A quick Google search confirmed the terrible news that The Doors keyboardist had passed away on May 20 in Germany while seeking treatment for bile duct cancer.
By virtue of my mid-'50s birth, I am an actual child of the '60s and the parade of my musical heroes joining the choir invisible has seemed to pick up the pace here in the new millennium. So many have fallen, it's difficult to keep track.
My dear friend Rob, a high school bud from my Michigan hometown, has for years sent out emails with the name of a recently deceased musician in the subject line, which has led those of us in our immediate circle to refer to him as The Reaper. A few years back, he sent us an update about a new Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album and from his simple subject notation I came to the horrifying conclusion that Tom and the boys had gone down like Lynyrd Skynyrd.Fortunately, that was not the case.
Rob was in the midst of trying to send us all a message from his phone about Ray's passing when he got my email. He hates it when I scoop him, but this was not a scoop that I could lord over The Reaper. This was as devastating as a death in the family.
I teared up a few weeks ago when my comedy hero Jonathan Winters died and it was the same when Ray's death became a verifiable fact. Ray Manzarek wasn't simply one of the thousands of musicians who I greatly admire. He was the guy who made me listen to music.
My earliest exposure to Rock came, oddly enough, via The Ed Sullivan Show. For you youngsters, Sullivan was a well-connected entertainment reporter who wound up hosting radio shows in the late '20s and emceeing theater revues in the '30s and '40s which led to one of the first television variety shows, Toast of the Town, in 1948. Eventually renamed after its stiff but brilliantly intuitive host and talent booker, The Ed Sullivan Show occupied the Sunday-at-8 p.m. slot for 23 years.
Sullivan didn't care for Rock & Roll, but he knew teenagers were viewers and would attract advertisers, so he began booking the artists that would become the foundation of Rock in the '60s. I saw The Beatles on the Sullivan show in 1964, when I was 7 years old — I liked the music but I distinctly remember thinking, "I wish those girls would stop screaming so I can hear it." By the following year, The Beatles became a cartoon series and largely stopped being real people in my comic-book-obsessed head.
Sgt. Pepper changed that in 1967. So much changed in 1967.
The catalyst for all that change was The Doors' appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in September of that magic year. I didn't know anything about the band beyond its interesting name. I always watched Sullivan for the bands (although I was just as intrigued by the plate spinners, magicians and comics; George Carlin was an early favorite), so I looked forward to it as much as any of the others who had displayed their wares for Sullivan's audience.
Until The Doors' hypnotic vibe came pouring out of the tinny speaker in my grandparents' old black-and-white Zenith, music had been little more than an accessory in my life. I didn't follow music or collect it or pay much attention to it beyond checking it out on the occasional TV program (Sullivan, Hullabaloo, Shindig, sometimes American Bandstand on a rainy Saturday). The bands were fun and interesting to watch — by then I'd seen The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Dave Clark 5 (whose big beat, roiling Farfisa organ and frenetic guitar hooked me more than most) and many more — but I had not yet been infected with the Rock virus.
That September evening, I camped out in front of the TV to see what Sullivan had in store before The Doors played the final segment. There were the standard array of variety acts that made Sullivan a star in his own right and there was a sweaty, bug-eyed comic who was pretty funny (it turned out to be Rodney Dangerfield, making his TV debut).
At commercial, I ran into the kitchen, probably for a chocolate chip cookie stack, and when I got back to the living room, there was Ed, arms folded across his chest, ramrod straight as if a stagehand had shoved a mop handle up his ass all the way to the base of his skull.
"Now, The Doors...here they are with their newest hit record, 'People Are Strange.' "
The insistent lope of the first single from The Doors' sophomore album, Strange Days (which was still a week away from being released), emanated from the television and I stood staring at the set, afraid to sit down for fear of missing something. In two brief minutes, I was galvanized, pulverized and mesmerized, between Robbie Krieger's three note guitar intro, Ray Manzarek's circus organ, John Densmore's shuffling beat and Jim Morrison's trance-like presence. The best was yet to come.
