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Ray Manzarek

+ {Nite City}

The oldest member of The DOORS, organist/keyboard-kingpin RAY MANZAREK was born Raymond Daniel Manczarek, Jr., February 12, 1939 (to Polish immigrants) in Chicago, Illinois; his first love was the piano and boogie-woogie having been witness to some legendary players.
Shocked and dismayed by the tragic death of The DOORS enigmatic singer Jim Morrison in July 1971, and after attempting to carry on without the man for two further average LPs, MANZAREK signed a fresh contract with Mercury Records. Augmented by musicians including Larry Carlton, Jerry Scheff and Tony Williams, the format of his Bruce Botnick-produced debut album THE GOLDEN SCARAB (1974) {*6} leant towards jazz-prog, although a version of CHUCK BERRY’s `Downbound Train’ identified with his rock template; check it out for `Solar Boat’, `He Can’t Come Today’ and `The Moorish Idol’.
Together with JOE WALSH, FLO & EDDIE, contributions from Dick Wagner (of ALICE COOPER and LOU REED fame) and co-songwriting manager Danny Sugarman (plus a spot for the then unknown punk-poetess PATTI SMITH reading the lines of a certain Mr. Morrison), Ray’s follow-up concept set THE WHOLE THING STARTED WITH ROCK & ROLL NOW IT’S OUT OF CONTROL (1975) {*6} expanded on the psychedelic theme. Sales of the record were reasonably high as it peaked at No.150, no doubt due to the ghostly lines from the grave of Jim Morrison on `I Wake Up Screaming’. Despite adequate but intriguing DOORS-like tracks such as `Whirling Dervish’, `Bicentennial Blues (Love It Or Leave It)’ and `Begin The World Again’, the LP was all-but-forgotten until its essential CD re-issue proper in the mid-00s.
While Ray’s old DOORS buddies ROBBY KRIEGER and John Densmore had found an outlet through The BUTTS BAND, Ray was equally keen to get a band together. Choosing guitarist Paul Warren, future BLONDIE bassist Nigel Harrison, drummer Jimmy Hunter and the uninspiring frontman/co-writer Noah James, NITE CITY found few friends among the fickle fraternity that was the music buying public. Released on 20th Century Records, both albums NITE CITY (1977) {*5} and the co-credited GOLDEN DAYS DIAMOND NIGHTS (1978) {*4} had a laid-back feel taking in a twinge of jazz; one could at least manage a boogie or two on the debut’s title track (`Angel w/No Freedom’ was also a thin highlight) or Ray’s 8-minute sign-off tune `America’ from the follow-up.
One of MANZAREK’s more interesting post-DOORS projects was his revelatory re-imagining of Carl Orff’s pre-WWII classical masterpiece, CARMINA BURANA (1983) {*6}. Augmented by minimalist composers Philip Glass and Kurt Munkacsi, Ray produces something akin to RICK WAKEMAN and his heavenly prog-rock escapades. With heavy production values, a 7-piece choral conducted by Michael Riesman and Larry Anderson’s drumbeats (the cover was an arty-collage illustration by Hieronymous Bosch – famous for his DEEP PURPLE debut set), the power was certainly the key on `O Fortuna’ and 15 other seductive cues.
MANZAREK’s subsequent piano-driven projects were equally eclectic, a couple of low-key sets with poet Michael McClure (LOVE LION (1993) {*4} and THERE’S A WORD! (2001) {*2}) were a tad off-kilter for one who’d had so much rock lineage. But there was more in the shape of another two joint efforts with 60s beat-poet and Brit-punk provocateur Darryl Read (ex-Crayon Angels and Crushed Butler) on the patchy but effective FRESHLY DUG (1999) {*5} and BLEEDING PARADISE (2007) {*4}.
While reuniting with Krieger (and initially CULT frontman Ian Astbury and STEWART COPELAND of The POLICE) on a re-formed post-millennium DOORS, aka The Doors Of The 21st Century, MANZAREK finally managed to surface on yet another side-venture with Bal, ATONAL HEAD (2006) {*5}; it featured a re-vamp of `Riders On The Storm’ and Duke Ellington’s `Caravan’.
Co-written and directed by Ray himself and showing his prowess for the art of filmmaking (he’d been a UCLA student way back in the mid-60s), his 2000-premiered film-noir movie soundtrack LOVE HER MADLY (2006) {*6} was finally delivered to the public. Produced alongside Bruce Hanifan and aided by the guitar work of Gregg Montaine and ROBBY KRIEGER, Ray showed he was more than capable of fusing the ambience techniques of score work with modern-day musak. Cool, dark and almost hypnotic, Ray’s distinctive keys sound out the shadowy angle of the film, with tracks such as “The End”-like opener `Too Close To The Sun’, `Hadley’s Cruise’, `Nightride’ and the sensuous `J’ai Vu Ta Vie’ coming across the strongest.
Of late, MANZAREK and croaky bluesman Roy Rogers have collaborated on two recordings, 2008’s acoustic/instrumental BALLADS BEFORE THE RAIN (2008) {*5} – featuring DOORS faves `Crystal Ship’ and `Riders On The Storm’ – and TRANSLUCENT BLUES (2011) {*6}, both showing the keysman’s eagerly-anticipated return to what he knows best – rock. Check out a couple of JIM CARROLL song-sheets on the Katrina-inspired `Hurricane’ and another wee gem, `Tension’.
Sadly, after a lengthy struggle to combat bile duct cancer, MANZAREK died in a hospital in Rosenheim, Germany, on May 20, 2013. A month later, CNC Records dispatched a posthumous set that he’d recorded with aforementioned slide guitarist Roy Rogers. TWISTED TALES {*6} was a case of “opposites attract”, though the recording was a fitting eclipse to the Ray’s artistry; especially on boogie-blues numbers `Just Like Sherlock Holmes’, `Eagle In A Whirlpool’, `Black Wine / Spank Me With A Rose’ and `Numbers’.
© MC Strong/MCS Apr2012-May2019

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