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.
The Cincinnati Heritage Programs put together by the Cincinnati Museum Center have been going on for over 30 years now, taking locals and visitors to some of the Queen City's most important and/or interesting landmarks. The programs have included historical presentations and bus and walking tours to the various sites.
This year so far, the Cincinnati Heritage Programs have shown and told the stories of radio pioneer Powel Crosley, "Grand Old Theaters" and Cincy local TV legends. This Saturday, the Heritage programmers present "Subway Talk and Walk," a nighttime exploration of Cincinnati's incomplete subway tunnel project.
On May 18, from 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m., the Cincinnati Heritage Programs presents the first ever bus tour of various important (not just to the area, but to the world) musical landmarks.
Dubbed "When the Queen City was King of Recording," the tour focuses primarily on a pair of historic recording studios that churned out records that would change the face of music. The bus will visit the original site of King Records, which released seminal albums from the worlds of Country and R&B, a gateway to the birth of Rock & Roll. The bus will visit the old King location at 1540 Brewster Ave. in Evanston, where city officials, the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation (CUMHF), the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and others helped have an historical marker installed in 2008 to commemorate King's contributions.
Here's James Brown's first single, recorded with his Famous Flames and released in 1956 through the King subsidiary, Federal Records:
The tour will also visit the former site of the E.T. Herzog Recording Company, at 811 Race St., downtown. In 2009, the CUMHF and others also lobbied successfully for a marker to placed at the site, which now houses the organization's headquarters. The Foundation has turned the floor the studio once stood into a museum dedicated to the space's history, hosting receptions and recording sessions and showcasing a few artifacts (like the piano Hank Williams played when he was in town to record songs that made him a legend, including "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry") and lots of old photos of the studio in action. The Music Heritage Foundation is currently hosting the photo exhibit, "Annie's Baby Had a Baby," which was part of the big, citywide Fotofocus photography showcase.
The tour ends with lunch and some live music at the Blue Wisp Jazz Club, a block from the Herzog stop.
The tour costs $60 (or $50 if you're a Museum Center member) and some spots are still open. But you'd better act fast. Deadline to register for the "When the Queen City was King of Recording" is tomorrow, May 7. Make a reservation by calling 513-287-7031. And click here for the Museum Center's rundown of great city tours and more.
Contemporary Arts Center has officially announced that Patti Smith will perform The Coral Sea with daughter/pianist Jesse Smith on May 17, in connection with her CAC exhibit, also called The Coral Sea, that opens the next day and features work not previously seen in the U.S.
At the concert, Smith will also play selected material from throughout her career.
The CAC website says that "The Coral Sea performance work found its beginnings from Smith’s 1997 book of the same name, her requiem to her dear friend Robert Mapplethorpe (who took the cover photo of Smith’s debut album, Horses, among his many other accomplishments). With music arranged and performed live by Kevin Shields — of heralded British shoegaze band My Bloody Valentine — two separate performances were held at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in June 2005 and September 2006. In 2008 those performances were released as a live album."
Mapplethorpe's own posthumous photography retrospective at CAC, 1990's The Perfect Moment, became a major controversy when cultural conservatives led by now-retired Sheriff Simon Leis tried to shut it down for obscenity. In a famous trial, a jury sided with the CAC. The concert venue and ticket information will be announced soon at www.contemporaryartscenter.org.
I first wrote about Smith's art show coming to the CAC in CityBeat last year here.
Despite Frank Ocean's deft leg-syncing and Taylor Swift's torture-porn-disguised-as-wholesome-circus, Akron, Ohio's Dan Auerbach and The Black Keys were The Grammys' big story last night, winning five trophies, the most of any artist.
While the Keys won the Grammys for Best Rock Album, Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance, Auerbach scored two solo Grammys for his production work, winning the trophy for Producer of the Year (Non-Classical) and also winning one for producing Dr. John's Locked Down, the Blues Album winner.
