Ray Manzarek Opens a New Door: Jazz
“See that guy,” Jim Morrison once remarked, pointing to Ray Manzarek: “He is the Doors.” Although Morrison received all the attention, it was Manzarek’s jazzy keyboard work that gave the Doors their distinct sound. The Doors and the post-Morrison Doors are gone and Manzarek is back with a solo album and nationwide tour.
“It’s a brand new thing,” Ray smiles. “The only time I’ve ever heard a request for ‘Light My Fire’ was once in the South and they were only joking anyways. I’m operating in an area that’s a combination of rock and jazz; it isn’t either/or. It sounds like the Doors because I was in the Doors, but I’ve finally created exactly what I wanted.
“Without seeing the band in person, the album [The Golden Scarab] tends to be esoteric. It’s a bit difficult to figure out. I knew the album was going to take time to get off the ground because it takes time to really get something rolling. If it gets rolling too fast you’re in trouble,” he says, choosing his words carefully.
“The Doors’ success was so quick it frightened me. The adulation we received was ridiculous. Nobody was saying much about the music – it was just mystique. The Doors became so mythical in such a short time. It was too much too soon.”
Today Manzarek works out with a band of jazzers who already have paid their rock dues. Instead of featuring flashy names, he uses an unknown four-piece (augmented by a three-man percussion section on the album) and has opted for intimate clubs to mark the band’s stage debut.
The club audiences have been very attentive for the first four songs of the set from the album,” Manzarek says. “They sit listening politely. Then we do a couple blues tunes and they suddenly turn into barbarians, screaming maniacs. I just love it.”
A Chicago expatriate weaned on heavy concentrations of honky-tonk rock and barrelhouse blues, Ray is again exploring early blues roots, while developing leanings toward jazz. The only Doors tune in the set is an authentic “Close To You.”
“I always liked jazz but once I heard the blues I was hooked. What I learned from were those Southside Chicago blues. You’ve got to know when to play, how much to play, and when to get out. You’ve got to be succinct in your ideas.”
Manzarek began writing songs when Morrison died in ’71 and the Doors carried on as a trio. “It wasn’t the Doors without Morrison,” Ray says. “That new Doors was some other band that I didn’t particularly care to be in. The enthusiasm was there when we recorded Other Voices but by the time we made Full Circle there was a conflict over which direction we were moving toward. It was the beginning of the end for me. I just kind of figured if I wasn’t enjoying making records I’d either quit the band or quit making records.”
Freed from the Doors framework, Manzarek submerged himself in philosophical readings and studies of the cosmos. What came out of that period of self-examination was The Golden Scarab.
“It’s hard to be cosmic verbally,” Ray says, sighing, “but the whole point of my album is that you are the messiah. Everybody’s waiting for someone to come, but we have to find it in ourselves. To me the songs link themselves into a story, so I thought that between each song a spoken or written thing would tie them together. I don’t care if people call it a concept album; I tried to make it entertaining and accessible on different levels.
“There really was rhythm in the beginning.” He says that – a paraphrase of the spoken intro to the album – with a laugh. “Yet I’d really forgotten that basic beginning and got carried away with words. We made the album like we used to record the Doors. I had the basic framework, showed the band how the song went, and said, ‘OK, do whatever you want.'”
Onstage the band often hits a Doors groove so close you’d expect Morrison to come back for the refrain after the instrumental break. Doors images, like “moonlight drive,” “tightrope ride” and “into the sun” in “Solar Boat,” are rife.
“I was after that exact effect, sticking those Doors images that applied to the song but related back to our old Doors tunes. I’ll probably continue doing that,” Ray threatens, “just to check your Doors knowledge.” Musically, though, the album definitely is non-Doors. “Rock ‘n roll is coming to a dead end,” Manzarek says, “and the only place it can go is toward higher musicianship. So many rock bands turn the volume full up and pound as hard as they can. That’s exciting but not for me. We’re not exactly a dance band.”
Summer plans include more club dates, recording a second solo album and producing Iggy Pop. What? Right – and there’s an outside chance that the two might someday tour together.
Manzarek says, “With the right backing, Iggy could be really sensational, he’s so dynamic on stage. Right now our relationship is at the bare bones beginning. After I produce his album, who knows what will happen?” Iggy might join the band? “I’d only add a singer if it made the music better. I’d never get a singer to dance around or a lead dancer.”
This story is from the August 15th, 1974 issue of Rolling Stone.