Without a break, The Doors — with dozens of actual doors forming a backdrop — segued straight into their real hit, "Light My Fire," which had come out just after the first of the year. When I heard Ray's masterful intro, I remembered having heard a bit of it on the car radio before my father changed the station, presumably to get away from it.
For the first time in my life, I got music.
"Light My Fire" seeped into my DNA and I went through what seemed like an alchemical transformation, touched by the philosopher's stone of The Doors' cryptic groove. It felt like every molecule in my body had changed places with every other molecule in my body. Outwardly, I looked no different. Inwardly, I was not and would never be the same.
Morrison was clearly a compelling figure onstage as he writhed without seeming to move to any great degree — and the emphasis when the word "fire" erupted from his throat was hair-raising — but it was Ray Manzarek who commanded my attention. I kept wanting the camera to get back to Ray so I could watch his hands and see how they corresponded to that transdimensional sound he was creating. Morrison's smoldering role in The Doors' passion play was clearly evident, but Ray's position was so much more subversive and fascinating to me.
By the time the Doors completed the two-and-a-half minute single version of "Light My Fire," I was paralyzed (the first time I heard the long version, probably a few months after the Sullivan show, my head nearly exploded). It was the first time I can remember thinking, "Play something else. Play that thing over. Play someone else's song. Just do that to me again."
From that moment on, I pursued music. I found the cool radio stations that played Rock and Pop and began paying strict attention. Motown had already been in full swing for a few years and that sound got its hooks into me as well. I kept an eye out for a repeat Sullivan performance by The Doors but it never happened; little did I know at the time that Ed and CBS executives had told the band to change the "girl, we couldn't get much higher" lyric in "Light My Fire" because of its possible drug connotation, which Morrison agreed to do and then either defiantly or nervously forgot. Sullivan was furious and reportedly shouted at the band after the show, "You'll never do the Sullivan show again," to which Morrison allegedly replied, "Hey, we just did the Sullivan show."
Over the next four years, my reverence for The Doors grew exponentially and I continued to be captivated by everything they attempted. I was not deterred by what some critics deemed inferior songs on Waiting for the Sun and The Soft Parade, and the epic tales of Morrison's booze-and-drug consumption merely added to his mythic status. Only his conviction for public indecency was worrisome, from the standpoint that a jail term could have stopped them from recording and touring.
I was not even dissuaded when I realized that Ray was only four years younger than my father.
After its April 1971 release, L.A. Woman became the soundtrack for the end of my sophomore year in high school and the beginning of my 14th summer. On July 3, 1971, my stepbrother Rick and I were listening to WVIC in Lansing when we heard the news of Morrison's death from a supposed heart attack in Paris, where he had decamped just after the release of L.A. Woman.
I was devastated, but I thought, "At least it wasn't Ray."
After Rick and I discussed what we thought were the band's possible options for a while, I sat down with pen and paper and wrote a letter to the surviving Doors, imploring them not to quit in the wake of their terrible tragedy. I told them, "You can't quit. It's not what Jim would have wanted, it's not what we want and, if you're honest with yourselves, it's not what you want."
I found a Doors fan address in one of my Rock mags and mailed the letter off a few days later. (I would send an eerily similar letter to the Allman Brothers four months later, just after the death of Duane Allman; those are the only two fan letters I have ever sent).
A few weeks later, I received a hand-signed form letter from Danny Sugerman, who was The Doors' second manager, which stated that the band appreciated their fans' concern and best wishes and they were definitely staying together and working on a new album that would be released in the fall.
Other Voices was an amazing album, although critics generally hated it. I looked at as if it were a Ray Manzarek solo album; from that perspective it was great. The following year, they pushed even further into Jazz territory on Full Circle and then decided to officially end The Doors. Ray began his real solo career with The Golden Scarab in 1973, followed by 1974's The Whole Thing Started With Rock and Roll, Now It's Out of Control.
Scarab was magnificent (particularly the unhinged instrumental, "The Moorish Idol," the first song I heard from the album on a college radio station), as it offered up serious musical chops but also something that Morrison found difficult to achieve; whimsy and humor. Out of Control was aptly named as it was slightly chaotic, but it was Ray so I found plenty of ways to love it. I still do.
