If ever there was a sonic wail that could compete with Jim Morrison’s haunting vocals, it was the piercing, throbbing wail of Doors’ keyboardist Ray Manzarek’s Vox Continental organ.
That sound has been silenced with Manzarek’s death Monday in Rosenheim, Germany, where, according to the band’s Facebook page, the 74-year-old co-founder of one of the 1960s’ most influential bands had been hospitalized as he battled bile duct cancer.
“I was deeply saddened to hear about the passing of my friend and bandmate,” said Doors guitarist Robby Krieger in a statement. “Ray was a huge part of my life and I will always miss him.”
Manzarek and Krieger had toured together for the past 10 years; drummer John Densmore’s relationship with his former bandmates has been more fractured, mainly because of disagreements over how the band’s legacy should be treated financially.
The iconic rock band famously had its 1965 genesis when Manzarek and Morrison, who were both students at the University of California at Los Angeles, met up at the beach and Morrison recited some of his poetry for his friend.
It was the iconoclastic makeup of The Doors that helped make them a success from the monster debut of the group’s self-titled 1967 album.
There was Morrison’s otherworldly howl, Krieger’s Spanish-influenced guitar work, Densmore’s subtle, jazz-infused drumming and perhaps most striking of all, Manzarek’s keyboard, which did triple-duty as lead instrument, accompanying instrument and the band’s lone bass sound. Together, the group recorded five multiplatinum albums and had hits with L.A. Woman, Break On Through to the Other Side, The End and the Manzarek showcase, Light My Fire.
“You just can’t imagine Light My Fire without Manzarek’s organ,” says Andy Greene, associate editor of Rolling Stone. “He was unquestionably one of the best rock keyboardists ever. But more than that, he was proud of the band’s legacy (after Morrison’s 1971 death in Paris). The Doors came back in a big way in the ’80s and Ray was mainly the one carrying the flame.”
Greg Harris, CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, of which Manzarek was an inductee and at whose ceremonies he was a frequent performer, said the organist was “instrumental in shaping one of the most influential, controversial and revolutionary groups of the ’60s, (which owes) much to Manzarek’s innovative playing.”
For many fans and musicians alike, The Doors’ brooding and sometimes dark sound crystallized the experimental rock music emanating from Los Angeles, which stood in stark contrast to the lighter, soaring sound coming out of the San Francisco Bay Area that was typified by the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.
“The Doors represent the L.A. sound for me,” tweeted rock guitar legend Slash, whose own debut band, Guns N’ Roses, came to define the raw Hollywood-bred music of the late ’80s and early ’90s. “RIP Ray Manzarek. Words cannot express.”
Fans are being asked to donate in Manzarek’s name to standup2cancer.org.