Five facts about Ray Manzarek, man who lit The Doors' fire

May 21, 2013

Classically-trained but steeped in jazz and blues, Sixties virtuoso defined rock keyboard sound

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RAY MANZAREK, the keyboard player whose "sinuous and melodic organ riffs" were one of the hallmarks of Sixties band The Doors, has died at the age of 74. Manzarek (above right), who was suffering from cancer of the bile ducts, died surrounded by his family at a clinic in Germany, his publicist said. Here are five things you might not know about the Chicago-born rock virtuoso.
Basketball's loss was rock 'n' roll's gain: Manzarek was a gifted student basketball player, but he only wanted to play attacking roles such as power forward or centre. At 16, his coach told him he either played point guard or not at all. Manzarek promptly left the team and says he wouldn't have formed The Doors if his coach hadn't laid down the law.
He was meditating when he met Doors singer Jim Morrison: Manzarek and Morrison(above 2nd right) met as students at the UCLA film school, but Morrison left before graduating, claiming he was going to New York. Manzarek says he was meditating at Venice Beach in Los Angeles in July 1965 when he saw Morrison walking towards him along the beach. The nascent singer had grown his hair, lost "30 pounds" and looked like "Michelangelo's David", according to Manzarek. Morrison sang Moonlight Drive, one of several songs he'd written, and the seeds of the band were sown.
Manzarek played bass with his left hand: The Doors didn't have a bassist, so Manzarek "wound up pulling double duty, handling the bass parts by way of a keyboard bass, which he played with his left hand while working the organ accompaniment and solos with his right", says the Los Angeles Times. Manzarek said the decision not to hire a bassist kept The Doors "as a four-side diamond, rather than an evil pentagram".
He borrowed from John Coltrane and Bach to create the band's most famous song: Manzarek's Chicago upbringing exposed him to the blues, but he was also classically-trained and considered himself primarily a jazz musician. His influences all came together on the seven-minute-long Light My Fire. The baroque keyboard introduction was influenced by Bach and the organ solo cribs ideas from jazz saxophonist John Coltrane's recording of My Favourite Things.
For a famous Sixties rock musician he was surprisingly well-balanced: Morrison burned brightly and briefly, but Manzarek dealt with the "frustrating times" that followed the singer's death and the demise of his band with humour and good grace, writes the Daily Telegraph's Neil McCormick. He married UCLA student Dorothy Fujikawa in 1967 and the couple were still together when he died. Manzarek always appeared "a fascinating, lively, well-balanced individual", says McCormick — "a bespectacled, thoughtful intellectual who approached rock music as he approached life, as a vehicle for self-exploration and higher possibility".

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