Originally published in the Hindu Metroplus Bangalore edition on May 23rd, 2013
Here’s a little known fact – Ray Manzarek, keyboardist of the legendary psychedelic rock pioneers The Doors, was also a best-selling author. He wrote his biography, Light My Fire: My Life With the Doors in 1998, and went to write two fiction novels, one of which, The Poet in Exile (from 2001) tried to hint at a conspiracy theory or urban legend that frontman may have faked his death in 1971. Of course, when asked about his choice of instrument, one of his more quotable quotes went, “I think I’m a very poor piano player.”
Now, on the news of his passing away on May 20, following a long struggle against bile duct cancer, Manzarek is best remembered to be the backbone of the Doors. While Jim Morrison was the face, and the well-acknowledged poet, Manzarek was the one who gave every fan the privilege of knowing a song as legendary as ‘Light My Fire’ when they heard the first notes float out of his organ. He, along with guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore, gave the Doors the psychedelic edge, fusing jazz with rock like no one had ever done way back in 1967. He is known to have famously said, “The power existed in every member of The Doors. We all understood that, sinking into the rhythm of the music and we all tried to do that and when we all did it together, it was invariably an incredible show.”
Subir Malik, the keyboardist of hard rock band Parikrama, began his obsession with the famous Hammond organ more than 20 years ago thanks to the likes of Manzarek and Deep Purple keyboardist Jon Lord. “Manzarek influenced me as a keyboard player immensely. Even today, my playing is all organ-based, mostly. And the first song I ever took out was ‘Light My Fire’,” says Malik.
One of Manzarek’s other signature touches was on ‘Roadhouse Blues’ a song with which Shiv Ahuja, of Delhi progressive rock band Five8, began his own journey as a keyboard player. Learning to play each of the Doors songs were like Targets to Ahuja. “I still remember how ‘Riders On The Storm’ goes from high to low in his solo; It still gives me the chills. Manzarek just did so much in terms of arrangement that I enjoyed. He brought the organ as an instrument to the forefront. Don’t forget, he also played keyboard bass, which for me was a great way to learn about finger independence while playing the instrument,” says Ahuja, who feels that Manzarek is one of the bigger influences for any keyboardist learning or starting out. Five8 themselves did a few tribute gigs to the Doors over the last three years. “I’ll happily play more, but I hope there’s just more than a one-off tribute gig,” he says.
Both Malik and Ahuja, and many other fans of the Doors in Bangalore and Delhi came very close to seeing Manzarek and guitarist Robby Krieger perform in India, when they were announced to be part of Fly Music Festival in February. The festival was called off due to logistical issues, depriving many of what would have been the first and last chance to see Manzarek perform. Malik was particularly looking forward to the festival: “It was very tragic news to hear it had been called off. I had recently hoped, like many, to see him and Robby live. Frankly, I was coming back to Delhi (from other commitments) only to see them, that’s it.”
More than his work with the Doors, Manzarek also wrote several solo albums worthy of note, and performed with everyone from X to Echo & the Bunnymen to Iggy Pop. While Manzarek’s organ will now fall silent, there’s consolation in the massive legacy he leaves behind as he breaks on through to the other side.