Ray Manzarek & Roy Rogers: Into and Out of The Mystic
If The Doors and the Blues shared one most common quality, it would be Mystique. A certain inexpressible vacuum that commands homage and withdraws attraction; yet, though millennia of the witty, wealthy and wise have fiercely demanded submission of this most seductive of qualities, Mystique as held her own; ever timeless, always beyond intentional grasp.
The mystique of The Doors is far greater than the Oedipal allusions and elusive poetry of their famed front man, who lived to age twenty-seven, but has been roaming the End for over forty years now. To the wild, excited ear, it was the whimsical-but-haunted keyboard ethereal of Ray Manzarek, buffeted by the uncommon navigation of guitarist Robbie Krieger and the unheralded drive of drummer John Densmore that equally invoked the strange, alluring confusion that many found irresistible. Manzarek, however, was the glue- imposing Chopin and Satie and Spann over hypnotic bass creeps that turned the mid and late sixties sideways.
Turning popular music sideways on its ear never seemed to be John Lee Hooker’s concern, yet his wholly individual concept of the “blues” did just that. Permeating the soul of rock and roll through bands like The Doors and Canned Heat, Hooker personified American blues as much as Robert Johnson or Muddy Waters, yet stood removed from their sounds as a distinct voice, lusting in his own desires, marching to his own drummer.
Such was the fierce individualism that a young Roy Rogers found himself enveloped by as he went to work for Hooker in the latter part of the bluesman’s storied career. A musicologist of the highest order, Rogers blossomed into an artist capable of summoning the ghosts of legends long gone when he chose to evoke certain styles, yet was dedicated to developing his own unique voice on the guitar, becoming a master of the slide guitar in the era between Duane’s departure and the height of the Haynes/Trucks reign.
It is this shared quality of the Unique that perhaps not only draws these men together, but also then draws something beautiful further out of the pairing. As evidenced by their second album Translucent Blues, they continue to find new ways to consider the blues; as a sieve through which other music can be acclimated; as a pilot whose guidance can be trusted; and as a warmly-lit home, to venture forth from and return lovingly back to.
After spending portions of the last year on the road in duo and full-band settings, Manzarek and Rogers recently played Wanee 2012 as part of a southeast run. Follow their trek at www.manzarek-rogersband.com, where you can also sample Translucent Blues and pick up a copy.
BF: You both have distinguished careers and histories, but not necessarily intertwined. How did this union come about?
Ray Manzarek: Our good, close friend, and man that books gigs for both of us individually, Steve Gordon, said “Hey, why don’t you guys get together and see how you would play”, ‘cause Roy’s a bluesman and I’m from the southside of Chicago.
We played in California, up in the wine country, the Raven Theater in Heelsburg, a very lovely, very hip city, and we hit it off, it worked well, it sounded good, and so we said let’s do it again. Then we played another one, and another one, and here we are, evolved into a CD.
BF: How long ago was that first gig?
RM: Five years.
Roy Rogers: It was almost serendipity. I didn’t know Ray from before, and he didn’t know me. It was one of those situations where, like Ray said, it kind of “clicked”, so if something clicks, we’re both of the mind to see where it goes, and this is where’s it’s taken us.
RM: And Roy’s smart!
BF: He is a musicologist- he should be smart.
RR: I’m just trying to keep up with him.
RM: We’re both smart, and we could actually talk about things! I think that’s why we’re still together. If we’re going to ride in a car from here to there…
BF: Some marriages don’t last five years.
RM: You’re right- some marriages don’t last five years
RR: We could talk intelligently, and respectfully disagree and still be friends. What a concept! [laughs]
BF: Were either of you familiar with each other’s music previous to working together?
RM: Well, I knew he was a bluesman, and played slide guitar.
BF: Roy, you had obviously at least heard of the Doors.
RR: Obviously. I knew of Ray and the Doors. I am always up for trying new things, collaborations, especially with people that from a different ilk, but I knew Ray’s background somewhat, but I didn’t know him personally. It’s always fun to pursue something where you don’t know where it’s going to go. I think that’s intriguing from any standpoint, wherever you’re coming from musically. You know, “Where can this go?”, and if it doesn’t work out, fine, it was a nice try.
BF: The album is called Translucent Blues, which is interesting in that the Blues are the “transparent” sieve that an extraordinary amount of diverse influences are filtered through. However, five years into your parternship, why make a blues record?
RM: This is “contemporary” blues, this is “21st century blues”. A contemporary adaptation of the basic foundation of the 12-bar blues, but an expansion on that, musically. Lyrically, we’re working with poets. Roy’s written a couple of the songs, otherwise we’re playing with poets. We have the late, great Jim Carroll, who wrote The Basketball Diaries, he’s written some lyrics for us. We have Michael McClure, a beat poet that I’ve worked with over these years, and friend of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, the elder statesmen of “beatnickery”- he’s written some words for us.
We’ve got a couple of lines, actually from Warren Zevon, that kicked off a whole bunch of ideas for some other people to write words to. We’ve also got Jazz Poet out of LA, a guy I’ve known since before the Doors, a bass player, Michael C. Ford. Scott Richardson, out of Detroit, who played in Detroit in the 60’s with the Scott Richardson Case, and well-known Midwestern stuff, and then came out to California and got totally psychelisized, and we’ve got some lyrics by him, too.
So we’re combining poetry with a contemporary adaptation of 21st century blues- a contemporary adaption; to me 21st century blues.
RR: I think it was important to us, when we were putting together the material- there’s a certain sound to this record. [You] don’t exactly know what sound you’re going for, but in the course of playing and putting a record together, hopefully you’ll create a sound that is unique.
BF: The voice emerges…
RR: Yeah, you don’t know how it’s going to end up- it depends on the material and how it comes together, bouncing ideas like Ray has done for his whole career, and me too. We just bounce stuff off each other, and hopefully, at the end of the day, you have a sound that represents you, that nobody else gets. We don’t want to recreate a sound, we’re just trying to go for it- “what can we do with this?”. I think we’ve accomplished that to a large degree. It will depend on if people pick up on it or not.