Ray Manzarek, The Doors' Founding Keyboardist, Dies At 74

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As a founding member of The Doors, Ray Manzarek's distinctive organ and keyboards on songs like "Light My Fire" became just as identifiable and iconic as frontman Jim Morrison.

Ray Manzarek, the keyboardist and founding member of the legendary rock band The Doors died today at 74 after a long battle with bile duct cancer. The Chicago-born musician co-founded The Doors after meeting then-poet Jim Morrison while film students at UCLA in 1965. And the group -- along with drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger -- went on to become one of the 1960s' most successful and enduring rock 'n' roll bands, thanks to hits such as "Break On Through" and the Manzarek-centric "Light My Fire."

Soundcheck host John Schaefer has this remembrance.

Ray Manzarek may have played in the considerable shadow cast by singer Jim Morrison, but fans of The Doors knew that the band’s unique sound was a two-part invention. This is not to slight guitarist Robbie Krieger or drummer John Densmore, but let's face it, every band had a guitarist and a drummer. The Doors had Morrison's dark and moody voice, and the kaleidoscope of keyboards that Manzarek played.

I always thought that the first time I ever heard a harpsichord was on The Doors’ version of Kurt Weill’s "Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)." But it turns out Manzarek was even more inventive -- that's actually a weird zither-mandolin-keyboard thing called a Marxophone. I am quite sure that the first time most of us ever heard a tack piano -- a saloon-style piano with a distinctly tinny, plunky sound -- was on their song "Love Her Madly." And the textures of songs like "The Crystal Ship," "L.A. Woman," and "People Are Strange" were so distinctive largely because of Manzarek's keyboard playing.



It wasn’t just that he played all the bass parts on the left-hand side of the keyboard; or that on, say, "People Are Strange," he weaves in with Krieger's guitar so brilliantly that I'm sure I'm not the only one who thought there was just a wall of electric guitars leading the way. The electric organ was widely used and nowadays can sound pretty dated, but in his hands it somehow ended up sounding both surprising and, in the next instant, inevitable.

I did not know Manzarek well enough to make a blanket statement about his long post-Doors career -- we spoke a couple of times, though never on the air -- but he seemed to have made his peace with the fact that his career was likely to always be defined by The Doors' eight-year run from 1965-73.

In the early 1980s he and Philip Glass had done a rock version of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, the stomping piece of choral music now used in so many horror movies and over-the-top TV ads; it was neither musician’s finest hour. On paper, it was a good idea, but they seemed so intent on rockin’ what was already a pretty rockin’ orchestral work that it sounded, to me at least, strained and cheesy.

But when I interviewed him in 2002 with the pianist George Winston, he had agreed to do a show of two-piano arrangements of The Doors' catalog. On paper, this could’ve been a disastrous idea. The two-piano Doors tunes, though, were pretty neat, mostly because they didn’t try to do "piano rock" and instead just presented the songs for what they were: namely, well-constructed pieces of pop music with a genuine melodic flair.


Here's the entire statement issued on The Doors' Facebook page:

Ray Manzarek, keyboardist and founding member of The Doors, passed away today at 12:31PM PT at the RoMed Clinic in Rosenheim, Germany after a lengthy battle with bile duct cancer. He was 74. At the time of his passing, he was surrounded by his wife Dorothy Manzarek, and his brothers Rick and James Manczarek.

Manzarek is best known for his work with The Doors who formed in 1965 when Manzarek had a chance encounter on Venice Beach with poet Jim Morrison. The Doors went on to become one of the most controversial rock acts of the 1960s, selling more than 100-million albums worldwide, and receiving 19 Gold, 14 Platinum and five multi-Platinum albums in the U.S. alone. "L.A.Woman," "Break On Through to the Other Side," "The End," "Hello, I Love You," and "Light My Fire" were just some of the band's iconic and ground-breaking songs. After Morrison's death in 1971, Manzarek went on to become a best-selling author, and a Grammy-nominated recording artist in his own right. In 2002, he revitalized his touring career with Doors' guitarist and long-time collaborator, Robby Krieger.

"I was deeply saddened to hear about the passing of my friend and bandmate Ray Manzarek today," said Krieger. "I'm just glad to have been able to have played Doors songs with him for the last decade. Ray was a huge part of my life and I will always miss him."

Manzarek is survived by his wife Dorothy, brothers Rick and James Manczarek, son Pablo Manzarek, Pablo's wife Sharmin and their three children Noah, Apollo and Camille. Funeral arrangements are pending. The family asks that their privacy be respected at this difficult time. In lieu of flowers, please make a memoriam donation in Ray Manzarek's name at www.standup2cancer.org