Ray Manzarek & Roy Rogers: Into and Out of The Mystic
BF: Playing together, did you find yourselves playing differently than you do with different people?
RM: Well I did- I certainly found myself playing differently with Roy and creating a new sound- the “Ray/Roy sound”, and it’s ineffable. There’s no words to describe it, unfortunately [laughs]. Words can do a lot, but they cannot describe music. It can be soft, it can be loud, it can be melancholy, and so we touch on everything, at once joyous, it’s sad, there’s some melancholy stuff in there, there’s some joyous stuff in there- there’s all sorts of moods that we approach and capture. But I definitely play differently with Roy than I would play with somebody else ten years ago, and I couldn’t even begin to tell you what that is. It’s a feeling- “blues with a feeling”...
RR: Same for me. If you’re communicating with somebody musically- for example, in my band I’ve never had a keyboard before. And Ray’s got a style he’s known for, of course- his influence is widespread, but we bounce off ideas and I think we both played differently. You pick up on things inherently that you don’t even know about, and I think that’s what Ray is saying- and that’s the way music should work. Especially in a roots thing like the blues, like Ray just said, you’re going for a feeling and where is that taking you. [It’s] something you can’t describe in an encyclopedic way just exactly how that happens, nor should you. I hope it’s always a mystery! [laughs] I hope it’s always an elusive animal…
RM: Well, the blues is mysterious. It’s a mysterious artform.
RR: No doubt.
RM: It’s mysterious American music. [Poetically reciting “The WASP (Texas Radio and The Big Beat)]: “Comes out of the Virginia swamps, cool and slow with a back beat narrow and hard to master… Some call it heavenly in its brilliance; others, mean and rueful of the American Dream…”
RR: [Laughing] Well, that about covers the gamut!
BF: You both, outside of the music, have invested much of yourselves into advancing your own “cultures”. Ray’s work has always tried to advance the causes of filmmakers and poets that influenced him and his work, and Roy, you’ve been a musicologist and noted blues historian for years. Was that a driving theme with this album, or was it more important to perhaps forget all that and just try to make something “new”?
RM: Both. It’s both drawing on all the influences I’ve had, and constructs a new and different shaped pyramid. A pyramid that is a different shape entirely- I don’t know what the heck you’d call it, other than it’s “translucent”. So I’m using all my antecedents to create this new form of blues music. That’s what I’ve got to say.
RR: It’s always the sum of the parts. Wherever you’re coming from, wherever you’re at, it’s always a cumulative thing, whether you like it or not. You can’t help but present the influences that have come up to this point in time for anybody. That’s how it goes together.
We worked a fair amount of time just “woodshedding”, as we would say, just playing and bouncing stuff. Either things develop- some ideas you pick up on, and some you don’t, and that’s always a great way to fly, because that’s where creativity come out and it’s an open situation where you’re not defining “oh, this is how you play this”. [It’s more] “This is the idea I have, let’s see what happens”. That’s always a great way to collaborate.
This record, in particular, for both of us, is a true collaboration, because in large part, if I may be so bold, we inspired each other, hearing what the other guy was playing. We had a ball in the studio, by the way, just went in really prepared and had fun.
RR: A lot of times you don’t have a lot of fun!
RM: You have to leave the studio open to some improvisation- there was obviously improvisation. The structures of the songs remain the same, but the improvisation within that unusual structure that each song had- we were free to improvise. That keeps it fresh- you’ve got to improvise. That’s the nature of modern American music, or should be. You should be improvising- certainly what the Doors did, and what the blues guys did. You’ve got your basic formula, your basic riffs per song, but within that, you improvise.
Jazz is the same thing. Jazz is a more intellectual outgrowth of the blues. John Coltrane playing “My Favorite Things”- there are certain things he plays every time he plays the song, but he completely varies what the bulk of the song is going to be, and that’s what these were. How I play chords would vary. How I would structure- that’s the great thing about being a keyboard player. You plan an A minor- and you can play an A minor seventh, an A minor ninth, you can invert that A minor, you can put that C up on the top- you can do some many different things, and that’s what I do. I had a great time. Making the record was a great time. We recorded it in Studio E, it’s called, in Sausalito, California, right on the ocean, right on San Francisco Bay. Man- it was like being a hippie again, I’m telling you [laughs].
RR: [On the record} there’s some great keyboard textures. I remember Ray doing some of his overdubs, he was just having fun doing that. Doing overdubs, after the basics were recorded, to see what works and what doesn’t. It’s the “flexibility”, and I hope people pick up on it. It’s really fresh sounding to me.
RM: And it’s always fun, even if you’re doing “dark”, “evil”... [laughs]. And they’re on there; it’s dark- there’s a definite darkness in there.
BF: There’s one tune towards the end, very melodic and melancholy- “As You…”
RM: “As You Leave”. That’s a 1964 French Existensial movie [all laugh]. That’s music for Jean-Luc Godard’s film Contempt.
RR: I’ll take that as a compliment, Mr. Manzarek.
RM: It’s meant to be, man. That’s a movie with Bridget Bardot acting- actually acting. If you haven’t seen that movie, see it. That’s what I play when I’m playing through it. That’s what the whole piece is, “As You Leave”- it’s a heartbreak in Paris in 1964.
BF: One of the reasons the pairing of you two so interesting is that there are many parallels that naturally arise between you both, one of which is “reinvention”. Through your careers and in many different ways, why has the idea of reinvention, of yourselves and your influences, been so necessary to your music?
RM: It just keeps happening! I guess it’s reinvention, or… you’re always pushing the boundaries. I don’t know that I reinvent myself- I just push the boundaries, to attempt to do something I haven’t done before. Or… I’m under the control of ten little maniacs [dangling his fingers] at the end of my arms. And you never know where they’re going to go or what they’re going to do- it’s amazing! You sit down at the keyboards, in a way, you almost go into a hypnotic trance, in which other powers seem to come through you. Or these digits take a life onto themselves, and start to play little patterns that they’ve never played before. And I’ve played patterns with Roy that I’ve never played before. I don’t know where the hell they come from. But you just turn it loose, turn these guys loose- “Alright Mr. Right Hand- go! Mr. Left Hand- play a nice line!” and off they go. When something happens that hasn’t happened before, I try to remember- “Oh, I’ve got to keep that ‘mistake’ in this song” and off I go.