By Warren Kurtz
On February 12, 1979, for Ray Manzarek’s 40th birthday, Ray chose to spend time with me on my first ever telephone interview. He had heard about the success in the Cleveland market of our promotion of the album An American Prayer – Jim Morrison, Music by The Doors the prior fall, that I helped co-lead, and requested to speak with me. We discussed Doors albums, singles, rare flip sides, the move of bassist Nigel Harrison from Ray’s post-Doors Nite City band to Blondie, and the Los Angeles music scene where he said that new wave was the wave of the future, which led to him, shortly afterward, to become the producer for the first four albums by the Los Angeles punk/new wave band X. At the end of the interview Ray said, in his booming voice, “You are one of the Doors people” and gave me his home address for me to mail him rare Doors items that I had collected. I was beaming.
Now you can share what would have been Ray’s 81st birthday with his bandmates in the theater, this Wednesday, February 12.
The Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, born February 12, 1939, died May 20, 2013 from a rare cancer called cholangiocarcinoma, which is bile duct cancer. On February 12, 2016, the day that would have been Ray’s 77th birthday, the surviving Doors, John Densmore and Robby Krieger, reunited for the first time in 15 years to lead a tribute concert for Ray and benefit Stand Up to Cancer. The night featured John and Robby, Exene Cervenka and John Doe of the band X, and more. This event, along with interspersed interviews, is captured in the 101 minute film which looks and sounds great.
Ray and Dorothy Manzarek’s son Pablo kicks things off on stage, calling his father a most exceptional soul. Then the songs begin with Robby’s guitar on “Love Me Two Times,” John on drums, a pair of Foo Fighters, Taylor Hawkins on vocals and Rami Jaffee on keyboards, along with Robert DeLeo, from Stone Temple Pilots on bass and Stephen Perkins, from Jane’s Addiction on percussion. What an opening! Then the narrative begins with John and Robby discussing the tribute event.
“Alabama Song” and its history of Ray’s suggestion of the song for the group comes next, with a bit of humor from John. After a discussion of The Doors playing blues songs, “Back Door Man” follows with Brian Ray, from Paul McCartney’s band, joining Robby on guitar and trading parts. The rhythmic lyrics of “Break on Through” are highlighted in the discussion about this first local hit single for the Los Angeles quartet in 1967.
A pair of popular flip sides follow, beginning with “Roadhouse Blues” with Warren Haynes from Gov’t Mule and The Allman Brothers Band playing guitar and sharing vocals with X’s John Doe, while Ray’s brother Jim plays the harmonica part, so key to the song. This is followed by “Moonlight Drive” featuring Robby’s slide guitar.
Exene and John from X bring up-tempo punk to “Soul Kitchen” as they had done on their 1980 debut album Los Angeles, followed by the next song on the record, the driving rhythmic “Nauseau,” which Ray originally played organ on. Robby’s fluid guitar solo on “Five to One” offsets the song’s tribal rhythm.
A pair of epic songs from the quartet’s final album come next. Andrew Watt brings vocal diversity to the title tune “L.A. Woman” and moshes his way into the audience. “Riders on the Storm” has X’s John Doe on vocals. John Densmore’s jazz drumming roots are present along with Robby’s western guitar fills. Rami’s electric piano perfectly captures the light jazz feel Ray originally brought to the song, which was the group’s final Top 40 hit, debuting in the Top 100 on the same day that Jim Morrison died, July 3, 1971.
After more footage of a post-Doors Ray interview, the film concludes with another pair of lengthy songs, showcasing the band. “Light My Fire,” has an entourage of male and female singers and “When the Music’s Over” has Warren Haynes solidly delivering the vocals as the credits begin to roll. There we see that the film is directed by Justin Kreutzmann, the son of Grateful Dead’s drummer Bill Kreutzmann and the music is mixed by long-time Doors sound engineer Bruce Botnick.
Participating theaters for Wednesday night’s showing of the film can be found in the related links section below. It is a must see for fans of The Doors’ music, where the band’s surviving half successfully surround themselves with ideal musicians for the historic event.
A lot is happening this year involving The Doors, including a haunting new track “Ode to L.A. While Thinking of Brian Jones, Deceased” with the poetry of Jim Morrison set to new music by Carla Olson and performed by Johnny Indovina. In addition to celebrating the 50 anniversary of the Morrison Hotel album this month, this summer will be the 50 anniversary of the double album Absolutely Live, and in the fall will be the 50 anniversary of The Doors’ thirteen song hits collection 13.