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Ray Manzarek talks Jim Morrison's death, 'Apocalypse Now,' disco Doors covers

On February 12, 1979, the Doors keyboardist turned 40. He celebrated with Goldmine by revisiting his former band's hits and revealing his plans for the future.

By Warren Kurtz

 POST-DOORS:A photograph of Ray Manzarek in the 1970s by James Fortune.

POST-DOORS:A photograph of Ray Manzarek in the 1970s by James Fortune.

After the post-Jim Morrison albums “Other Voices” and “Full Circle,” the surviving members of the Doors moved on to other projects. Ray Manzarek’s first solo album, in 1974, “The Golden Scarab,” featured the single “Solar Boat,” where he referenced the Doors flip side “Moonlight Drive” and the first Doors trio single “Tightrope Ride.” That fall, his second album, “The Whole Thing Started with Rock & Roll Now It’s Out of Control,” included the song “Bicentennial Blues,” which echoed his classic “Light My Fire” organ introduction. In 1977, he was back in a Los Angeles band named Nite City, with bassist Nigel Harrison, who would eventually join Blondie. FM radio played the keyboard driven “Summer Eyes” from their first of two albums. In November of 1978, “An American Prayer,” which would become the Doors’ final album of new music, was released. Due to the successful promotion of this album, on Monday, February 12, 1979, Ray Manzarek chose to spend time with us on his 40th birthday for this interview, which we have saved for many years for this special occasion, the 50th anniversary of Doors recordings.

GOLDMINE: In 1972, when the double-album compilation “Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mine” was released with the great rarity “Who Scared You” on it, and it received FM radio play. Those who didn’t know this song as the flip side of “Wishful Sinful” from 1969, started some “Jim Morrison is alive” rumors.

RAY MANZAREK: I got a call on a Saturday morning, in July of ’71. Evidently Jim died on a Friday night, and our manager called me at 10 a.m. He said, “I’ve got some bad news, Jim is dead.” I said, “C’mon, man, I’ve heard ‘Jim is dead’ stories before, falling out of a car, a window, I don’t believe it.” He said, “I’ve got a noon flight, Ray. I’m going to Paris.” I said, “Call us and let us know what’s happening.” When he got there, he found a sealed coffin, and with the time difference, plus the flight time, the coffin was buried the following morning. He said, “Well, they buried the coffin, and they said Jim was in there and that’s all I know.” The French death certificate was signed by only one doctor and claimed Jim’s heart stopped. That’s all it said. It didn’t say what caused his death. I don’t know if Jim is dead.

GM: Jim’s poetry and the band’s music are perfectly matched on “An American Prayer,” my favorite album of 1978. There had been quite a gap since the “L.A. Woman” album in 1971 and now.

RM: We waited and did not want to hype Morrison’s death. Croce was bigger in death than in life. Hendrix’s albums had people playing on them who had never played with Hendrix. The man is dead. The man is gone. Let him rest in peace until the time when that sensational aspect blows over. We figured that the time was right. The idea occurred to us about three years ago. It’s for Jim. Instead of worrying about a tombstone on his grave, let’s give the man a living monument, to his poetry and his abilities as a word spinner. We tried to make a nice package of the whole thing. “An American Prayer” is for an evening’s entertainment. You go and buy the album, light a candle, sit back, relax, and read and listen. It’s like it was in the ’60s when hearing a new album was an exciting event.

GM: And in the early ’70s with the “Morrison Hotel” album when “Roadhouse Blues” received some airplay as the flip side of “You Make Me Real.” Now a live version of “Roadhouse Blues” from “An American Prayer” is back on the radio as a single with the album’s finale “Albinoni: Adagio” as its flip side.

RM: I think “Roadhouse Blues” is a great song. I’m happy about it being a single again. It’s very exciting. “Albinoni: Adagio” is my favorite part of the album. It’s a beautiful piece of music and, God, Jim’s reading and music and all of it is just really strong.

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GM: What is that blues number that surfaces on side one of “An American Prayer” during “Angels and Sailors?”

RM: Robby and Jim played a benefit for Norman Mailer when he was running for mayor of New York City in ‘69. There was poetry reading and some music. Jim began singing and Robby plugged in his guitar and played along. It’s really no song in particular.

GM: So what is next?

RM: You’ll like this name. Colonel Kurtz is the lead character played by Marlon Brando in an upcoming Francis Ford Coppola film called “Apocalypse Now” and we’re working on the soundtrack. Coppola has spent three years and almost all of his money on this movie. It better be big.

GM: Have you heard Nigel on Blondie’s “Heart of Glass?” It’s predicted to debut in the Top 100 this week as their next single.

RM: Yes! What a bassist! This is why we hired him for Nite City. I like this song, even with a bit of a disco sound. With other disco songs, it does get awfully repetitive. The beat is there and there’s nothing else. I like my music to have a little more meat to it than disco presents. In general, it doesn’t really say anything. If there are words, then sing about something. Tell me about life. Tell me about death, joy, sorrow, anything.”

GM: Speaking of disco, Amii Stewart, who has a disco version of “Knock on Wood,” which should reach the Top 40 this week, also has a disco version of “Light My Fire” on her new debut album.

RM: I’m always interested to hear what other people do with our material. They bring a different approach to it.

GM: I understand you have been playing with some new wave bands in L.A.

RM: I like new wave. It’s the wave of the future. I think it’s the way music is going to go.

GM: Thank you for sharing your 40th birthday with us and have a wonderful year ahead with your work and with The Doors.

RM: Thank you. The Doors will always be a part of American history and you are truly one of The Doors people. 

The early days of The Doors