Preserve the Dead: Ray Manzarek (Feb 12, 1939 – May 20, 2013)
I just learned that Ray passed at the age of 74 of bile duct cancer. I’m so sad right now but I also feel blessed at having the opportunity to meet Ray and speak with him at length about his music.
The following is a repost of an interview that I did for Tri State Indie as a preview for the Wanee Music Festival.
“It’s allowed us to take the blues and move beyond the 1-4-5 progression…put it into a 21st century framework…while keeping the passion, the joys, the love, the fears, and the tragedy of the blues.” – Ray Manzarek
The Mazarek-Rogers Band will be performing at The Wanee Music Festival on Thursday, April 19th, with bands and musicians such as Furthur, Allman Brothers, Tedeschi Trucks Band, and Bruce Hornsby. It’s not everyday that a gal like me gets to interview two of rock-and-roll’s most legendary musicians: Ray Manzarek of The Doors and Roy Rogers of the Delta Rhythm Kings. Especially since my journey into rock music and writing began with The Doors. But it just so happens that the stars were aligned for a brief moment, allowing me to catch up with Ray over the phone and Roy via email to talk about their latest album, Translucent Blues. As if the connection to “the intense visitation of energy” via Ray Manzarek wasn’t enough, I encountered a bit of static and vocal interference during my first few attempts to call Ray on the phone. Perhaps, someone wanted to “Break On Through” to our conversation…
Ray Manzarek and Roy Rogers on Translucent Blues, Performing at Wanee, Sex, Psychedelics, and Blues
Autumn/TSI: Playing on the title of your new album Translucent Blues, have you ever felt the blues so strongly on stage that you cried or came close?
Rogers: No, but we have hit some “high points” musically onstage, for sure.
Manzarek: No. I’m actually the opposite—it’s a joyous response. I don’t have to cry anymore, I’m too old to cry. And I’m happily married. And the sun is out.
I find an extreme passion in the blues. It’s a passion like sex—I’ve never cried during sex. Maybe women do, but for men it’s like, “Oh, boy, this is fantastic!” and that’s how playing the blues, live with Roy on stage is—very exciting, very stimulating, my gristle throbs. (Throbbing Gristle—that was a band back in the 60s.) So for me the blues is strong, powerful, kick-ass music. And if it’s slower, it doesn’t bring sorrow, but it brings a deep realization of the meaning of life.
Autumn/TSI: Wow, I guess I’ve never heard of the blues interpreted that way—as a joyous kind of thing…
Manzarek: Welcome to the club, girl! The Club of the Light. I belong to the Club of Light—the worshippers of the Sun.
Autumn/TSI: “Kick” is one of my favorite songs on the new album—do you have a favorite? How did this song come about?
Rogers: Ray can explain lyrics etc…..no favorite song for me—all of them have their place on the recording.
Autumn/TSI: It sounds like a slower version of “Greenhouse Blues“, except Greenhouse is sung by Roy, and you sing “Kick”. Did you write the lyrics?
Autumn/TSI: Was he part of the “City Lights” crew?
Manzarek: City Lights. Yes. He still lives in San Francisco. And he and I have been working together for the last…gee, I don’t know…many years, and I’m very familiar with his poetry. I play the piano, he reads, and we do an evening of beat poetry and improvisational music, a.k.a. “jazz”. And I know his stuff, his work, and “Kick” seemed to fit the framework of a mid-50s blues bar, San Francisco or New York white powder addict…waiting for the next fix. So that’s how it came about: I added his words, adapted them, and made them into a song—made music around the words.
And yes, it is similar to Greenhouse Blues. Michael C. Ford is a jazz poet out of Los Angeles and I’ve known him for years and years, too—actually, I’ve known him since before The Doors. And for Greenhouse Blues—that’s a “straight-ahead” blues—we modified it to make it a straight 1-4-5 progression.
Autumn/TSI: For most of the album, did you have lyrics first and then create a song around them?
Manzarek: Yes. We made music to the lyrics and might have pushed them around a little bit or stretched them out to make them fit our musical adaptation, but for the most part, the words come first. And what’s fun about that is that it’s allowed us to take the blues and move beyond the 1-4-5 progression—or, lyrically, 2 lines and then the 3rd line answering the 2-line—and put it into a 21st century framework…while keeping the passion, the joys, the love, the fears, and the tragedy of the blues.
