Ray Manzarek, the keyboardist and founding member of the legendary rock band The Doors died today at 74 after a long battle with bile duct cancer. The Chicago-born musician co-founded The Doors after meeting then-poet Jim Morrison while film students at UCLA in 1965. And the group -- along with drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger -- went on to become one of the 1960s' most successful and enduring rock 'n' roll bands, thanks to hits such as "Break On Through" and the Manzarek-centric "Light My Fire."
Soundcheck host John Schaefer has this remembrance.
Ray Manzarek may have played in the considerable shadow cast by singer Jim Morrison, but fans of The Doors knew that the band’s unique sound was a two-part invention. This is not to slight guitarist Robbie Krieger or drummer John Densmore, but let's face it, every band had a guitarist and a drummer. The Doors had Morrison's dark and moody voice, and the kaleidoscope of keyboards that Manzarek played.
I always thought that the first time I ever heard a harpsichord was on The Doors’ version of Kurt Weill’s "Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)." But it turns out Manzarek was even more inventive -- that's actually a weird zither-mandolin-keyboard thing called a Marxophone. I am quite sure that the first time most of us ever heard a tack piano -- a saloon-style piano with a distinctly tinny, plunky sound -- was on their song "Love Her Madly." And the textures of songs like "The Crystal Ship," "L.A. Woman," and "People Are Strange" were so distinctive largely because of Manzarek's keyboard playing.
It wasn’t just that he played all the bass parts on the left-hand side of the keyboard; or that on, say, "People Are Strange," he weaves in with Krieger's guitar so brilliantly that I'm sure I'm not the only one who thought there was just a wall of electric guitars leading the way. The electric organ was widely used and nowadays can sound pretty dated, but in his hands it somehow ended up sounding both surprising and, in the next instant, inevitable.
I did not know Manzarek well enough to make a blanket statement about his long post-Doors career -- we spoke a couple of times, though never on the air -- but he seemed to have made his peace with the fact that his career was likely to always be defined by The Doors' eight-year run from 1965-73.
In the early 1980s he and Philip Glass had done a rock version of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, the stomping piece of choral music now used in so many horror movies and over-the-top TV ads; it was neither musician’s finest hour. On paper, it was a good idea, but they seemed so intent on rockin’ what was already a pretty rockin’ orchestral work that it sounded, to me at least, strained and cheesy.
But when I interviewed him in 2002 with the pianist George Winston, he had agreed to do a show of two-piano arrangements of The Doors' catalog. On paper, this could’ve been a disastrous idea. The two-piano Doors tunes, though, were pretty neat, mostly because they didn’t try to do "piano rock" and instead just presented the songs for what they were: namely, well-constructed pieces of pop music with a genuine melodic flair.
In this episode: Director Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel features a soundtrack packed with rap and hip hop. Wall Street Journal contributor
And: Hip hop mixes with funk and punk when the Oakland, California-based group
ARTIST: Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys
DOWNLOAD: "My Side of the Mountain."
SHOW: Monday at St. Mazie (no cover)
First came the traditional sounds of American bluegrass. Then there was the punky, uptempo sounds of new-grass. Now the Michigan band known as Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys would like to bring you something they've called 'Lou Grass.' It’s their blend of expert picking, country swing and pop.
In this episode: We spin some of our favorite recent performances recorded in the Soundcheck studio -- including those from the folk-pop band Ivan and Alyosha, string quartet Brooklyn Rider, rapper Talib Kweli, and electro-pop musician Jamie Lidell.
Hear something you like? Check out the full sessions with each artist or band by clicking on the links below.
DOWNLOAD: "Warm Spell"
SHOW: Friday at Bowery Ballroom ($18)
Sinkane is the musical project of the Sudan-born, Ohio-bred musician Ahmed Gallab. He got his start drumming for bands like Yeasayer and Of Montreal, but last year, he struck out on his own. His 2012 debut as Sinkane is a hooky blend of East African soul, bright indie pop and dance-ready electronic grooves.
