Friday, July 10, 2009

Other Voices

In March of 1973, I had the good fortune to interview Ray Manzarek, keyboardist and sometime bass player of The Doors. Having lost Jim Morrison on July 3, 1971, the remaining band members had persevered as a trio, releasing two LPs, “Other Voices” and “Full Circle.” When I sat down with Ray, he, guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore were in London on a search for a new singer. Manzarek, who had just turned 34 in February, looked like a hipper John Denver, with shoulder length, reddish-brown hair and round glasses. Wearing dark purple slacks, a black button down shirt and a dapper white sport coat with robin’s egg blue stripes, Manzarek was quite relaxed as we began.

JK: Belated Happy Birthday. I noticed you share a birthday with Charles Darwin.

RM: True and I’m always trying to evolve.

JK: That’s a good segue, actually. Can you give some glimpse into what it has been like for the band since Jim’s death?

RM: I would prefer not to dwell on that. Jim had left for Paris in March of ’71, saying that he wouldn’t be back, that his rock star days were over. We didn’t necessarily believe that. A few weeks before he died, Jim rang John and asked how “L.A. Woman” was doing. His concern for album sales didn’t sound like the kind of question a retired rock singer would ask. (Laughs)

JK: So, you expected him to return to the States?

RM: After that conversation, yeah, we all did. It was a shock when we heard the news, but he’s not totally gone. Jim is always with us – in the air, in our music.

JK: But you didn’t break up.

RM: No, we didn’t. We had been working on songs that would be ready for Jim’s vocals when he came back, so we just moved forward. That became “Other Voices.” We had the good sense not to replace Jim at first. It was weird from our point of view, especially when Robby and I sang. We’d fight about whose voice was worse! Jim as a person was impossible to replace, but we thought, well, anyone can be a rock and roll singer. It turned out to be a little harder than that.

JK: How hard?

RM: As I said, you don’t replace all that Jim Morrison was. He was so much more than a singer. He really represented The Doors. You know, The Who could go on without Roger Daltrey, because Pete Townshend writes the tunes and is a great singer. Look at The Stones. They didn’t skip a beat when Brian Jones died. I think Led Zeppelin could exist without Robert Plant. To me, it’s their music that resonates, not the vocals. Not so with the Doors. The three of us are still producing Doors music, but, let’s be honest; it’s not a complete package without a vital singer. So, almost two years later, we are searching for identity.

JK: You guys sound great, both on the two records and live.

RM: I believe we are a much better band without Jim. That sounds terrible, but it’s true. Musically, we can stretch out. Inviting jazz musicians like Charles Lloyd to play with us is a good example. [Lloyd played flute and tenor saxophone on “Full Circle”.] We still need to find ourselves in that context. Clearly, singing is a weakness.

As if on cue, Paul McCartney walks in and pulls up a chair. His hair is identical in style to Manzarek’s, though darker. Still the same “Cute One” a decade after The Beatles exploded on the English scene, Paul wears a black button down shirt as well, collars flared over a red, white and black striped sweater and wide bell-bottom blue jean. He joins the interview.

JK: Right on time. Paul, Ray was just commenting on his weakness as a singer.

PM: Well, he’s alright, actually. Don’t be so humble.

JK: Can you talk about how you and Ray came to meet?

PM: I always liked the Doors and was sorry I missed them at Isle of Wight. It was a few months after the breakup and I wasn’t in a good place. But their music has always been cool. And how did the Doors feel about Paul McCartney, Ray?

RM: Paul and I have spoken about this. It’s funny, but while we thought the Beatles were incredible, it was the Stones that made me and Jim think we could play rock. Sorry, Paul. Actually, that may be a compliment. I will say this. We all knew that we came in at the tail end of the British Invasion, and that The Beatles had done it and made it easier for people like us.

JK: Which brings us nicely to the point. Ray, what brought the band to London?

RM: As I mentioned, it was clear we needed to find a new front man. We couldn’t go on with me and Robby. So we figured let’s go to London and find someone. We thought about Joe Cocker- he’s a great singer. Iggy Pop came up. Do you know him? From the Stooges? Really raw and onstage he’s kinda like Jim, way out there. We were talking about singers we liked and Robby loved Little Richard. He said “that’s rock power.” That’s when I thought, what about Paul McCartney? Besides singing better than all of us he is the best bass player around and I won’t have to play bass anymore. We’d be like Lennon, musically at least, and provide that darkness and edge. So I called Paul and I was happy he agreed to come by and talk.

JK: Paul, what did you think when Ray called?

PM: I had just left a band, hadn’t I? Wings was just taking off and sales were very good. The Wings tour went well, but, not to take the piss out of the band, I realized I needed a better sound. I love Linda, but she doesn’t really want to be in the band, onstage, and Ray is a much better player.

RM: I would have to agree with that.

PM: Still love you honey. Anyway, as I said, sales were great, “McCartney” was a number one, “Ram” a number two. “Uncle Albert” a number one as well, but something was missing.

JK: The rock press was pretty rough to you.

PM: Definitely, definitely, and while I could handle the bum notices, it certainly stings. You know, I’m not really rubbish, am I? After a while one does doubt one’s self. Even after “My Love” came out a week or so ago and started selling, the press was devastating. “Sappy” and “The worst qualities of McCartney” are two of the nicest things I’ve read. Though I have an album coming out next month, I thought it may be time for something different, and that’s when Ray called.

JK: And you joined, just like that?

RM: He did.

PM: I did. I do have the freedom to do what I want. Someone’s knocking on your door, you let them in, right. (Laughs)

RM: It’s nice for us as a group. Playing with Jim had its joy and its sorrow. There’s was a show at the Concertgebouw in ’68 when Jim was so drunk he passed out and the paramedics took him away. At least with Paul, we have a pro who makes performing less stressful. Plus, he’ll keep his pants on.

PM: Now, Ray, you don’t know that for sure.

JK: The Doors sound and the Paul McCartney sound don’t necessarily mesh. How will that work?

PM: Look, it’ll be fine. Don’t forget I wrote songs like “Helter Skelter.” I have my dark side.

RM: And The Doors had a variety of sounds. Paul showed us a new song about a band running from the law that’s musically adventurous and lyrically interesting. It will be easy to create a group sound.

JK: I have one last question - the name.

RM: We haven’t gotten to that yet.

PM: That’s not a question!

In March of 1973, the three remaining Doors arrived in London to search for a new singer. Thoughts turned to Joe Cocker, Iggy Pop, and Howard Werth (of Audience). Then, Ray Manzarek suggested Paul McCartney. None of these suggestions bore fruit. London that month was frigid, and blackouts were commonplace. The end of winter brought constant cold and rain and it didn’t help the mood of the band when their hotel shut off the heat at night. After an argument about the group’s musical direction, Ray took his pregnant wife Dorothy back to the States. It was then that The Doors broke up for good.


  1. Another fun read. I had trouble remembering this never happened. What works best is Ray and Paul never sound pretentiously clever. It's just an off the cuff conversation.
    The one thing that made me suspicious though: I think that JK at 11, when this interview happened, would have asked sillier questions. Though "The Doors sound and the Paul McCartney sound don’t necessarily mesh. How will that work?" was laugh out loud funny.

  2. Well, not everyone knows I was 11 back then. This story got some of the best feedback from readers.

  3. Cuando ocurrio esa entrevista y en donde?

    1. Avila, it didn't happen. Maybe Baby is a series of fictional pieces. However, in The Doors book that the living members authorized, it is mentioned that they looked for new singers after Jim's death and Paul was one they thought would fit.