Rogers: No chickens were hurt during recording!
Manzarek: “As You Leave” is a 1959 French, black and white movie score/soundtrack, in which the girl and the guy are sitting at a cafe, and the girl has told the guy, “I don’t love you anymore, I’m in love with Jean Claude,” and she stands up and leaves and that’s the end of their relationship. And the song is what the guy is feeling as she walks away…now, if any song would make you cry, that’s a crying song.
Autumn/TSI: Any words of wisdom, warning, or encouragement for up and coming career musicians who sacrifice their time with family and loved ones for life on the road?
Rogers: Keep practicing and playing…Everyone must determine for themselves if it’s all worth it…I think it CAN BE!
Manzarek: Don’t become seduced by indulgence: drugs, alcohol, and crazed sexuality. Experience all things but all things in moderation—nothing to excess. If you go to excess, you might die. Approach your life as a sacred mission or sacred journey and PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.
Rogers: Not the first, actually. No pre-show rituals for me—just get on stage and let it rip!
Manzarek: I have no pre-festival show rituals. We just get out there and play. We’re set and ready to go once the equipment is set up. The ritual is: “Can we get on stage now?” Like Jack Kerouac at that poetry reading at Six Gallery, “Go! Go!” cheering on Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, and Gary Snyder…like horses ready to run!
Autumn/TSI: Yea, I guess the ritual is playing on stage.
Manzarek: That’s so much fun. Only musicians have an idea of the absolute joy—to lock into a groove with their other musicians—it’s spiritual, it’s holy.
Autumn/TSI: Looks like you’re playing on the Mushroom Stage on Thursday, April 19th. Are you still uncovering the psilocybin mysteries or have you moved on to higher planes of existence?
Rogers: Maybe we’ll see the Cheshire Cat on stage….and he’ll lead us somewhere we know not……stay tuned.
Manzarek: The flesh of the Gods…in primitive cultures is a psychedelic mushroom. There are no higher planes of existence—if you open the doors of perception, that is the highest plane of existence—you become one with all of the energy, all of the Universe. We’re on plane number three, we’ve got one more to go—into the fourth dimension. We are all divine creatures but we have forgotten…
Autumn/TSI: Do you think the fourth dimension is available to us on Earth?
Manzarek: Oh yeah, it’s a state of mind—a state of being…open the doors of perception. William Blake said, “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” You realize the infinity of the leaf, a grain of sand, a flower—and our pleasure in them should be delightful because we are the caretakers of the Earth.
Ray Manzarek on Karma in Florida, Uranus, and the Digital Age
Autumn/TSI: One of the biggest moments in the history of The Doors is the Miami incident. Even though the Wanee Festival is 400 miles away from Miami, do you have any hesitations about returning to Florida?
Manzarek: Yes. I do have trepidations. I have a fear that they’ll arrest me. They might arrest me for having a penis…I’m expecting harassment but hopefully by the female police. But I’m expecting good treatment in Florida…they pardoned Jim, by the way. He is no longer guilty of those crimes—alleged crimes. Charlie Crist, I talked to him on the phone—very nice man—and he felt that they didn’t prove anything and there was really no proof of exposure.
Autumn/TSI: I’ve heard you sing in person and I definitely hear “Screamin’ Ray” getting off on your album. Your voice has such a unique sound.
Manzarek: It is deep isn’t it?
Autumn/TSI: It reminds me of Tom Waits, somewhat…but it’s different.
Manzarek: Well, let’s hope so. Lord have mercy. I guess it’s deep like Tom Waits…is that what you’re saying? I hope they can understand me better than Tom Waits. He’s a wonderful fellow and I like his music but it’s a little hard to understand him—I guess it’s supposed to be that way isn’t it?
Autumn/TSI: I was looking at your astrology chart and every time I think about someone’s communication style, I look to the planet Mercury and, as an Aquarius, your ruling planet is Uranus. Then, I see that your Sun and Mercury are in aspect to Uranus, I think, ‘Hmmm, that probably has something to do with it.’
