Originally published on VandOak.com (domain no longer active).
“Let’s Start A Rock’n’Roll Band and Make a Million Dollars”
A tribute to Ray Manzarek, who though passed away today, aged 74, has left a musical legacy that will continue to inspire and enchant many generations to come.
In his widely popular, and first of its kind, biography of Jim Morrison, the charismatic but reckless front man of The Doors, Jerry Hopkins relays the chance encounter that would lead to the formation of one of the most popular and influential bands the world has ever known.
Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison were acquainted through UCLA Film School, and their lives irrevocably crossed paths a few years later on LA’s Venice Beach. Jim reveals he’s been writing a few songs, Ray asks him to sing, and so the story goes:
Jim squatted down in the sand, Ray kneeled in front of him. Jim balanced himself with a hand to either side, squeezing the sand through his fingers, eyes clamped shut. He chose the first verse from ‘Moonlight Drive.’ The words were slow and careful.
Let’s swim to the moon/uh huh
Let’s climb through the tide
Penetrate the evenin’ that the
City sleeps to hide ….
When he finished, Ray said, “Those are the greatest song lyrics I’ve ever heard. Let’s start a rock’n’roll band and make a million dollars.”
Quoted from No One Here Gets Out Alive by Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugerman
Jim Morrison’s evocative way with words and enthralling stage presence was the catalyst would that attract loyal legions of fans and give the band its timeless, iconic status. Morrison also came up with the name of the band, basing it on Aldous Huxley’s account of taking the hallucinogenic Mescaline, titled The Doors of Perception. Morrison was the poet, the wild, tumultuous front man. But Ray Manzarek was the rock. He was the driving force that pushed Morrison to form the band. In the early days when a shy and self-conscious Morrison was keeping his back turned to the audience, it was Manzerak who urged him to turn around.
And whilst Morrison’s lyrics draw you in (influenced as they are by philosophers such as Nietzsche and Plutarch, and counter-culture writers such as Jack Kerouac and Franz Kafka), arguably the most instantly recognizable aspects of The Doors’ songs were the catchy licks arranged by Manzarek, the great organ instrumentals that give many of the songs their lease of life.
The 1967 single Light My Fire was The Doors’ first number one hit, selling over a million records and catapulting the band to stardom. Were it not for Manzarek’s focused ambition, his incredible musical talents not to mention that organ solo on their first hit single, The Doors might have remained just a whisper of an idea, the musings of a dreamer on Venice Beach.