Summer may not officially begin until June 20th, but the race is officially on for song of the season. A great summer jam should be hooky, escapist, and also great for blasting and belting along to -- all qualities that turn up in this new song from the Brooklyn-based synth-pop duo of Paul Hammer and Deidre Muro as Savoir Adore.
Since 2007, Savoir Adore have poured their fantastical themes into dreamy beds of sound. Their latest, "Beating Hearts," is a fizzy, wistfully catchy gem of a song that will accompany the re-release of the band's most recent full length, Our Nature, on June 4th...just in time for summer.
ARTIST: Charles Bradley
DOWNLOAD: "Strictly Reserved For You"
SHOW: Thursday at The Apollo ($32.25)
When Charles Bradley released his debut album in 2011, the story was about the Brooklyn singer’s perseverance through a life of poverty and struggle -- and his against-all-odds success at the age of 62. Now, the so-called Screaming Eagle of Soul has released a slow burning, and at times introspective follow-up called “Victim of Love.”
Last week, I spoke with band manager Christen Greene, a former Division I basketball player who left athletics for the music business. In her words, Greene "fell out of love" with basketball; the demands on her time and energy eventually outweighed the thrill and competition of games. Falling out of love is as good a reason as any to leave a highly demanding career. However, for some athletes, the choice to leave sports can be one their bodies or their body politic makes for them.
Former NFL offensive lineman Brian Barthelmes is the frontman of the indie-folk band Tallahassee. After growing up in rural Ohio -- between Cleveland and Pittsburgh -- Barthelmes landed a scholarship to the University of Virginia. He red-shirted his first year, then started the next four years on the offensive line. Picked up as a free agent after the 2006 draft, Barthelmes signed with the New England Patriots as a center and swing guard. After spending parts of the next two seasons on the Patriots practice squad, Barthelmes made the decision to move on from football.
"I was never a big fan of football culture, nor big business," he says. "The moving and life style were aiding in some of my mental illness problems. I decided to take a year off to sort out my health and then decided to stay out of the game."
Given that statement, it makes sense that a life as an independent musician would be so appealing and prove more satisfying. As Barthelmes further explained, being a musician has created a more healthful, creative, and fufilling environment for him than professional sports. But unsurprisingly, he's brought a few things he learned in his football career to life with his band: A pre-show ritual of stretching, the practice of practice, and a love of men singing close-harmony in the shower.
Erin McKeown: Why did you stop playing football?
Brian Barthelmes: I think in retrospect it was the nature of the institution, my own values, and my mental illness. Someone who has mental health troubles should not be bashing their head into other people's heads daily. That is not a prescription for health.
I am a creative by nature, and in football, there isn't some much time for creative growth. For my particular needs, I have to devote a large part of my person to creating, whether it be visual art, sound art, bridging communities, reading, thinking, etc. Professional football (and I would assume all professional athletics) is all consuming. It is a delight for those who are fulfilled by that work, but it wasn't fulfilling enough for me. I compromised [my needs] for money and an incorrect interpretation of the term "stability." I took the scariest plunge ever by quitting football.
I really miss a lot of my friends and the culture of a large team. You have guys from all walks of life who all get each other because they have been a part of this intense institution forever. It's extreme, but you can't get it if you haven't seen 80 of your co-workers naked daily. You become so used to that reality that vocal harmonies in a shared shower seem totally normal.
In this episode: Louder Than Hell bills itself as “the definitive oral history of metal” and boasts 250 interviews with key players. Editors
Plus: Actor and longtime musician
And: British soul singer
Also: a profile of Radiation City, the dream pop quintet whose upcoming album is streaming in our Check Ahead this week.
ARTIST: Dori Caymmi
SHOW: Wednesday at Birdland ($40)
Dori Caymmi is a Grammy-winning composer, guitarist and vocalist from Brazil. His influences run wide -- from the French composer Debussy to American jazz musician Miles Davis. But one of Dori Caymmi’s biggest influences was his father -- the late bossa nova pioneer Dorival Caymmi. Tonight, the son pays tribute to his father.