While Grammys for album winners are usually given to the producers, engineers, mastering engineers and artists, hopefully Cincinnati's Brian Olive will also score one for his work on the LP. Auerbach — who has produced albums by both Olive and Cincinnati's Buffalo Killers — enlisted Olive (an original member of Cincinnati's Greenhornes) to work on the Dr. John album. Olive has songwriting credits on every track on Locked Down, and he's also credited with playing guitar, percussion and woodwinds, as well as providing background vocals. (Check out CityBeat's profile of Olive from 2011, about his Auerbach-produced Two of Everything album, here.)
Kudos to Mr. Olive! That's him — the handsome feller with big side-burns playing sax (and a little guitar) in this video for the album's "Revolution."
Check out all the winners from last night's Grammys here, and click here or here for some extra musings about the show.
This particular version of "Many Rivers to Cross," featuring Greater Cincinnati greats Kelly Thomas and The Mudpies, has been haunting me all week (in a great way). It was recorded as the third episode in a brilliantly conceived yearlong project by Thomas and several of her creative pals, The Sacred Harp Sessions, in which she documents her musical inspirations in monthly installments.
"Many Rivers" is such a great song, with its uplifting and optimistic Gospel vibe shining through the lyrical desperation. Thomas and The ’Pies version might just be the best I've heard outside of Jimmy Cliff's original version (sorry, UB40). And I thought it kind of fitting for New Year's Eve (or, perhaps more fittingly, New Year's Day morning) because, although there is a bittersweet aura, Cliff wrote and sang about overcoming his heartbreak and moving on to cross many more rivers in his future. Though he's devastated that his "woman left … and … didn't say why," he knows he'll live through it thanks to his strong will and pride. If you had a tough 2012, make this your theme song on your way to a better 2013.
The Sacred Harp Sessions (produced, on the video end, by Alex and Tiffany Luscht of Mind Igniton) is an engaging passion project, with Thomas choosing songs, area musicians and even local studios she admires and appreciates. Ultimately, it's a tribute to the things that have made Thomas who she is today as an artist (and person).
In the accompanying videos, Thomas talks about what the songs mean to her, but the short films are not purely autobiographical — they can also be educational. The first episode, for example, discussed Cincinnati's King Records and the city's Hank Williams connection; Kelly recorded Williams' "Lost Highway" with Arlo McKinley at the location of downtown's former Herzog recording studio, believed to be the last standing building in which Williams recorded.
Episode 2 of The Sacred Harp Sessions found Thomas teaming up with Cincinnati Blues piano legend Ricky Nye at downtown studio Sound Images for a great take on Robert Johnson's "Come On In My Kitchen."
Click here to subscribe to Thomas' YouTube channel so you know when the latest installments drop and can watch and re-watch your favorites. And keep an eye on Thomas' website for any updates and for limited-edition free downloads of the latest tracks recorded for the project ("Many Rivers" is currently available).
Thomas is currently singing in three bands — her longtime Kelly Thomas and the Fabulous Pickups crew, the classic Country outfit The Tammy WhyNots and The Lonesome Sound (which formed recently after the aforementioned Hank Williams sessions). She'll be starting off 2013 with free shows with all three acts — The Fabulous Pickups join Sassy Molasses at Northside Tavern Jan. 4, on Jan. 5 The Tammy WhyNots play with Tex Schramm and The Radio King Cowboys and Doctor Bombay and The Atomic Bachelor Pad at Over-the-Rhine's MOTR Pub and The Lonesome Sound has a gig on Jan. 12 at downtown's Taqueria Mercado.
On this date in 1979, 11 music fans died when trying to see The Who perform at Riverfront Coliseum. Check out this video for "Feel The Holes" about the tragic event, by Toronto Hard Rock duo The Shanks.
The video was made in Cincinnati and directed by David Markey. The Shanks (who released the Feel the Holes EP just a couple of weeks ago on German label Broken Silence) work with local music promotions org The Counter Rhythm Group and are set to appear in Cincinnati on Saturday, Dec. 15, at Northside's Comet as part of the free release party concert in honor of a new "split LP" release (on area label, Phratry Records) by local acts Knife the Symphony and Swear Jar.
