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Roadhouse Blues for Ray Manzarek

Roy Rogers of John Lee Hooker's band joins ex-Doors star onstage



    If you know the Doors, then you know the story: Ray Manzarek was the guy who went to UCLA Film School with Jim Morrison. The pair ran into each other on Venice Beach, where Morrison sang Manzarek “Moonlight Drive” after some prompting, and the rest is, literally, history.
    If you don’t know much about the Doors, then Ray Manzarek is the tall, blond one, the one with those crazy mutton chops who spends most of whatever clips you’ve seen of the band with his face down to the keyboard, one hand playing the bass line and one hand playing the rhythm; the well-spoken one with the spectacles.

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    Well, these days, Mr. Manzarek is still playing the blues, but now he’s doing it with former John Lee Hooker guitarist Roy Rogers. The pair will be at the Belly Up Wednesday night, playing cuts from their latest record, The Translucent Blues.
    I recently talked with the rock & roll icon and discussed the past, present and future from his home in Northern California.
    Scott McDonald: How are you? On tour right now?
    Ray Manzarek: Very good, Scott. And, no. We are not on tour. We’re concluding the year with a few gigs; it’s not a tour. We both live in California, and we’re doing a few dates here. We’ll be in Petaluma -- a small Northern California town -- and then we’re heading down to San Diego and L.A. That’s the tour.
    SM: And you’re playing with your friend Roy Rogers.
    RM: Yes. It makes things pretty easy. And we’re friends because we share a philosophical and political outlook on life. But more than anything, we both just love the blues.
    SM: I spoke with [Doors guitarist] Robby [Krieger] not too long ago when you guys were performing as Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger Play the Music of the Doors and …
    RM: Isn’t that just a horrible name? It’s just terrible. It’s so long. Who could remember all of that? Anyway, sorry. You were saying …
    SM: Well, some people just get weird about talking about a band that ended so long ago, and you both seem so comfortable with talking about The Doors -- congrats on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, by the way.
    RM: Thanks. Of course. It was a great honor. We were very proud and very pleased. It was nice to be recognized that way, and it made us all very happy. But why wouldn’t we want to talk about the Doors? We are the Doors. We made the band, we made the music, and the Doors became very popular and famous. As you mentioned, we’re a Hall of Fame band. We certainly aren’t ashamed. There are a lot of people who say the old “aw, I don’t want to talk about it!” And I don’t understand that. I always talk about it. And that’s the way it should be. Why not? It’s what we did. Is Igor Stavinsky going to say, “Oh, I do not want to talk about the Rite of Spring! I will only talk about the new stuff?” Stravinsky wouldn’t do that. [Laughs] Rock & roll guys always get asked those questions and the classical guys do not. Somebody needs to ask Stravinsky, for heaven’s sake. [Laughs
    SM: How did you like [Tom DiCillo’s 2008 Doors documentary] When You’re Strange?
    RM: I thought it was great. It’s the Doors. It’s the antidote to the Oliver Stone movie. But if you watch both Tom’s movie and Oliver [Stone]’s movie, I think you get a pretty good picture of the band. You have this strange, overblown thing that Oliver Stone created, and you have the far more factual, but far less sensational, thing that Tom did. If you want that crazed, Dionysian, madness, then Oliver Stone is the guy for you. But Tom did paint a nice picture of us.
    SM: It’s pretty amazing that the Doors albums continue to do the kind of business they do year after year.
    RM: Well, on the one hand, it is kind of bizarre. But on the other, it’s pretty terrific [laughs]. It’s the realization of the goal we set out to accomplish in the first place. We really wanted to spread the music to the world. That was the whole point of it. We wanted to make this music, put it on disc and get those discs -- and the music on them -- out to the world. We wanted everyone in the world to hear this psychedelic, literary music from Venice Beach, Calif. But it was just a magical time. That whole '60s thing produced a lot of great artists -- Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, Stones, Doors, Bob Dylan -- you can just keep on going right down the list. A lot of great individuals and bands came out of that interesting era. It was an era of expanding consciousness -- cleansing the doors of perception. Open those damn things up. Open ‘em up!
    SM: Seems like, at least philosophically, things haven’t changed that much for you.
    RM: Well, you see, once those doors of perception are cleansed, they stay cleansed. Once you open the doors of perception, they stay open. Oddly enough, there is a certain mind of thought where you can enter the fourth dimension. We live in a three-dimensional world, but if you add that fourth dimension to it, that’s called cosmic consciousness. And that’s the point of it all. It’s as simple as that. That’s the whole point of being on planet Earth. Once you realize everything is one, that’s what it’s all about. Then, you just live your life. Nothing changes. Well, unless you become a right-wing fascist or something. You could always do that. I’m not sure why you’d want to, but some people have.
    SM: You wrote your memoir. Then you wrote The Poet In Exile about Jim. But Snake Moon is something completely different.
    RM: It is. It’s not about music at all. It’s a quick read, and, really, it’s a movie. The short chapters are scenes. It shouldn’t even say Chapter I; it should say Scene I. But then again, you never want to confuse people. But it’s a ghost story.
    SM: Easy transition from music to novels?
    RM: It’s just another hat you put on. It’s another uniform. It’s another compartment of the brain. You walk through one room of your brain into another one, and you become writer. I can’t paint [laughs]. So I don’t enter that room. But I do have some ideas about combining some photography and calligraphy, and I may or may not get to that someday. It’s really like batting left-handed or batting right-handed. You just step to the other side of the plate. But writing is much more laborious than making music. Music is a lot faster and a lot more physical. It’s fun, because you rock it out. Much more fun to sit in front of a keyboard than it is to hold a pencil in your hand or type. When you play music, your whole body is moving, and that’s the main difference.
    SM: What are you and Roy doing?
    We’re playing the blues, but it’s an advanced, stretched-out version of the blues. It does not conform to the 1-4-5 pattern. It’s based on lyrical structure done by some poets. Jim Carroll [Basketball Diaries] had given us some lyrics. Michael McClure did too, and he’s an actual beatnik that’s still walking the planet. Not many of those left. And let’s not forget Warren Zevon. Very important. He also gave me a few stanzas before he passed on. "A river of madness running through L.A." -- that’s Warren’s line. Anyway, so what we’ve done is we’ve taken poetry and adapted the blues to these great poets. And it came out super. We’ve expanded it. It’s moved into the 21st century. But we’re also always faithful to the foundation of the blues, but we’re expanding it into a new structure.
    SM: You still get lost in the music?
    RM: Sure. Absolutely. That never changes. If that ever diminishes, it’s time to stop playing live. And you can believe we’ll be smoking in San Diego.
    Blogger Scott McDonald covers music in San Diego for a few different publications and is the editor of