After that, Ray took a zig-zag approach to his solo career. An Electronic Rock version of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana," a collaboration with Phillip Glass, was extremely cool, but his work after that was sporadic at best. He did a couple of cool albums in the late '70s with his new band, Nite City, and he produced the first three X albums in the early '80s (their version of "Soul Kitchen" is harrowing).
As an artist, Ray tended to stick to collaborative situations (although he did release a true solo album in 2006, an instrumental set of originals titled Love Her Madly, presumably the soundtrack to a B-movie he wrote, directed and starred in). In recent years, he had done a couple of albums with slide guitarist Roy Rogers, including the blazingly excellent Translucent Blues in 2011. And of course, he and Krieger famously pissed off John Densmore when they relaunched The Doors, first as Riders on the Storm, then as the 21st Century Doors and then, due to legal acquiescence, as Manzarek/Krieger.
The fact is, with Doors record sales topping 100 million worldwide, Ray could do whatever he wanted to do, for as long as he wanted to do it and he did just that. But it could be equally argued that Ray did exactly what he wanted in The Doors as well, because that gothic Rock sound didn't exist before The Doors' debut album in 1967. While many tried to replicate it in the aftermath of their staggering success, no one could quite master the formula of Morrison's shamanic poetry slam, Densmore's fluid pulse and Krieger's combination of Rock swagger and Jazz swing.
Most importantly, they could not fathom the incredible musical ability and intuition of Raymond Daniel Manzarek, and without that, there would be no Doors.
I would have come to Rock in some form or fashion; weeks after seeing The Doors on Sullivan, I heard Jimi Hendrix's "Foxey Lady" and "Purple Haze," yet another subatomic moment, and weeks after that was my first mindbending spin through Sgt. Pepper.
But it was all teed up because of The Doors and their singular keyboardist, the man who revealed the universe of music to a 10-year-old boy in Michigan and sent him on a pilgrimage to find more of the same, a journey that continues to this day with the same passion and dedication that marked its initial steps over half a century ago.
I would guess that my marching orders from Ray right now would be similar to those I offered to him and his grieving bandmates in 1971: Keep going, because it's what I want, it's what we want and, if you're honest with yourself, it's what you want.
Trouble Will Find Me, the new album from Cincinnati natives (now New York-based) Indie Rock crew The National, was released today in the U.S. on the 4AD label (it came out overseas yesterday). The band has already been busy with pre-promotion (profiles and reviews can be found from just about every major music press outlet), but now that the album's out, the real work starts.
The National kicked off what is certain to be several national television appearances in honor of the new release. Last night, the band played Late Night with David Letterman on CBS. Dave (who notoriously has pretty good taste in music) seemed to really dig the performance.
The National has already performed on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
Those with Sirius Satellite Radio can check out "The National: The Radio Show," on all this week from 5-6 p.m. (with replays at 11 p.m.); a live session will also be aired on Sirius all week, as well as The National's June 5, 9 p.m. appearance at the Brooklyn Nets' arena, the Barclays Center.
The National also kick off an international tour this weekend; besides Turkey, Croatia and Luxembourg, the group is playing several major music fests in the States, including Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo and Cincinnati's own Bunbury Music Festival (July 14; get tickets here). The band is also playing Columbus, Ohio, in a few weeks — June 15 at LC Pavilion.
• British Indie stars Foals perform tonight at Bogart's in Corryville. Showtime is 8 p.m. With a dancey, atmospheric New Wave vibe (sort of a modern, more Math Rock-informed version of Talking Heads), Foals took off quickly in the U.K.; the band's 2008 debut, Antidotes, reached No. 3 on the U.K. album charts and Foals were nominated for a Mercury Prize and several NME Awards based on 2010's acclaimed Total Life Forever. The band is currently supporting the especially strong Holy Fire, released earlier this year in the States on Warner Brothers Records (the first two came out on Sub Pop in the U.S.). Read CityBeat's preview of the show here. Here's a clip for the Holy Fire track, "Inhaler."
