Ray Manzarek: Recording The Doors Was 'Spontaneous And Simultaneous Orgasm'

artist: The Doors date: 05/23/2007 category: interviews
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Ray Manzarek: Recording The Doors Was 'Spontaneous And Simultaneous Orgasm'
The Doors need no introduction. One of the most influential, controversial and legendary bands ever, The Doors were a force to be reckoned with when they first made their mark on the scene in the later part of the 1960s. Led by the charismatic and ever poetic Jim Morrison, whose shamanic stage performances were mesmerising, the band - Ray Manzarek on organ and electric piano, John Densmore on drums and Robby Krieger on guitar - went on to release a swag of critically acclaimed albums. With Morrison's untimely death in 1971, the band soldiered on for a couple more albums before finally calling it a day in 1973. During the ensuring years, interest in the band continued to grow at an unprecedented rate. In 2001, Manzarek and Krieger reunited under the moniker The Doors Of The 21st Century and toured for the next few years with Ian Astbury (The Cult) in Morrison's shoes, Ty Dennis on drums and Angelo Barbera on bass. A recent court ruling forced a name changed - and another lineup change - that today sees the band touring as Riders On The Storm with newly appointed ex-Fuel singer Brett Scallions taking over from Astbury who left to return to The Cult. In this exclusive interview for UG, Joe Matera sat down with Ray Manzarek to talk about the band's legacy. Ultimate Guitar: This year marks the 40th anniversary of The Doors and to celebrate you've recently reissued The Doors back catalog? Ray Manzarek: Yeah, these are brand new mixes from the original master recordings, the multi-track tapes. We went in and did brand new mixes. It has state of the art fidelity on them. It is our 40th anniversary present to the fans and to our selves and to the new guys coming through. There all kinds of new stuff on these reissues. The Doors had a very distinctive sound that combined elements of jazz, folk and blues but in a very powerful manner. Were you aware of just how revolutionary this sound was at the time and were you surprised at the impact it made? Am I surprised at the impact it has made? Yes. Was I aware of the revolutionary sound at the time? Yes. I knew we had a unique sound because we didn't have a bass player and we featured the keyboards along with Robby Krieger's flamenco guitar and slide bottle neck guitar which was, at the time, pretty unique in rock and roll. I think the only person that used a slide guitar that I knew of was Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones. And whether or not he used a bottleneck like Robby is doubtful. I knew the sound was unique too because it was Doors songs. For example, Break On Through (To The Other Side) and Light My Fire, were jazz and rock. And I was surprised at its impact but also very pleased. We didn't know exactly how the public would accept The Doors music. But it seems that the public did accept it to with Light My Fire becoming the #1 song in America in the summer of 1967. The summer of Love! What did you think of Jos Feliciano's version of the song? I thought it was terrific! I loved it as I love to hear other people do Doors songs and I especially like that half-time Latino thing that he did. Since we're all Southern California people, the Latin influence was very big on us. Like John Densmore's drumming on the beginning of Light My Fire before he goes into the hard rock part. And Break On Through (To The Other Side) is a Bosa-Nova that later becomes hard rock.
"We didn't know exactly how the public would accept The Doors music."
