Ray Manzarek on The Doors' Musical Legacy, Whiskey a Go Go, His Mother Cutting Jim Morrison's Hair: From the Billboard Archive

The following excerpted interview with the Doors is from Billboard's November 4, 2006 issue and was conducted on the occasion of Ben Fong-Tores' oral history "The Doors by the Doors" (Hyperion) as well as the release of six-CD box set "Perception" (Rhino) which remixed the Doors' six studio albums in 5.1 surround sound. Billboard spoke with Ray Manzarek (as well as Robbie Krieger and John Densmore) about the Doors' lasting impact, his mom cutting Jim Morrison's hair, how the group came to jam with Van Morrison and Them a the Whiskey a Go Go. Interesting, too, is Densmore's recounting of Manzarek's varied music background.

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Billboard: In your wildest dreams, did you ever think that people would still be listening to the songs that you recorded for your first album four decades later?
Ray Manzarek: Hardly, but on the other hand, that's not [a musician's] concern. I don't think musicians play music thinking in terms of posterity. It's just the opposite. You have to think in that individual moment in time, the Zen moment in time.

And if you capture the energy, then you do what a musician is supposed to do. If by the grace of the gods on Mount Olympus you happen to be liked 40 years from now, that's only a testament to the Doors' audience as far as I'm concerned.

Doors music is not a simple kind of music. It's like the Bauhaus. It's clean and pure. Morrison's lyrics are psychologically deep. So for people to understand Doors music is certainly a testament to their intellects.

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What did your parents think of you playing this crazy rock'n'roll music at the time?
Manzarek: They loved it, and then "Light My Fire" becomes the No. 1 song in America. What's not to like? My mother had three boys of her own, Raymond, Richard and James. So Jim Morrison comes along, and I introduced him and brought him down to Redondo Beach to bum a couple of free meals off my parents. My mother loved him. That's her fourth son. She cut his hair. She used to cut our hair and gave Jim a little trim, too.

What do you remember about that first Doors gig at the Sunset Strip club the London Fog?
Densmore: I had been a professional drummer for years before that playing weddings, bar mitzvahs and bars with my fake ID. Here I was in the dumpiest fucking bar that I'd ever seen. Jim was so nervous he wouldn't even face the audience. I thought, "I don't know if this group is going anywhere."

And then I'd go down to the Whisky and hear Love and wish I was in their band. But when I first walked into Ray's parents' garage, before I brought Robby into the band, I knew immediately that Jim Morrison had the potential for magic, but it certainly hadn't come to fruition at the London Fog. He was learning how to do it.

In the garage we were looking at the really raw ingredient. Jim had never sung, so we were looking at really raw material. But he had brilliant lyrics that made me want to immediately play drums.

Ray handed me a crumpled piece of paper and I read it, "The day destroys the night/The night divides the day/Tried to run/Tried to hide/Break on through to the other side." I read it and went, "Oh, shit. Where's my drums?"

How did you land the gig as the house band at the Whisky a Go Go?
Manzarek: The week before our final night at the London Fog, Ronnie Harran, the booker from the Whisky a Go Go, had come down and fell in love with the band. She asked us after the set, "How would you guys like to be the house band at the Whisky a Go Go?" And we went, "Fucking A. Are you kidding? Of course, we'd love to."

She said, "You'll open the show, then the headliners, then you play another set, and then the headliners. So two sets a night." We said, "How much money?" And she said, "Union scale," which was like $135 per man, per week. It was like, "Wow." We were making like $40 or $50 at the London Fog.

We were going to be the house band at the Whisky a Go Go and Jim Morrison, Mr. Cool, says to Ronnie, "We got to think about this. Why don't you come back tomorrow?" And she looked at him with these big puppy-dog eyes.

After she left, we proceeded to pummel Morrison on the arms and shoulders. "What do you mean we have to think about it?" Jim said, "Of course we're going to take the gig, but you don't want to appear too anxious."

The next week we started, and the band we played with was none other than Them, Van Morrison and Them. And we jammed during the last set of the night. So Jim Morrison and Van Morrison were singing "Gloria" together at the Whisky a Go Go. What a night.

What were the influences that shaped the Doors' sound and what does each member of the band bring to the table?
Densmore: Ray grew up in Chicago so he had the blues, Muddy Waters and all that. He also had classical training. That was pretty cool. That was invoked in the intro to "Light My Fire," which was very kind of Bach-like. Robby had a flamenco and folk music background. I was so enamored with watching Robby's fingers crawl across the flamenco guitar strings like a crab.

I'm a jazz guy and Ray was also into jazz, so when we met we talked about [John] Coltrane and Miles [Davis]. I think that influence gave me freedom. Like in "When the Music's Over," I just stopped playing the beat, and I would just comment on Jim's words percussively, out of rhythm, like we were having a conversation. I got that from listening to Elvin Jones and John Coltrane.

And then there was Jim, Mr. Literary, who had read every book on the planet, but didn't know anything about music and how to write songs and trusted us. Therefore, we were a total democracy.

We shared everything—writing credits, veto power. Jim had melodies as well as words. He didn't know how to play a chord on any instrument, but he had melodies in his head. To remember the lyrics he would think of melodies and then they would stay in his head. He had melodies and lyrics in his head, and he would sing them a cappella, and we would eke out the arrangements.

What is it about the Doors' music that makes it so seemingly timeless?
Krieger: The Doors were just ahead of their time. It seems like what we were playing back then, the blues and stuff like that that we were into, were starting to catch on 10 years later. Because we were ahead of our time in our heyday, we weren't really that huge.

I don't think a lot of people really understood what the hell we were doing until later. Maybe just now people are waking up to the Doors' music.