Joining the band is L.A. Indie poppers Blondfire and Florida Indie rockers Surfer Blood, who provided one of the highlights of the 2010 MidPoint Music Festival in Cincinnati. The band is gearing up for the release of its major label debut for Warner Bros., Pythons, the follow-up to the fantastic 2010 release, Astro Coast, an engaging melange of classic modern Indie Rock influence. Pythons is due June 11. Here's the new album track "Demon Dance":
Surfer Blood is also doing a free in-store performance at Northside's Shake It Records this afternoon. The group is slated to play at 3 pm.
• Composer/saxophonist Colin Stetson performs this evening at downtown's Contemporary Arts Center. The show starts at 8 p.m. with special guest Sarah Neufeld, violinist for Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre. Her debut solo album, Hero Brother, is due this August; here's the title track:
Stetson is supporting his latest release, New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light; adding to Stetson's compelling soundscapery on the album is Justin Vernon of Bon Iver (Stetson is a member of that band, as well), who provides vocals on four songs. Stetson's appearance at the CAC tonight is his first in Cincinnati since the 2010 MusicNOW fest.
Read CityBeat's interview with Stetson here and check out this video, which features the new album's "In Mirrors" and "And In Truth":
If you're craving some solid live music, it's a surprisingly busy Monday night in the area clubs. Besides the always entertaining Insane Clown Posse's return to Bogart's tonight, here are a few other offerings:
• Los Angeles-based The Lonely Wild plays a free show tonight at MOTR Pub in Over-the-Rhine. Showtime is 10 p.m.
The Indie Folk ensemble formed just three short years ago, quickly becoming a favorite on the L.A. club circuit. The group's momentum has only increased since; the Wild's recently released debut full-length, The Sun As It Comes, has been garnering strong reviews and national radio's embrace of it gets stronger by the day. The band is also known for its entertaining, energized live show, which is helping The Lonely Wild grow its fan base rapidly on its current cross-country headlining tour. Read CityBeat's preview of tonight's show here.
Have a listen to The Sun As It Comes in full:
And here is The Lonely Wild performing live in L.A. late last year:
• It's an "Up-and-coming Indie Folk band" kind of night in Cincy this evening, as The Comet in Northside welcomes Denver crew Paper Bird. Austin, Texas-based Indie folkers Dana Falconberry open at 10 p.m.
With an exuberant, modern mesh of Roots and Americana, Paper Bird recently released its fourth LP, Rooms, the follow-up to its 2011 score for a collaboration with the Ballet Nouveau Colorado called Carry On. The seven-piece band's compelling sound has gotten Paper Bird featured on NPR's All Things Considered and in a New York Times piece earlier this year about Denver's blossoming music scene (which includes breakthrough, Grammy-nominated Folk Pop act The Lumineers, a tour mate of Paper Bird's).
Here's the music video for "As I Am," the first single off of Paper Bird's Rooms:
• Justin Furstenfeld, known for his emotional, honest songwriting in the band Blue October, brings his solo tour — dubbed "Open Book: An Evening with Justin Furstenfeld" — to Oakley's 20th Century Theatre tonight for an 8 p.m. show. Tickets are $25 at the door. Texas Indie Pop singer/songwriter Ashleigh Stone opens.
Furstenfeld's bipolar disorder has resulted in some highly open-hearted, sometimes excruciatingly bleak songs, something documented in his book, Crazy Making, detailing the origins of each Blue October song in words and music. The Open Book tour features Furstenfeld performing acoustically and talking about his songs (don't fear a total gloom fest; the singer/songwriter also has a sharp sense of humor). Check out CityBeat's preview of tonight's show here.
Here is Furstenfeld performing live at the Open Book tour's stop in Santa Ana, Calif., from early April:
Click here for even more live show in Greater Cincinnati tonight.
Florence, Ky., Hip Hop artist Trademark Aaron has released a stellar new music video for his track, "Faith," which will be included on his next EP, For the People.
