Like pretty much everyone else in the music world, Flavorwire was saddened to hear of the death of Doors keyboard player and co-founder Ray Manzarek yesterday. Manzarek was one of music’s great versatile talents — his keyboard work on The Doors’ recordings is rightly lauded, especially as the band’s lack of a bassist meant he was often covering bass parts and melody lines simultaneously, but it’s hardly the sum of his career. In the four decades since Jim Morrison’s death, Manzarek was involved with a fascinating variety of projects; in tribute to him, here is some of his most notable post-Doors work.
While the rest of the surviving members of The Doors formed the unfortunately named Butts Band after Morrison’s death, Manzarek went his own way, releasing three solo albums and then forming this project, which involved vocalist Noah James, guitarist Paul Warren, and Blondie bassist Nigel Harrison. The band has largely been forgotten, but its music isn’t bad, and Manzarek’s keyboard work was as dextrous as ever. (Also, the YouTube comments on the above make for rather interesting reading.)
Manzarek’s most under-appreciated gift to the world was perhaps his production on the debut album by LA punk rock pioneers X. The combination seems an unlikely one, given that The Doors represented everything that punk was meant to be rebelling against, but it worked beautifully, and the mutual affection between Manzarek and his protegés was made explicit by the band’s killer recording of The Doors’ “Soul Kitchen.” (He also performed live with them.)
In a similar vein, the combination of a British punk pioneer and a hippie keyboard wizard from LA seems an unlikely one, but Manzarek took Read under his wing when the latter moved to the West Coast, booking him on several shows and eventually collaborating on several fascinating projects — most memorably, Manzarek backed Read on two records wherein Read read his poetry over Manzarek’s music.
Michael C. Ford
Read’s wasn’t the only poetry Manzarek soundtracked, either — he worked with Chicago poet and playwright Michael C. Ford on and off over the years, providing improvised backings over which Ford read his work.
“Weird Al” Yankovic
One of the accusations often leveled at The Doors, and Morrison in particular, was a chronic humorlessness. Still, their keyboardist, at least, clearly didn’t take himself too seriously — this 2009 Weird Al single was a dead-on parody of The Doors’ style, and Manzarek himself provided the instantly recognizable Fender Rhodes sounds, along with assisting in the arrangement of the song.
Echo and the Bunnymen
Manzarek met the British post-punk luminaries when he guested on their cover of “People Are Strange” for the Lost Boys soundtrack. The song was recorded during the sessions for the band’s self-titled 1987 album, and Manzarek ended up also providing keyboards for the re-recorded version of “Bedbugs and Ballyhoo” that featured on that album.
Manzarek had a well-documented classical background, and in 1983 he teamed up with fellow high-concept aficionado Philip Glass for this rock ‘n’ roll adaptation of Carl Orff’s cantata Carmina Burana. The album wasn’t a great commercial success — we’re not sure the world will ever be ready for Latin poetry from the Dark Ages to tear up the charts — but it certainly makes for interesting listening.
Manzarek made two albums with slide guitarist Roy Rogers, the latter of which — 2011’s Translucent Blues — would prove to be his last full-length recording. It’s a fine testament to his skills as an accompanist; as ever, Manzarek’s work on the Rhodes is enough to cover both the low end and plenty of melodic phrasing, while also providing lots of space for the rest of the instruments to express themselves.
This collaboration with avant-garde trumpet player and composer Bal was one of Manzarek’s more interesting projects — among other things, it featured a reworked version of “Riders on the Storm” that incorporated a trumpet melody and electronic influences. It wouldn’t be the end of Manzarek’s excursions in electronic music, either…
No, really. Say what you will about Skrillex, but the fact that Manzarek and his fellow remaining Doors were up for recording with the man for a cross-genre musical project rather speaks volumes for their continuing open-mindedness and foresight. They recorded a track by the name of “Breakin’ a Sweat” for a documentary film called Re:Generation, for which you can see a trailer here. The song… well, it’s interesting, let’s put it that way.