There are many musicians who come off as bigger champions of their respective bands than even the most obsessive fans. Gene Simmons loves to talk about the greatness of Kiss. Keith Richards places the Rolling Stones right up there with religion. But no one could touch Ray Manzarek when it came to going on and on, in words and actions, about how crucial the Doors have been in influence and stature in music.

The acclaimed keyboardist single-handedly kept the legend of the Sunset Strip’s darkest and most notorious act alive after frontman Jim Morrison died in a Paris bathtub/went missing/disappeared from the spotlight in 1971. A few years ago, when asked by Classic Rock Magazine where keeping the legacy of the Doors lay in his professional priorities, he said, “There’s no question that it’s number one.”

When news broke today that Manzarek died in Germany at the age of 74 from the horrible sounding “bile duct cancer,” it might has well have been the match that lit the Doors very own funeral pyre; the keyboardist was essential in carrying the band’s mantle to newer generations long detached from the band’s late-‘60s/early-‘70s apex, stretching even to the EDM world in a 2011 collaboration with Skrillex.

When Morrison made his exit 42 years ago, it took just three months for Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger, and drummer John Densmore to release a new record. Not a bunch of outtakes or demos mind you, but new material with Manzarek on lead vocals dubbed Other Voices. They did it again the following year with Full Circle. The most surprising thing? Those two albums are actually really good. If it weren’t for the looming spectre of the Lizard King, they would’ve been much more popular.

Manzarek, of course, was partially at fault; he mythologized Morrison more than anyone else, spearheading the “Jim’s not dead” rumors with unabashed enthusiasm. In 1991’s ridiculously comprehensive Break on Through: The Life and Death of Jim Morrison he was quoted as saying, “If there’s one guy who would have been capable of faking his own death – getting a phony death certificate or paying off some French doctor …and putting a hundred and 50 pounds of sand in a coffin and splitting to some point on this planet – Africa, who knows where – Jim Morrison would have been the guy to pull it off.”

Morrison obviously never reappeared, and the Doors as a trio stopped recording save for a few dodgy projects here and there. For some reason in the early ‘80s, interest in the group exploded again, perhaps it was a new generation of fans discovering the music, and Manzarek was all too happy to jump back in front of the camera for any interviewer who wanted to talk about the band.

  • Chris Webb

    Well said Michael. First piece I’ve read of yours, I dig the way you write. For me, Manzarek’s signature keyboard sound is the most distinctive part of the Doors, almost as famous as Morrison’s screams and stage presence. Was he the writer of the tunes? The brilliant engineer creating masterpieces for a front man to deliver?

  • Michael Marotta

    Weird that I had no idea the Doors released albums as the Doors after Morrison died.

  • Michael Christopher

    Thanks Chris. Morrison was indeed the primary songwriter for the songs, though guitarist Robby Krieger wrote some of the band’s biggest hits, including “Light My Fire” and “Touch Me.” And yeah, it’s weird about those post-Jim releases. Although they were solid, it was pretty much a lose-lose situation.