Breaking On Through To The Other Side: Ray Manzarek of The Doors (1939-2013)

You know you’re getting older when those that you’ve idolized for more than a 1/4 century (and more importantly, those that have made a huge impact/influence on you) start passing away…

Ray Manzarek in the 70s; Photo ©James Fortune
Ray Manzarek in the 70s; Photo ©James Fortune

I was in Johannesburg earlier this week on the Creative Days tour when I heard about Ray’s passing, and all I can say is…I hope he’s hanging with Jim Morrison right now, sharing a laugh, a smoke, and making some great music…and I’m quite sure he is.
Ray & Jim, circa 1968. Courtesy of Boing.
Ray & Jim, circa 1968. Courtesy of Boing.

To say that Ray was a *huge* influence on my musical development (and most directly, my piano/organ playing) is really an understatement. Considering that I’ve been playing for more than, ahem, 30 years, there are still several Doors songs that are not only in my daily rotation (as piano exercises, among other things) but even now, as I’m writing this blog, I’m simultaneously mastering a few recent live takes of my ‘Just Play Music’ series, in which I play a classic Doors number (and a Manzarek masterpiece, in terms of left hand/right hand counterpoint) entitled, You’re Lost Little Girl.

Download the Live Rough Mix of You’re Lost Little Girl (from Just Play Music, Season 1)
Download *another* (and totally different) live take from the ‘Just Play Music: Just Piano & Vocal – Tempo’ Episode (also unreleased)
(legal note: I have secured mechanical and streaming licenses to cover this song via The Doors Music/Wixen Music Publishing & Limelight; seeing as this is ‘unfinished’, not being ‘sold’ and not yet officially released, this current distribution is limited to 250 ‘streamed’ copies; should I exceed that, I will acquire new licensing with Limelight and adjust accordingly)

I was fortunate to have seen Ray twice in person, live on stage. Once, back in 1999 at Alice Cooper’stown in Phoenix with his own band; and then about 5 years later with the re-formed “Doors of the 21st Century” alongside fellow Doorsman Robby Krieger and former Cult singer, (and Jim Morrison doppelgänger) Ian Astbury. In both appearances, Ray’s playing (not surprisingly) was as fresh and articulate as it ever was. Masterful, really…with the perfect (and consistent) blend of blues-R&B-infused jazz and classical with a side of psychedelia. The man CREATED this style; my ‘left-handed piano bass’ chops are a direct result of listening (and mimicking) countless Doors songs when I was young; and my continued use of this style today has subsequently turned everything I’ve done into a semi ‘tribute to Ray’ in some small way. I’m not overstating either…it’s true.

Ray in NYC, 2004 with The Doors of the 21st Century. Photo ©Matthew Peyton
Ray in NYC, 2004 with The Doors of the 21st Century. Photo ©Matthew Peyton

If you ever heard Ray speak, his voice and his word choices were equally as unique as his playing style. While I’ve heard some some say that his vernacular was often ‘stuck in a kind of 60s idealism’, this was the man. Spiritual, hopeful, realistic, mystical, magical and chock-full of the wisdom of his years. To hear him tell a story (he even did a few spoken word CDs in the mid-90s, recounting tales of The Doors, Jim, and their lives) he was truly an orator–one whose vocal eloquence and diction not only captivated the listener, but kept one on the edge of his every word.
An original LP scan of mine from one of Ray's *other* projects: Nite City, 1977
An original LP scan of mine from one of Ray’s *other* projects: Nite City, 1977

In one of his final video appearances (for The Doors’ ‘Making Of LA Woman’ 40th Anniversary documentary) Ray quotes a line of Jim’s from Roadhouse Blues (found on ‘Morrison Hotel’, the previous album)…”The future’s uncertain, and the end is always near.” Ray had apparently only told his current bandmates about his illness (a very rare form of bile duct cancer) several months ago before seeking special treatment in Germany, where he ultimately passed away. But the man was STILL playing, still gigging and still doing it all until the end; because after all, the future *is* uncertain and the end *was* always near. He had 74 glorious years before he met his end—but his words, his wisdom and his musical legacy live on, in me and in countless others.
Ray at SSMF, 2012. Photo ©Jim Donnelly.
Ray at SSMF, 2012. Photo ©Jim Donnelly.

Rest in Peace, Raymond Daniel Manzarek. Here’s to breaking-on-thru to the other side…

Blog on.

6 thoughts on “Breaking On Through To The Other Side: Ray Manzarek of The Doors (1939-2013)

  1. Nice Job man!!! If you remember the spot with him and Robby on Dayrl’s House was one of the first things I sent you. I really like that version, they seem to be having a lot of fun. The photo you posted above from 2012is a great photo, he looks good! And it show he “Still had it” till the end.

    Hope you a well after all your traveling!

    1. Hey Joe! Yep…I still remember! That was awesome. (I’ve since watched a few ‘At Daryl’s’ eps, but nothing compares to that unique find!) In any case, I simply *love* that photo of Ray from the Sunset Strip Music Festival last year. I remember when I first saw it (and re-tweeted it)…I mean…73 (at the time) and still rocking with his darned leg up on the Vox Continental! Genius. Thanks for reading & listening. Best–jl

    1. Thanks, Tarja. I hope the sincerity came thru. As much as The Beatles changed me (and my musical life) in countless ways, The Doors did something a little extra, and particularly Ray. Have you ever heard his disc ‘The Golden Scarab’? It’s his first solo album (from late ’73) and while it’s certainly not ‘The Doors’, it still has his signature (including bits of narration, with his meticulously-recorded voice). Great stuff; and if you’re into jazz-y/fusion-y rock, it’s one of those lost treasures that you constantly come back to. I do. 🙂 –jl

  2. i was very upset when i heard he met his demise
    seeing ray perform live was on my bucket list
    he seemed like such a good and wise person
    everything in this article is worded so well

    1. Thanks for the kind words regarding the post, Steve. I can honestly say that he was spell-binding to see live—still had it till the very end.

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