portrait of Ray Manzarek

Ray Manzarek The Favorite Bassist of My Childhood

My acquaintance with music was a bit weird. I was moving backward in time. Starting with Nirvana in the late 1990s, I gradually moved back through time. First, I immersed myself in the 1980s, which I liked the least. The 1970s captured me quickly. A little later, I went to the 1960s. In 1967, The Doors completely transformed my consciousness. And it continues to do so.

I remember that day when I was about 14 years old, and my classmate gave me a cassette that contained the 1967 album by The Doors. The first riff of the song Break on Through – and I knew it was forever. It’s hard to describe those feelings in words. Contacting an extraterrestrial civilization would probably evoke the same sensations in me. I remember Jim Morrison’s hypnotic vocals that sounded right inside my head, Robbie Krueger’s slightly torn and nervous slides, John Densmore’s modest, almost jazz drums, and Ray Manzarek’s organ-style keyboards. The word “keyboardist” was too weak for that guy. Ray was an incredible musician, arranger, and The Doors’ sound architect. Besides, he was the one who initially took on the role of bassist.

young Ray Manzarek collage photo

The Doors Ghost Bassists

The Doors never had a permanent bass player. During concerts, Ray Manzarek played the bass parts with his left hand and right foot on a small Fender Rhodes synthesizer.

It’s worth making a disclaimer: we are talking about the band’s live performances.

The Doors didn’t have one bass player – they had almost 20 bass players. Some bassists recorded several songs, while others participated in the entire album. Perhaps such instability also contributed to the band’s unique sound.

Invited musicians took part in almost all studio work. They weren’t part of the band but dubbed Ray Manzarek’s parts in the studio. That’s why we don’t have much information about them. But some need to be told.

Larry Knechtel

Larry Knechtel the Doors Bassist

Larry Knechtel was the first to have a hand in the band studio recording. He was a successful studio bassist who worked with Rick Rubin, The Beach Boys, Elvis, The Mamas and The Papas. He started the tradition of ghost bassists, who took part in the recording of all subsequent albums.

Doug Lubhan

After him, the band regularly cooperated with Doug Lubhan, often called the fifth of The Doors. According to some reports, the producer offered him the role of the band’s full-fledged member, but Doug refused because he was already busy with his project. Nevertheless, he continued to work in the studio and participated in the recording of almost all the tracks on the album “Waiting for the Sun” and three songs on the album “The Soft Parade.”

Doug Lubhan

Jerry Scheff

Jerry Sheff

I cannot but mention Jerry Scheff, who collaborated with Elvis, Bob Dylan, and many other musicians of the 1960s-1970s. Jerry is an incredibly successful bassist who has been working since 1958(!). In 2019, he made a concert dedicated to The Doors.

Jerry Scheff took part in Jim Morrison’s last studio recording. His bass sounds in every song on the album “L. A. Woman.” And thus, we can hear his bass guitar in the song Love Her Madly. This song is a unique example of how a bass guitar part can turn a simple composition into a masterpiece.

In a 2009 interview, Jerry Scheff said the collaboration was so fruitful they offered him to be a member of The Doors, but that didn’t happen because Jim Morrison died three months later.

I learned it all only when the Internet appeared. Before that, I thought the band’s bass player was Ray Manzarek, no matter how funny it sounds. So, let’s go back to his biography.

Ray Manzarek before The Doors

Ray was born on February 12, 1939. The musician spent his childhood in Chicago. He began taking music lessons and practicing the piano at the age of seven. During his school and university years, he was also fond of sports, particularly basketball.

Manzarek received a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Chicago in 1960. Of course, he participated in various university events related to music, performing arts, and sports. When Ray was a student, he played in the band “Rick and the Ravens” with his brothers.

I’m basically a cocktail jazz kind of pianist. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a very good keyboard player. People think I think I’m good. I think I’m a very poor piano player…

Ray Manzarek

He continued his education at UCLA (University of California Los Angeles). But he soon realized he didn’t want to be a lawyer and went into the army.

