The news that Ray Manzarek, founding member of The Doors, died on Monday hit me pretty hard. Why is Ray Manzerek a big deal? Let me tell you a little story...
When I was very young, I would spend hours pouring through my dad's excellent collection of vinyl LPs. Countless hours discovering The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Byrds, John Prine, The Outlaws and so many others. One of my very favorite discoveries in those earliest years of my popular music education was the Los Angeles-based band The Doors.
The Doors, quite famously, accidentally came together one day when founding members Manzarek and Jim Morrison ran into each other on Venice Beach. They shared stories and dreams of what was possible and eventually turned that conversation into one of the most succesful American bands of the late 60s. The band's legacy is often overshadowed by the persona, and untilmely death of their singer. While it is true that without Jim Morrison's charisma, mystical lyrics and over the top antics that the band not have succeeded like it did, it was Manzarek who truly provided the sound and vision of the band. I consider him one of the most important players in all of 60s American Music. That is saying something.
The Doors first burst onto the scene in 1967 with their impossibly excellent self-titled debut. I can easily make an argument that this is one of the finest debut releases by an American band, ever. The band's very first single, Break On Through, failed to make much of an impact when it was released in January of 1967, but remains one of their most distinctive songs to this day and is an excellent example of Manzarek's prowess on the organ.
The Doors next single, Light My Fire, shot right to Number 1 and catapulted them to immediate stardom. This is perhaps The Doors most notorious television moment. As they were getting ready to play on the wildly popular Ed Sullivan Show, the producers informed the band that they could not say the word 'higher' during the live performance as it was deemed far too controversial. They agreed not to, and then JIm Morrison went right ahead and sang it anyway. They would never appear on the show again.
Didn't matter, The Doors were on their way. And their popularity persists. To date, The Doors have dozens of Gold and Platinum albums to their credit and have sold over 100 million albums worldwide. Ray Manzarek, one of the most important ind influential Americans musicians of the Rock Era. Period.
R.I.P. Ray. Break On Through To The Other Side...