The track — featuring a great vocal hook sung by Koren Jackson —keeps in line with Trademark Aaron's overall positive approach heard on previous releases like the full-length, Prelude to Greatness (which you can download for free here). But it's hardly cheery. The song is about keeping hope when everything around you looks bleak and the music video visuals masterfully mirror that concept. Directed by Dan Gotti, the clip is one of the best you'll see by a "local act" — it's highly professional looking, often resembling something from a movie.
You can check out more of Aaron's videos at his YouTube page and keep an eye on TrademarkAaron.com and his official Facebook page for show dates and info on the release of the For the People EP. For even more, you can also read CityBeat's interview with Trademark Aaron from last year.
The Cincinnati-born, Brooklyn-based members of Indie Rock sensations The National recently announced details about their first new album since 2010's High Violet, Trouble WIll Find Me. The album is due in the U.S. on May 21 on the 4AD label. (Click here for the album cover, track listing and more National news.)
Today, The National unleashed the first song from Trouble, the warm, crawling "Demons." Check the tune and a video for it below.
UPDATE: Today (April 11), The National released audio of the first single from Trouble Will Find Me, "Don't Swallow the Cap." Check it out:
The National perform a homecoming show on July 14, headlining the final night of the three-day Bunbury Music Festival at Sawyer Point Park. For tickets and more info, click here.
Cincinnati Pop/Rock band BoyMeetsWorld returns to the Madison Theater in Covington Friday to celebrate its debut EP, Do What’s Best For You. The band is co-headlining the show with fellow Cincy Pop Rock/Punk crew Radio Rescue, which is releasing its newest effort, the band’s sophomore EP, The Soundtrack to Second Place.
Radio Rescue’s Pop Rock has some of the power of Hardcore and Metal (particularly in the blazing drum work and some of the chunky guitar riffing) and occasional gang and/or screamed vocals. Adding another unique element is the prominent use of synthesizer, which gives the band’s sound a bonus texture. While that description might make Radio Rescue’s sound come off like a mismatched mess, it’s impressive how cohesive and focused the band’s upbeat and endearing sound is, with its just-right mix of power crunch, synth squiggles and sweet hooks.
Here is Radio Rescue's video for new EP track "If Loose Lips Sink Ships, Then You're The Titanic."
BoyMeetsWorld was formed just last summer by three brothers: Craig (singer) and Ryan (drummer) Sulken, who are twins, plus older brother Brad Sulken (bass). Guitarists Pat Bryant and Drew Richter round out the band. In its first year as a group, BoyMeetsWorld took home the first-place prize at the Battle of the Bands hosted by Forest Park teen club, The Underground.
The band has a knack for strong Pop hooks and an overall uplifting vibe. Songs like “Head Up High” and “Girl In Front” are best described as Power Pop, written with a maturity and craftiness of a band on their third or fourth album, not first EP. Bryant and Richter offer up some compelling guitar interplay, while the Sulken rhythm section is reminiscent of the high-flying telepathy of Fall Out Boy’s. Meanwhile, singer Craig’s high, earnest vocal approach works especially well in the context of the band’s youthful anthems.
Here is a lyric video for BMW's new EP track, "Girl in Front."
Friday’s co-release show at the Madison Theater also includes opening acts Aristo, Canoes, Ready to Live and The Sweet Addiction. The event is open to all ages and doors open at 6 p.m. Showtime is 7 p.m. Cover is $10 at the door.
A pair of Cincinnati Hip Hop acts have recently released music videos showcasing new material. Both are compelling, well-produced clips for solid new tracks.
Alternative Hip Hop group Valley High issued the video for "That One Too" at the start of the month. The clip was directed by SnowRowe (who plays keys in the group) and, according to the YouTube page, the track is from the Valley High or Die Tape, due for release today. The group is fronted by MCs Moxy Monster and M.O. Click here for more on Valley High.
Last year, area MC Puck released the high-pro video for "Gitit," the latest of several clips. Now, Puck has returned with a new track and video that's perhaps his strongest yet. "Jordan Vs. Bird" is built around a hook from a remix of the band Grouplove's song "Colours." The video was directed by Dan Gotti. Puck is offering a free download of the track via his Soundcloud page here. Find out more about Puck here.