So here we are again, mourning yet another passing. They seem to be occurring with increasing frequency these days. This time it’s Ray Manzarek, king of the Vox Continental.
I came late to The Doors and even then it was a difficult passage. It was the otherworldliness of ‘Riders on the Storm’ that first guided me in and on the strength of it, ‘LA Women’ (on cassette – arrghh!) followed. But horror of horrors, I didn’t like it much and it eventually got passed on to a friend. Several fallow years ensued and it wasn’t until the mid seventies that I picked up the trail again with the double compilation, ‘Weird Scenes Inside the Goldmine’. Suddenly the penny dropped and I became quite obsessed with them, buying all their studio albums in quick succession.
The Doors were always in my mind a sum-of-the-parts band with every member contributing an equal portion rather than a star with anonymous backing musicians. Despite Jim Morrison’s charisma, I always found the other members just as interesting and Ray was no exception. Perhaps it was that Vox organ sound, rather than the ubiquitous
Hammond or the fact that he played all the
bass parts in the absence of a full time bass player or those key unspecific
runs that he was able to conjure up or even those rimless glasses but there was
always something about him that caught your attention.
In the late sixties, the guitar was the rock instrument of choice and it wasn’t until the emergence of the prog rockers of the seventies that keyboards would come into their own, but Ray managed to hold his own against Robbie Krieger’s guitar parts in a way that made them both sound good. Whether it was the shimmering chords in ‘Waiting for the Sun’ or the Bach-like intro to ‘Light my Fire’, his playing was always inventive and appropriate to the mood. The Doors would not have been the same without him.
More recently, he popped up numerous times as a talking head in TV documentaries reminiscing about the sixties and the excesses of his erstwhile bandmate and despite the ageing effects of time, he still managed to carry the essence of the Californian hippy that he once was. The wild speech patterns, liberally punctuated with ‘Maan’ and the sixties vocabulary were still embedded in his psyche like a living fossil of the period. Yet for all that, he seemed to retain the optimism of those days and a zest for life. He was always good value as an interviewee.
Recently, I picked up the Box Set of Re-mixed Doors studio albums, which I have to say have been sensitively brought up to date without losing the feel of the original albums and it has been a pleasure to hear Ray’s playing, now liberated from some fairly murky mixes and now sounding like they were played yesterday. In his mind, I’m sure they were.