing," Gaines said. "Similar in some ways, but at the same time different. ... As it turns out, the pairing seems to have worked, and the show is approaching sellout."

He described X fans as "die-hard and very enthusiastic," adding that the song "Johnny Hit and Run Paulene" has been his longtime favorite.

Cervenka anticipates that the event could easily feature a moment to celebrate Manzarek, who, she said, had a "human, spiritual-being kind of influence" on the band without ever tweaking its sound. Manzarek was originally scheduled to perform at this year's OC Fair, and former Who vocalist Roger Daltrey replaced him after his death.

Although Manzarek was an opinionated person and bursting at the seams with talent, he was never "a jerk," she said. Instead, he was smart, generous and compassionate.

"He was not afraid of anybody or anything," Cervenka remarked. "When you're making a record with him, you're going to see that and see that and see that. It was great -- we got more out of working with him than anything else."

Billy Zoom, D.J. Bonebrake, Tony Gilkyson, John Doe and Cervenka were kindred spirits who lived on the edge of society. As rebels, they were drawn together thanks to each's innate individualism, which spilled into their choice of clothes and hairstyles.

"We wanted to do something different, wild, political and crazy," she recounted. "We started to play music, but we weren't doing it for any reason except that we felt like it. It was our time."

Punk rock supplied the "landscape" for X and was then garnished with rock 'n' roll, country western, blues and rockabilly. Jim Washburn, an author and former pop music writer for the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register and OC Weekly, called X an influential band in terms of attitude, if not necessarily style.

"Most of the popular music today would sound no different if X had never existed, and there were scarcely any bands that even attempted to sound like them, since X's sound was so unique," he said. "But they were a great model for showing other bands how distinctive and powerful music could be when you forged your own path."

Bursting onto Southern California's music scene in 1977, X dropped records including "Los Angeles," "Under the Big Black Sun" and "Live at the Whisky a Go-Go." Cervenka didn't want a name for the band, so X served as a filler that stayed with the group until it disbanded in 1988.

Looking back, Cervenka traced 11 years of ups and downs, good and bad decisions and, most of all, the unpredictability of the industry.

In the early '90s, the opportunity to shoot an "X-Files" promo connected the former bandmates, who had mostly fallen out of touch in the interim. Although the ad didn't see the light of day, X reemerged. What started with a 1,000-person turnout for a record signing grew to sold-out reunion shows, Cervenka said.

"We don't have as much physical energy as we did, but we have more power," the 57-year-old said. "We understand a lot more about life now. And we are very grateful that we are still playing together. We are amazed at ourselves."

Cervenka, flanked by her X comrades, recently jammed with Joan Jett and is amping up for a fall tour with Blondie. She plans to relish sharing the stage with musicians who, starting out, looked up to one another and now finally have the chance to team up.

"I think people come to see us partly because we have sentimental value and also because it's exhilarating," she said. "That's the only kind of fun I like -- feeling free and alive. If you can give that to a group of people watching you play, it's the best feeling in the world."

If You Go

What: The B-52s and X

When: 8 p.m. Thursday

Where: Pacific Amphitheatre, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa

Cost: $32.95 to $55.40

Information: http://www.ocfair.com

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(c)2013 Daily Pilot (Costa Mesa, Calif.)

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