I saw The Doors in concert on just one occasion, but it’s an evening I’ll always remember well.
In 1972, I was a senior at Academy of Richmond County and heard on WAUG-FM that The Doors were coming to Columbia’s Carolina Coliseum.
The Carolina venue, built in 1968 and still in use today, was the favored concert destination of most locals as Interstate 20 had not yet been completed from Augusta to Atlanta. It’s difficult to fathom that in those days, a trek from Augusta to Atlanta meant one had to exit the interstate in Thomson and take various “blue highways” the rest of the way.
That meant a seven- to eight-hour trek to Atlanta and back, and even for us teenagers that was just too much time on the road. On Columbia trips one can be home well before midnight, so that’s where most locals saw big shows.
WHERE WAS THE LIZARD KING? DEPT. Of course, The Doors had lost their lead singer Jim Morrison the year before because of a fatal drug overdose. They were soldiering on without him, touring in support of their fine new disc Other Voices. But how does one go about replacing one of the most visual, enigmatic lead singers whose singing and stage presence were such an integral part of the band?
The band dared not to even try. Now down to just a trio with guitarist Robbie Krieger and drummer John Densmore, The Doors decided to handle the lead vocals themselves with Ray Manzarek taking on most of the singing duties.
He had sung a couple of leads during the Morrison years anyway and had handled backing vocals on stage from day one with fine results.
Happily for my friends and me, Badfinger opened the show and played a stellar set. But the fans had come to see The Doors, if for no other reason than to see whether the mojo magic was still alive and well. It was.
That night The Doors, sans Morrision, played most of their new album in addition to a stunning new instrumental, The Mosquito. But the fans, not knowing what to expect in those pre-MTV days, got a very pleasant surprise when the band, with Manzarek singing lead, tore into a terrific version of Krieger’s Strange Days classic Love Me Two Times.
Gee, it sounded just like … The Doors! But other than the very surprising encore of Light My Fire, those were the only two original Morrison vocals Manzarek sang that magical night in Columbia on March 8, 1972. The trio cut one more album later that year (Full Circle) and called it a day.
HEY! WHERE’S THE BAS-SIST? DEPT. Manzarek, who died earlier this month at age 74 because of complications from cancer, always intrigued me with his jazz, ragtime, classical and R&B influences, usually performed on his trusty Vox Continental organ. It has a totally different sound and timbre to it than the Hammond B-3 organ that most rock and R&B keys players favored.
Many other bands had used the same Vox keyboard (The Animals’ House of the Rising Sun and 96 Tears by ? and the Mysterians being two prime examples) but never with the same feel and emotion as Manzarek. His playing wasn’t flashy or very intricate but his sound will always be identified with the band he helped start in 1965.
Another really cool thing I liked about Manzarek is that he also played bass with his left hand on a Fender Keyboard bass. In the studio, the band did utilize session bass players but in its heyday never toured with one. Playing melody with your right hand and bass with your left is ridiculously difficult to do.
WHO WROTE THE SONGS? DEPT. Morrison did not play an instrument, so how could he write those great Doors songs? Simple answer: he didn’t write the music! Sure, many of the lyrics were his, but not all, as guitarist Krieger, the “unsung” hero of The Doors, composed the lyrics and music for Touch Me, Love Her Madly and even Light My Fire!
It was Manzarek’s Baroque-influenced organ intro to Light My Fire that marked most folks’ first introduction to The Doors’ astounding body of work. More important, also included on The Doors’ debut album was a number Manzarek had introduced to the band called Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar) from an obscure German opera written by Bert Brecht and Kurt Weill.
Thanks to Manzarek, Alabama Song got the band signed to Elektra Records. Jac Holzman, the president of the label, was very familiar with the song and was shocked that the band had such an unusual cover in its repertoire. He responded by offering the band a recording contract the very next week.
The Doors’ unique legacy, contained in eight studio offerings and numerous concerts preserved on DVD, will continue to endure. A large number of the Doors’ songs are aired on classic rock stations all over the world and most still sound as fresh and vibrant as anything recorded today.
In 1968, The Doors produced an excellent documentary The Doors are Open. With the death of Morrison in 1971 and now Manzarek, two of the Doors’ lives are closed but the music’s certainly not over, so don’t even think that it’s time to “turn off the light.”