Happy Birthday, Ray Manzarek
Ray Manzarek, one of the founding members of The Doors, would be 75 today. Below is an excerpt from The Doors FAQ, by Rich Weidman, in commemoration of Manzarek’s birthday.
Ray Manzarek, Doors Keyboardist
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. Manzaarek started practicing piano at an early age, and he eventually studied classical music, including Bach, Rachmanioff, 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 films (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 a drummer, John Densmore, who in turn brought guitarist Robby Krieger into the Doors.
It has been 40 years since the untimely death of L.A.’s mystic and rock’s Dionysus, Jim Morrison, yet the Doors have consistently inspired new generations of fans worldwide ever since. Highlighting one of the most influential, original, and outrageous American bands of the 1960s, The Doors FAQ is a dynamic, unorthodox exploration of this remarkable band and its enigmatic lead singer. 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.