Archive | May, 2013

Manzarek: In memorium

24 May

In January, I interviewed Ray Manzarek and Roy Rogers by phone prior to their Hawaii shows of the Manzarek-Rogers band. They gave no clue that Ray was anything but healthy, and even at their Iao Theater show, he seemed in fine form. I definitely would have gone backstage to meet him, had I known, but such is life, and such is my shy nature, that I declined an opportunity. Manzarek’s classically influenced arpeggiations are definitely an influence in my playing, subtly, mostly by showing me how classical and rock can interact, but that is huge! Without Manzarek, I think Baroque Rock would not have happened, and that was a huge part of my teens. And I would not have played a sizzling, dark version of LA Woman with my Kauai band Open Mind in the late 80’s– that rocked. Rock would have suffered, had he not been, and it will be a little less without his quirky, sardonic, highly abstract sensibilities.

The article that ran in the Honolulu Weekly was edited in a ghastly way, with a quote from Manzarek actually changed (really?). That editor is gone, and I liked him mostly, but you just do not edit words of an icon. So here is the article I intended, sort of. I spent many hours distilling down the marvelous time I did spend– Ray was late, and really he wanted to watch a football game, so it was what it was– to the following. And by this version, I was adapting to the editorial requests.

Oh crap! I just realized– he made a number of bawdy and LSD connected references I knew would not run. He challenged me to print them, saying, I bet you won’t print that, it’s a family paper… This will be updated to include those next few days.

Here is the draft:

Manzarek & Rogers

“Your first question: how’d you guys get together, is that on your agenda? I’ve got all the questions,” Ray Manzarek predicts when he gets on the phone.

So begins an interview with Manzarek-Rogers, the musical love-child of The Doors’ Manzarek and blues guitarist Roy Rogers, both legends in their genres.

Rogers’ parents named him for the singing cowboy, foretelling an inevitable musical career.  He spent years on the road with Johnny Lee Hooker’s band, with his own Delta Rhythm Kings, and producing Hooker, Norton Buffalo, and others. He has earned a collection of Grammy nominations and awards for his playing and producing efforts along the way.

Manzarek is the elephant in the room, having met a guy named Jim Morrison in film school and forming a little group called The Doors after they graduated. Morrison provided poetry and presence, but it was Manzarek’s musical skills playing keys and left-hand bass that shaped the group’s sound. The electric pianos and combo organs he played then and now provide a particular sonic palette, but his way of playing keys and writing music is the watermark identifying both groups.

Manzarek-Rogers’ second album, Translucent Blues, seems like a retro-cool Doors derivative, until one realizes it is the genuine instrumental core of The Doors laying the bedrock for Rogers’ soaring, soulful slide guitar.

Manzarek borders on snidely cynical, but he has actually been interviewed enough to nail the first question about how Manzarek-Rogers came to be.

Manzarak explains: “We share the same agent. He said, ‘hey, you’re a blues guy Ray,’ and I said, ‘Yes I am, from the south side of Chicago.’  ‘Why don’t you get together with Roy–’ I said, ‘Sure.’”

Following Morrison’s untimely demise, Manzarek produced bands like Echo and the Bunnymen and seminal punkers X, but his bread and butter is solo shows where he plays keys and tells stories about The Doors, at places like Northern California’s The Raven, where Rogers stopped by to sit in and check their musical fit.

“We played a little blues, and a little Miles Davis, something from Sketches of Spain, and then we played a little Eric Satie,” Manzarek reflects, “And it worked great, so I said –-“

Rogers chimes in, “Simpatico!”

Manzarek echoes, “Simpatico!”

The varied styles of their first jam presaged the musical range of Manzarek-Rogers. Fives and Ones is Rogers’ hard driving Delta blues, until it shifts into a delicate Satie-esque reverie from Manzarek. In Blues in my Shoes, Manzarek arpeggiates down Riders on the Storm style from bridge to the final verse. As you Leave is a sweet ballad blending classical and jazz elements from keys, sax, and guitar.

The lyrics for the album came from a stellar array of poets who had, over the years, given Manzarek a literal pile of literary musings: wordsmiths like Jim Carrol, Michael McClure, and Warren Zevon.

“It’s like women, we have binders of poets,” Manzarek quips. “Roy and I made music to some of these poems that I had from various poetry buddies. And that was the process– we wanted to make songs that were a bit more advanced– we’re making 21st Century blues with interesting lyrics.”

Translucent Blues straddles an era of shifting musical styles, but also a colossal transformation in the music industry ecosystem.

“I was at a news stand a few years ago,” Manzarek relates, “and these three young guys came up, ‘You’re Ray Manzarek from The Doors, right? We just downloaded Riders on the Storm— awesome!’ I said, ‘great, you want to give me a dollar?’ Because that’s what I’d get if they buy the album.”

Manzarek declined the buck they proffered, but the tens or hundreds of thousands spent recording in a studio are no longer likely to be recouped.

“It had never entered their minds that here I was, the artist, and it might be good if I got something for my work,” Manzarek muses.

Rogers interjects, “The recording has become a calling card for the live performance. That’s where people are making their money is at the live shows, and the recordings just attract people to those.”

To make it work, Manzarek-Rogers travels light, with little gear and no sax player. Translucent Blues on tour has Kevin Hayes from Robert Cray’s band on drums, and Steve Evans on bass from Elvin Bishop.

“We improvise psychically with each other,” Manzarek proffers. “Here’s how it works: we go into a Vulcan-like mind meld, so that we’re all playing the same song, and that works out really well, the rhythm, the chord changes, the passion, the excitement—We try to bring as much passion as we can to each song, and in that passion you lose yourself.”

“I tell people always, it should be better live” Rogers says, more practically.  “You use the record as a place to start, and then the thing evolves. It’s living, breathing stuff.”

“Vibration, music is a pure vibration,” he says.  “Roy plucks a string on his guitar and vibrations come out. We find those vibrations most pleasing. That’s what musicians do, they create vibrations that feel really good. And when you all hit the same vibration at the same time, wow. It’s like an orgasm. You don’t ejaculate, but– you vibrate at the same speed, level intensity, and—it’s thrilling!”

It is hard to tell when Manzarek is serious, but on this point he is sincere. They are mammoth creatures born of a passing age, but they have adapted. Manzarek-Rogers is no sedate museum piece; they pump out a vital, balls-to-the-walls groove rooted in the origins of rock and well suited for the future.