Ray Manzarek, keyboardist and co-founder of the iconic rock band The Doors, died of cancer on May 20, 2013, in Rosenheim, Germany. He was 74. At the time of his death, Ray was with Dorothy, his wife of 45 years, and his brothers Rick and James. A resident of Napa Valley for the last 10 years, Manzarek had been in a music collaboration with award-winning Bay Area blues rock slide guitarist Roy Rogers. The duo were ready to release their third album together, Twisted Tales which comes out on June 18.
BAM TV videographer Pete Crowley recorded one of the last known interviews with Roy Rogers and Ray Manzarek together, at Studio D, the venerable Sausalito music recording facility. One of the best live tracking studios around, Studio D is currently celebrating its 30th anniversary. BAM photography blogger Pat Johnson contributed his images of Roy and Ray in the studio for this feature.
A week after Ray Manzarek’s passing, BAM’s Kenny Wardell spoke with Roy Rogers about Ray’s legacy, and the duo’s plans to release their latest project.
BAM: Hey, Roy. Sorry to be disturbing you on this sad occasion, but thanks for taking out some time to talk about your friend and colleague, Ray Manzarek.
Roy: It’s been a sad week, man. It was unexpected, for sure.
BAM: When did Ray move to Napa Valley? And how did you guys hook up?
Roy: I’ve known Ray for seven, almost eight, years. I think he had probably been in Napa at least two years before that. We had a mutual agent, Steve Gordon at Savoy Music, who used to book Ray solo, separate from The Doors stuff. He’d do “an evening with” kind of thing, and sometimes he’d play with Michael McClure in a poetry setting. He was doing one of those solo gigs in Healdsburg, and Steve Gordon said, “Why don’t you go and sit in with Ray?” Ray said, “Cool, come on.” He had heard about me, but we had never met. So I went and sat in with him on this solo show, and it was just like one of those things where, BOOM, all the fingers of the glove fit perfectly, and we just became fast friends. And we said, “We’ve got to do this again!” This was big fun–fun for him, and fun for me. That was the start.
BAM: When you first heard The Doors on the radio back in the 1960s, what did you think of them?
Roy: I wasn’t a big fan of The Doors. We often had a laugh about this, Ray and I. I was a blues aficionado. At that point, when The Doors came out, I was already way deep into the greats of the blues. I wasn’t really into rock music–not just The Doors in particular, but rock music in general. I wanted to go see Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Jimmy Reed. That was what I was into.
BAM: Where were you in that time of your life?
Roy: That was in Vallejo, California, my hometown. That’s where I would have heard The Doors for the first time. I got into bands in 1963. I was wearing gold lamé jackets, believe it or not, and doing steps. I was actually a junior high schooler and I got playing in a band with high school guys. They were all driving cars and dating girls, and I was some 13-year-old punk who could play good enough for these guys.
BAM: Where do you think The Doors fit into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?
Roy: They are supremely important. What they did was put together a convergence of forces, with the lyrics of Morrison and Ray’s keyboard. Ray was their Rock of Gibraltar, playing the bass sound on the keyboard with his left hand. No other band at that point could imagine being without a bass player. They put all those different influences together and made a sound that is so unique. They broke the mold. They had this charismatic guy, Morrison, with this mystery about him. But it was the band’s sound that helped to define the times. They were certainly reflective of the times and where things were shifting. They are up there with the best, no question about it.
BAM: Do you have a favorite Ray Manzarek song?
Roy: If I were to pick one, it would probably be “Riders On the Storm.” Because it’s bluesy, but it’s not. I think it’s just a great song.
BAM: What were you and Ray cooking up before he died? When can we expect to hear the new music with him?
Roy: In our last meeting before he traveled to Germany, we had been sitting on some music. We have a recording called “Twisted Tales” that we had been on the cusp of releasing for a number of months. It was just a matter of coming up with the artwork. And before Ray left for Germany, we had both signed off on the artwork and agreed to release it sooner than later. Obviously we thought that Ray was coming back from his travels, and so I’m proceeding with the release. That is what we wanted to do, and that’s what both Ray and I agreed to do. You are going to hear it very soon. It should be out within three to four weeks. I dedicated it to Ray’s memory. We were both really proud of this recording. It’s going to be very interesting to see how people react to this. Now that Ray is gone, it’s a little weird for me to release something. But I figured that this was the best way to honor Ray. I hope people enjoy it.
BAM: What are we going to do celebrate Ray’s incredible life and career?
Roy: Ray was such an inspiring guy. I think the best way to honor Ray Manzarek is live life to the fullest and enjoy every moment. He reinforced that big time to me. He enjoyed wherever we went, and I was fortunate to do a lot of traveling with him. Hell, we traveled to Poland last year. I was tripping–being in Poland with Ray Manzarek, a Pole himself.
BAM: What do you think will be written as Ray Manzarek’s legacy?
Roy: I think Ray was a renaissance man. Ray wrote books. He wrote music. He was articulate. He was interested in many different fields. He was a renaissance man in the best sense of the word.
BAM: What has Ray meant to you personally?
Roy: He was a good friend. I lost a very good friend. He was an inspiration to play with because he pushed the envelope of music. The collaborative thing pushes you in directions you wouldn’t possibly know. How could you? It takes another musician to do that. Ray was inspiring, and in the course of our friendship, we became really good friends. I am delighted to have known the man.