In honor of the life of Ray Manzarek, keyboardist for the Doors, the following is an excerpt from The Doors FAQ by Rich Weidman.
The oldest Door, and the band’s cofounder along with Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek often came off as a kind of bespectacled, perpetually stoned professor, somewhat akin to Donald Sutherland’s character, “Dave Jennings,” in Animal House (“Would anybody like to smoke some pot?”). Onstage, however, with his head flailing wildly and fingers flying maniacally across the keyboard while improvising the bass parts on his Fender Rhodes organ, Manzarek evinced a total psychedelic, blues-driven intensity.
Raymond Daniel Manczarek (he dropped the “c” soon after cofounding the Doors) was born on February 12, 1939, to a working-class family in Chicago, Illinois. His grandparents had immigrated from Poland in the 1890s. Manzarek started practicing piano at an early age, and he eventually studied classical music, including Bach, Rachmaninoff, and Tchaikovsky, at the Chicago Conservatory. However, Manzarek was blown away when he first heard the Chicago blues and eventually fell under the sway of such legends as Muddy Waters (in his official Elektra biography, Manzarek listed Waters along with Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel as influences), Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, and others. He also discovered jazz artists like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ahmad Jamal, Ramsey Lewis, and Bill Evans to round out his musical education.
After graduating from the Catholic all-boy St. Rita High School, Manzarek embarked on a conventional career path, earning a bachelor’s degree in economics from DePaul University. After briefly attending UCLA law school and serving a two-year stint in the army (where he got the opportunity to smoke some genuine “Thai stick” in Thailand), Manzarek headed back to UCLA, where he majored in cinematography, completed three well-received short film (Evergreen, Induction, and Who and Where I Live), and met fellow film student Jim Morrison. According to Manzarek in his autobiography, Light My Fire, “instead of realizing our parents’ dreams, much to their chagrin, we created our own dreams.” To help pay for tuition, Manzarek took the stage as “Screamin’ Ray Daniels” on weekends at a total dive called the Turkey Joint West with his brothers, Rick (guitar) and Jim (harmonica), in a local surf/blues band called Rick and the Ravens. Manzarek would frequently coax fellow film students, including Morrison, to join him onstage and help him belt out such classics as “Louie, Louie,” in front of the crowd of blitzed college students. In the summer of 1965, Manzarek and Morrison cofounded the Doors after a chance meeting on the beach in Venice. Soon later, at a Transcendental Meditation session, Manzarek recruited drummer, John Densmore, who in turn brought guitarist Robby Krieger into the Doors.
Post-Doors, Manzarek recorded two solo albums, The Gold Scarab (which was billed as “a busy fusion of Jazz, Exotica, Rock, Rumba and Salsa”) and The Whole Thing Started with Rock ‘n’ Roll. He also performed in several bands (including the Nite City), recorded a rock adaptation of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana with Philip Glass, produced four albumbs with influential Los Angeles punk band X (Los Angeles; Wild Gift; Under the Big, Black Sun; and More Fun in the New World), backed Beat poet Michael McClure’s poetry readings, and collaborated with poet Michael C. Ford. In 1996, Manzarek recorded The Doors Myth and Reality: The Spoken Word History. Manzarek’s autobiography, Light My Fire: My Life with the Doors, was published in 1998. In 2001, Manzarek published his first novel, The Poet in Exile, which explored the myth that Jim Morrison had faked his death. In 2002, Manzarek organized the highly controversial group the Doors of the 21st Century with Robby Krieger that later morphed into Riders on the Storm and then Manzarek-Krieger. In 2006, Ray Manzarek published a second novel, Snake Moon, an “erotic ghost story” set during the Civil War that was a reinterpretation of the Japanese film Ugetsu (directed by Kenjo Mizoguchi).
The Doors FAQ: Drawing upon unique sources, Rich Weidman digs deep and serves up fresh perspective on the music, from the garage to the hits to the outtakes; and on the band’s members, from their roots, influences, and key industry partners to their rare talents, personal foibles, love affairs, and arrests. This volume also details every studio album and live recording, all the highs and lows of the Doors in concert (including the notorious 1969 Miami concert), Morrison’s 40-day trial, and the death of the “Lizard King” in Paris in 1971, as well as post-Morrison milestones. Unlike the straightforward narratives of other Doors biographies, this inventive, ceremonious biographical collage leaves no stone unturned, covering the band both with Morrison and post-Morrison, including the 2010 When You’re Strange documentary and the recent pardon of Morrison by the State of Florida for the Miami concert. Countless rare images from album art to ticket stubs to posters accompany the text, in this dazzling edition of solid rock scholarship.