The Doors’ Ray Manzarek and slide guitar virtuoso Roy Rogers on performing, grasping the infinite moment and teaching Jim Morrison to sing
You have to give Ray Manzarek credit for helping keep the memory of The Doors alive. He’s not afraid to pay homage to his own history by putting out a movie and soundtrack called Love Her Madly, nor is he above reenacting his days as The Doors’ keyboardist in a spoof by Weird Al. And if he wants to tour with a Jim Morrison impersonator from a Doors tribute act (as he does in the band Manzarek-Kreiger, also featuring his old bandmate Robby Krieger), he’s not going to let the jeers of fans, Morrison’s relatives and former Doors drummer John Densmore stop him.
While Manzarek’s latest album, Translucent Blues—a collaboration with slide guitar master Roy Rogers—consists of all-new material, it also offers numerous reminders of strange days gone by: The descending thirds Manzarek plays in “Fives and Ones” and “Greenhouse Blues” (familiar-sounding titles, yes?) will send Doors lovers riding on a storm of nostalgia, and tunes like “New Dodge City Blues” and “Game of Skill” find him dusting off musical ideas that first appeared in “L.A. Woman,” “Love Her Madly” and “Roadhouse Blues.” He even sounds a hell of a lot like Morrison when he sings … though Rogers hints in the following interview that it was Morrison who sang like Manzarek.
Manzarek and Rogers—the latter a blinding player who has worked with the likes of John Lee Hooker, Miles Davis and Carlos Santana—perform at The Rio Theatre on Monday, Jan. 7, accompanied by drummer Kevin Hayes and bassist Steve Evans. As Ray puts it, “The band is hot, man. It’s rocking, and it’s solid, and it’s bluesy, and it’s funky, and it’s fast, and then it’s slow … it’s cool. [Hayes and Evans] are great musicians, and Roy and I are pretty good ourselves.”
In a recent conference call with GT, Roy came off as humble, down-to-earth and articulate, and Ray … well, Ray came off as articulate.
Good Times: What are your similarities and differences to one another as musicians?
Ray Manzarek: I’m taller than he is.
Roy Rogers: Yeah. I’m a lot shorter.
RM: Not a lot shorter, but he likes to think that way.
RR: He’s a lot more intellectual than I am. We have the commonality of the blues, but Ray’s much more of a reader than I am. He’s a well-read guy.
RM: And we’re both great musicians. That’s a similarity. The other similarities are that we love the blues, we like good wine and we like to eat. The difference is that we’re married to two different women. We’re not married to the same woman.
RR: That’s true.
RM: His wife is not my wife. What can I say?
RR: But we’re both married, respectively, to very powerful women.
GT: I got more than I asked for there, and I’m happy about that. Tell me a little about what happens when the two of you play music together.
RM: We try to find a common place from which all energy comes. We enter into kind of a Zen state of grasping the power of the vibrations of the universe, which we all should, and we all do, inadvertently. We do it whether we know it or not, but we’re seeking it. We consciously seek to grab that power and meld it into four guys and then drive it out to the audience. And then the audience picks up on it, and boy, we get a circle of energy going, a circle of vibrations, in the places that we play. It’s exhilarating.
RR: Like Kris Kristofferson says in a song—I love the title—we’re trying to grasp that moment of forever. Right, Ray?
RM: Yeah, there you go, man. It’s an infinite moment, and yet, of course, it’s the here and now. Like, we are here and now, talking to each other, but we’re also in infinity. That’s what LSD teaches you.
GT: Does this infinite moment that you’re reaching for happen every night?
RM: We don’t play that much. [Everyone laughs] Yeah, absolutely, it happens every night.
RR: You don’t know when it’s gonna come. That’s why you play music. But absolutely, we hit that mark at some point in the evening, I would say more than once, for sure.
RM: You’re always reaching for it, and when you touch it, and it touches you, and it touches the audience, it’s a grand moment. It’s divine. Jesus says in the Bible—the Christian Bible—“See how good it is for brethren to dwell together in harmony.”
RR: I’ll do another quote on you, too. It’s like Robert Browning, the poet: “Your reach must always exceed your grasp.”
RM: We’re always improvising, so there’s always the unknown. You face the unknown, and you never know what’s out there.
RR: If Ray wants to start the groove of a song a little bit different one night, we just pick up on how he’s feeling. So many of these pop bands, it’s like recreating something on recording, and it’s gotta be the same thing every night. We don’t do that.
RM: The first time I actually saw that happen was way back—Queen was playing the Forum in Los Angeles. It was maybe [the time of] their second album, and they were still fresh and alive. We went out and watched the show and noticed that the guitar solos and the lights were in synch, and when the guitar solos stopped, the lights, virtually on cue, went out and came back up on something else. And I thought, “Wait a minute. How did that light man know that it was gonna end right there?” And then I thought, “Oh, my god. They do it the same way every night.” And these guys were great musicians. That was Lyle [sic] May, man. He can improvise the hell out of the guitar. Yet he’s still conforming to a set lighting cue. And I though, “God, how do they do it every night?”
GT: Ray, on the song “Kick,” you’re singing about quitting cocaine. I was wondering if that’s something either of you have gone through personally.
RM: No, not me. Never had the habit. I was never able to see exactly how you could get a habit. It’s like, “Well, it’s a nice pick-me-up.” But as far as wanting to do it all the time, I never felt that. I have never felt the inclination to become addicted to cocaine. [Laughs] That feels kind of ridiculous, you know? It’s like saying people become addicted to marijuana. You can’t become addicted to marijuana! “Oh, yes you can, Ray!” Oh, bullshit. Right-wingers. That’d be out of the mouth of a Mitt Romney. “You’ll get addicted!” Well, you’re getting addicted to stupidity.
GT: Ray, are you aware that your singing sometimes sounds like Jim Morrison’s?
RM: No. I sing like Ray Manzarek. However, Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison seem to sing very similarly, don’t they? You know what? We were in the same band together and spent a lot of time together. So I think somehow that’s sort of a Vulcan mind-meld, is what’s happening there.
RR: I will make a comment for you on this, because I know Ray’s being diplomatic here. From my perspective, you’ve gotta look at who was the musician in The Doors. Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger were the musicians, and Jim Morrison was the singer and was not a musician. Where do you think, quite possibly, Jim Morrison got a lot of his chops?
RM: Holy Christ. You’re on dangerous ground. Don’t bring that up on a Doors website.
RR: He had to learn how to sing somewhere. I don’t think he learned it just singing in a closet. ’Cause he wasn’t singing before he was playing with these guys. Ray was helping him along the way, I think.
GT: Ray, what do you think?
RM: Wow. I think he’s stepped on forbidden territory. Wow. Well, it’s getting late here. When is this [interview] going to be on?
GT: This is for a newspaper, Ray, not the radio.
RM: Well, in that case, shitfuck!
RR: [Laughs] He’s been savin’ up all those four-letter words, and now he can release them!
RM: Holy fuck, man!
The Manarek-Rogers Band plays at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 7 at The Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $25. For more information, call 423-8209.