After his service, he re-entered UCLA, the Faculty of Cinematography. That was where Manzarek met Jim Morrison, fell in love with his future wife Dorothy Fujikawa, and started the band that changed the music world.

Ray Manzarek’s wife became his companion, best friend, and partner in everything until the very end of his life. They were together for 46 years.

Her eyes… No games. No lies. She could see right through me. And she was damn sweet!

Ray Manzarek

Ray and Dorothy married in the landmark year of 1967. The wedding witnesses were Jim Morrison and Pamela Courson.

The Birth and End of The Doors

As for The Doors, the band originated in 1965, when Ray met Morrison. Ray graduated from the university. He was walking along the beach, thinking about what he wanted to devote his life to. Manzarek already had many musical ideas, and Jim Morrison’s poetry would fit perfectly into all his concepts.

The Doors band photo

Ray saw Jim and exclaimed, “Hey, Jim! Weren’t you planning on going to New York?” Morrison confided he decided to stay since he had recently written some songs, poems, and all that stuff. Ray asked: “Can you sing something to me?” Jim agreed, sat down on the sand, and sang Moonlight Drive. As soon as Ray heard it, he exalted, “Hey! That’s what I’m looking for! We gotta get a band together.” Jim agreed, and Ray invited his friend to live in his apartment. They started working on songs. “What should we call the band?” – Ray asked. Jim replied, “The Doors…”

That was how the story of the legendary The Doors began. You could write not an article but a book about everything that happened next. I will hardly succeed. Those guys created music within music. They were so original one cannot classify them as 1960s rock, blues, or pop music.

Doors music is not a simple kind of music. It’s clean and pure. Morrison’s lyrics are psychologically deep. So, for people to understand Doors music is certainly a testament to their intellects.

Ray Manzarek

The group managed to record six incredible albums until 1971 when Jim Morrison passed away.

In 1978, they recorded the album “An American Prayer,” created using lifetime recordings of Jim Morrison’s voice reciting his poetry.

Ray working in studio

The ancient Egyptians used to say: if you say a man’s name, he is alive. I take this opportunity to say, Jim Morrison.

Ray Manzarek

After The Doors

After The Doors ceased to exist in 1973, Ray continued to engage in music and creativity until he died in 2013. He participated in various collaborations with musicians, poets, and directors. Among them was Iggy Pop. Unfortunately, the musicians didn’t come to a long-term cooperation, but there were several concerts.

Ray wrote music for movies and TV series. He produced young bands, including some punk bands of the 1980s.

  • In 1973, he recorded his solo album “The Golden Scarab.”
  • In 1974, the second album, “The Whole Thing Started With Rock and Roll & Now It’s Out Of Control,” was released.
  • In 1998, the musician published a biographical book, Light My Fire: My Life with The Doors. In the book, the musician talks about his life from birth to the last days of The Doors.
  • From 2002 until his death, he toured with The Doors guitarist Robbie Krieger. The musicians performed the compositions of the cult band to let a new generation of fans hear their songs live.
Tha Doors Ray Manzarek in concert

You may also like a story of Motown Records.

Ray Manzarek’s Death

In 2013, Ray Manzarek was diagnosed with bile duct cancer. In May of the same year, the musician went to Germany for treatment. He quickly established warm relationships with doctors and medical staff and even played a small private concert in the hospital.

Unfortunately, the treatment was not successful. On the morning of May 20, 2013, the musician died in a hospital in the German city of Rosenheim.

Ray Manzarek the Doors keyboard player

The Doors have become a unique, timeless phenomenon. The mystical figure of Morrison, who burned out in an instant, his lyrics and primal vocals combined with the versatile talent of Manzarek became a perfectly flammable mixture that would never go out. Just press play and… Light My Fire!

The Doors – “Light my fire” (video)
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