R.I.P. Peter Bowes, Teva Ladd, David Heck, Connie Burns, James Warmoth, Bryan Wagner, Karen Morrison, Jacqueline Eckerle, Walter Adams, Jr., Stephen Preston and Phillip Snyder.
Scott Preston and his excellent local music web mag Cincy Groove are presenting a benefit concert at Southgate House Revival tonight to help keep a spotlight on the Cincinnati area’s outrageously rich musical history and influence. The 9 p.m. show will raise funds for the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation, a non-profit that has done great work drawing attention to Cincinnati’s impact on popular music by promoting and hosting numerous creative events to honor historical moments like Hank Williams’ Cincy recording sessions and the immeasurable impact of King Records.
To become a member of the CUMHF's supporters group The Funky Drummer Society and read more about their mission to expose and celebrate Cincy's important place in music history, visit the Foundation's official website here or on Facebook here.
Tickets for tonight's benefit show are $10 for those 21-and-up; it's $12 for those 18-20. Music will take place on all three of the recently opened venue's stages. Below is the lineup of performances. Click each artist's name for audio samples and more.
9:15 - 9:55: Bri Love
10:15 - 10:55: Hank Becker (of The Rubber Knife Gang)
11:15 - 11:55: Terminal Union
12:15 - 12:55 : Andyman Hopkins
9 - 9:40: The Young Heirlooms
10:00 - 10:40: Shiny Old Soul
11:00 - 11:40: The Stories
12:00 - 12:40: SOUSE
1:00 - 1:40: Sassy Molasses
9:00 - 9:40: Shoot Out The Lights
10:00 - 10:50: Kelly Thomas with Arlo McKinley & Lonesome Sound
11:10 - 12:10: The Cincy Brass
12:30 - 1:40: The Cliftones
Kelly Thomas, Arlo McKinley and Lonesome Sound will be doing an all-Hank Williams set tonight in honor of Hank's ties to Cincy through his historic recording sessions at Herzog Studios. Thomas and McKinley recorded a version of "Lost Highway" at the old Herzog space earlier this year and filmed the proceedings. The song and footage became the centerpiece of Thomas' first in a series of short films featuring her favorite songs and local musicians called Sacred Harp Sessions. A new video and song will be released monthly for the Sessions; Thomas recently unveiled Episode 2 featuring Ricky Nye and the tune "Come On In My Kitchen." Click here to check it out; below is Episode 1, in honor of Cincinnati's music heritage and tonight's concert.
Boston’s Barrence Whitfield & the Savages have returned to Cincinnati in a big way this week. The R&B/Soul-rockin’ crew has several local ties, including employing prolific locally-based drummer Andy Jody on the skins. The group also features Peter Greenberg of pioneering Boston band DMZ (as well as The Lyres) and groundbreaking Cincy Garage rockers The Customs (fellow Custom Jim Cole records with the band but doesn’t play live). The Savages recorded two albums in the ’80s; their 1985 Rounder Records release, Dig Yourself, was their last until the group's recent reunion activities.
"I met Peter at The Customs reunion in 2008, drummed for them the following year, which led to him contacting me to record Savage Kings upon the reformation of the original Savages," Jody says about his initiation into the band.
The Savages are in town to record a new album, returning to Ultrasuede studios, where they recorded Savage Kings.
"We decided to record here, partly logistics and partly in tribute to King Records," Jody says, "and it was the same studio where The Customs cut (their trademark tune) 'Long Gone.' "
Last night, Whitfield & the Savages debuted some of the new material at Shake It Records. Shake It, the label, released the Savage Kings in the States; The Customs' "Long Gone" single was the first release on the Shake It imprint.
The Savages will be warming up for recording this weekend with a two-night stand (Friday and Saturday) at The Comet in Northside. Both shows are free and kick of at 10 p.m. (Friday a DJ warms things up and Saturday Customs-inspired local rockers The Long Gones fittingly open the show). Click here for more info on the band. Below is a live clip filmed in Paris last year.
And here's a clip (with performances and interviews) from the band's earlier days when they were featured on the BBC.