There was an edge to the Doors music in the Sixties that carried a certain amount of political weight. Would you agree and do you feel that it is much more difficult for today's bands to have a similar effect? I don't know whether we had an effect really. We couldn't stop the war. Nobody could stop the war. The war wasn't stopped until the President decided to stop the war which is what is going on today. So it rests in the hand of one man. One man who can say we'll stop fighting in Iraq now or we'll keep on fighting in Iraq now on until I say quit. How did this guy get all this power? So whether or not we effected anything but we made our protests and we made our statements like with The Unknown Soldier. What artists today do you feel you share a kinship with? It is not the one thing I go out of my way to access and say 'Oh my God they sound like the Doors, I knew they would be But I do hear a lot of Ray Manzarek keyboard licks being played. I don't know whether or not I hear a lot of Jim Morrison poetry out there. And I don't necessarily hear any kind of Doors song structures. But I think the thing that comes closest to having an artistic Doors approach to music is in the realm of electronica. Like with Kruder and Dorfmeister, The Chemical Brothers and people like that. Can you gives us an insight into how you went about the process of constructing and recording the Doors songs in the studio? We normally had the songs together before we went into the recording studio and we worked out the songs in rehearsal at The Doors workshop on the corner of La Cienega Boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles. We knew what the chord changes were going to be. We knew what the tempo was, the lyrics and we knew where the improvisational sections would be inserted and where we were free to play anything we wanted within the structure of the song. I could voice the chords anyway I so chose to voice them. And then was the freedom to play a solo in the various solo sections. We go into the recording studio and would put down the entire song all at once. Jim Morrison would sing a guide vocal and if he got the vocal, fine, if not then after we had recorded the basic tracks he would sing his part again. We did not do drums to a click track, like drums, then bass and guitar, we didn't record that away... We actually recorded like real people, like a jazz band or something. We sat up and played man. We worked all at once. It was a spontaneous and simultaneous orgasm. After the second album you had a real live bass player on record, why did you decide to do that? Because the Fender Rhodes keyboard bass I had didn't have the pluck and the attack that a plectrum on strings had. It was a woofey sort of sound. Which was fine in person and moved a lot of air and made a big fat bottom live, but on a record it just didn't have that attack. It was too soft and too loud. When it came to gear you basically used a Rhodes keyboard bass and a Vox Continental organ? Correct! Not a Farfisa as some have claimed so good for you. Today because I don't play exactly the way I played back then, I don't use a Vox Continental. As there are multiple sampled keyboards that have Vox Continental sounds in them and a Rhodes keyboard bass there too. So there is no need for me to do that. Today with Riders On The Storm we have an actual living bass player when we play with Robby. Phil Chen plays bass for us. So my left had is free to comp, pick my nose, read a book, have a drink, do whatever it wants to do really. (laughs) Standing out in the audience that would certainly look quite impressive? Yes, they'll be going what's he doing? He's drinking with his left hand, he's not playingBut no one has asked for their money back. I'm surprised as they want to see something. And as Jim said in Miami, what did you come here for? You came here to see something, didn't you? Well you know we play music, we're a rock and roll band that plays pretty good music but that's not what you want. You want to see something. Something that maybe you've never seen before. Oh I've got an idea. How about if I show you my cock! Would you like to see that? And that was what went on. So today Robby and I go out with Riders On The Storm, and we play Doors songs and new compositions. And Brett Scallions from Fuel is the new singer replacing Ian Astbury who has retired back to The Cult. So how do you and Robby approach your own parts within the context of the band? If Robby is playing a solo I comp and if I'm applying a solo Robby will comp you know. How do were decide who plays the solo? Well a fist fight ensures and I will win but sometimes Robby will pull out his bottleneck and sort of slash me in the calf with it and I will go okay you take the solo. (laughs)
"I do hear a lot of Ray Manzarek keyboard licks being played."
How did The Doors go about capturing their sound in the studio? I don't know I suppose you would need to ask the dead producer but I suppose that is impossible. Or maybe Bruce Botnick would know. We usually placed the mike in front of the Fender amp, right up close to the speaker and if we had two speakers we would do the same thing. But if we were doing some sort of reverb or vibrato that went between speaker and speaker then we would move the mike a little bit further away. I just always used to say just make it sound round and fat and rich. The first couple of days in the recording were all about just trying to get the right sound. And then we would move onto the recording. Poor John, man they put him through his paces. It was a lot easier to get the right guitar sound and the keyboards but for John, it was a tedious process that would take him hours. So much so that the end of the first day he would be exhausted from just trying to get the drum sounds. It was decidedly hard on him but it was all worth it in the end. How do you still manage to build a necessary 'edge' into a live performance and prevent yourselves from becoming jaded? When Jim was alive we didn't play too many gigs. We never did the 60 city tour, the most cities we ever had on one tour was a 20 city tour. We usually go out and play three or four gigs at a time and go home. So it was always fresh, always exciting and always improvisational. So you'd keep it fresh by being an improvisational band. The 20 city tour, the very first gig of that 20 city tour was actually Miami. And that was it man, that tour lasted one gig. They cancelled and cancelled all of them over the country. It was the true domino effect. Do you ever think that the cult of Jim Morrison overshadows the other band member's contribution to The Doors? If it does, who cares? And if it does, I guess you're not really a music fan, you're sort of a personality fan, a fan of the leather pants and the penis. At the end of the day as long they enjoy the music. Whatever it takes to get them into the music, be an intellectual, be a poet, be a young person coming up and discovering The Doors for the first time or whether it'll be guys or girls so inclined to be in love with Jim Morrison's bulge, as long as they get into the music at some point or another. That's the main thing. And get into Jim's poetry. Jim always said, just listen to the words man, just listen to the words. 2007 Joe Matera
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