Manzarek: Well, that’s good, I know nothing about that but I’m sure it does.
Autumn/TSI: As a master keyboardist living in the digital age, do your skills translate to the computer?
Manzarek: No. Not at all. There is no relationship. Digital is digital. Piano is piano. There are no knobs…slides…there are no buttons on a piano…just 88, black and white keys. However, I love electronic music. My son is an electronic musician. One of these days, we’ll get together and make some music—I’ll play the keys and he’ll do the electronic manipulation.
Autumn/TSI: Any favorite electronic groups or bands?
Manzarek: Chemical Brothers. And Kruder and Dorfmeister—the Austrians. Techno-jazz. They’re cool and they’re clean. What’s interesting is that I heard their music and thought it was terrific…somebody asked if they would do a remix of “Riders on the Storm” and these two guys actually said No because “Riders on the Storm” is perfect. I said, ‘God damn, these guys are Doors fans!’ But I’d liked their music even before I’d heard that.
Autumn/TSI: I noticed you and Robby have the @manzarekkrieger twitter—do you tweet?
Manzarek: No. No tweets out of my fingers—my fingers do not tweet! They’re silent. They’re mute. I don’t actually do the tweeting, we have people who do the tweeting and they tell me what’s up and I tell them, “say this” and “say that” and out it goes…so we’re all responding.
Autumn/TSI: Do you have an opinion on digital life and social media?
Manzarek: Yea, great, god bless. Whatever you kids like. When the digital age grows a tomato, I’ll be pleased—I will consider it a full human being.
Autumn/TSI: Do you have an opinion on whether Jim Morrison would have been into tweeting and facebooking or would he have a repulsion to digital life/social media?
Manzarek: Would he have a repulsion to it? Other people have asked me that—I imagine he would be involved in it, though I don’t know. How would I know? But they assume he might have a revulsion to it. Why do you suppose that is?
Autumn/TSI: Well, from what I’ve read about him, when he rose to fame as the teenybopper, sex god, it got to him and he wanted to shed that image. And I think the social media, digital, in-your-face electronic world might be…
Manzarek: You don’t think it’s a teenybopper kind of world, do you?
Autumn/TSI: I think it can be…
Manzarek: Me too! I was expecting 140-character haikus—foolish me, I was expecting profundity. I was expecting to see comments on existence by 14-year-olds. But I guess I am.
Autumn/TSI: There probably is a twitter account that only tweets haikus…That’s the funny thing about twitter—there’s a lot of garbage but there are a lot of people using it creatively.
Manzarek: Well, if there is a chance of writing, Morrison would be right there. He was a writer.
Roy Rogers on The Crossroads, The Slide, and Beyond
Autumn/TSI: If you wandered into the Crossroads and at that moment were given the chance to jam with Robert Johnson but knew the Devil wouldn’t let you leave once you started, what would you do?
Rogers: Prefer not to spend time on rhetorical questions but REGARDLESS of the Devil—I would be watching and listening—not jamming.
Autumn/TSI: Your slide guitar playing is legendary. Speaking of your slide, has Ray asked you to play Moonlight Drive?
Rogers: I appreciate your comment, but I always just concentrate on playing the best that I can, in any situation and with anyone. We do not perform that song—maybe Ray and Robbie Krieger still perform it when they play together, I don’t know.
Autumn/TSI: It’s been said that your finger slide is a time machine. Where does your mind and soul wander off to when you play?
Rogers: Probably into the Void!….I don’t know, but you definitely can go into a different space when the music is “right”. It really is wonderful where music can take you.
Autumn/TSI: You’ve known, played, and written for musicians such as John Lee Hooker, Miles Davis, Bonnie Raitt, Carlos Santana, and now Ray Manzarek—is there anyone you haven’t met or played with yet that would put the icing on the cake?
Rogers: I am always looking to take it (music) outside the box—but it depends on the music and what is appropriate. I have been fortunate to perform and record with some great musicians, but there are so many great musicians in the world. For me, music is a never-ending story—you’re never done until you’re not on the planet anymore. You’ve got to keep reaching for something or you might as well “hang it up”!