Ray Manzarek, founding keyboardist for The Doors, died in Germany on Monday. He had been fighting bile duct cancer, according to his publicist. The singer was 74.
Manzarek founded The Doors in 1965 with singer Jim Morrison. Drummer John Densmore and the guitarist Robby Krieger rounded out the band.
While Morrison was the lyricist for the band, Manzarek was crucial to the music that captured the hearts of fans. His biggest contribution came with his quasi-Baroque introduction to The Door’s 1967 single, “Light My Fire.”
But more importantly, Ray Manzarek was the reason The Doors even existed. After a chance encounter with Morrison in Venice, Manzarek became the driving force that pushed The Doors to prominence.
“Ray was the catalyst, he was the galvanizer,” said Jeff Jampol, who manages the Doors’ estate. “He was the one that took Jim by the hand and took the band by the hand and always kept pushing. Without that guiding force, I don’t know if the Doors would have been.”
The loss to music that Manzarek’s death represents cannot be overstated. The Doors were one of the seminal bands of the 1960s, and “Light My Fire” was part of the soundtrack of the Summer of Love and the Vietnam War. Today, psychedelia is still synonymous with The Doors’ music.
Jim Morrison provided most of the headlines for the band. His alcohol and drug use made him unreliable, but it also fueled his need to fight “the system,” testing taboos and defying censorship rules.
But Manzarek brought a key element of The Doors’ sound. The band did not have a bassist like most rock ‘n roll bands. Instead, Manzarek played the bass lines with his left hand on a Fender Rhodes piano bass. His main instrument was the Vox Continental electric organ, which he claimed to have chosen because it was “easy to carry.”
After Morrison’s death in 1971, Ray Manzarek tried to keep the band together. But their inevitable break-up didn’t keep Manzarek from making music.
He recorded a few solo albums, toured with Nile City and finally got back together with Krieger. The duo toured under the name The Doors of the 21st Century until Densmore and Morrison’s estate won a suit to prevent them from using The Doors’ name. The Manzarek-Krieger band still had tour dates book this year.
“I was deeply saddened to hear about the passing of my friend and bandmate Ray Manzarek today,” Krieger said. “I’m just glad to have been able to have played Doors songs with him for the last decade. Ray was a huge part of my life and I will always miss him.”
Densmore was also hurt by the news, especially since he alluded to a possible Doors’ reunion earlier this month.
“There was no keyboard player on the planet more appropriate to support Jim Morrison’s words,” Densmore said. “Ray, I felt totally in sync with you musically. It was like we were of one mind, holding down the foundation for Robby and Jim to float on top of. I will miss my musical brother.”
Ray Manzarek leaves behind a prominent career and a musical legacy that few can match.