'That dark, Irish drunk Jimbo killed my friend Jim Morrison. I hate that Jimbo'
Ray Manzarek the former Doors keyboardist talks to EOIN BUTLERrecalls jamming with Jim - and Van - Morrison
You’re coming to Dublin to play the Grand Canal Theatre this month. What can fans expect?Basically, it’s going to be a five-man rock’n’roll band with new lead singer, backed by the Lombard Philharmonia Orchestra, playing all of The Doors biggest songs. It’s going to be a tremendous wall of sound, I hope.
What do you do when you’re not on tour?Well, I live in wine country, Napa Valley in California. So when I’m not touring I read, garden and take care of the fish pond. We have a small orchard that’s coming into fruit as we speak. My wife has a lovely little vegetable garden so, when we’re not taking care of that, we’re going out to some of the gorgeous local restaurants and drinking Californian wine. It’s a good life.
Having lived through the madness of the 1960s you seem to have come through it a remarkably stable and well-adjusted man.Well, I was the oldest member of the Doors. It was always my job to hold things together. I was the Apollonian instinct to balance out Jim Morrison’s Dionysian madness. But I took LSD. I opened the doors of perception, learned that life is infinite, that creation is the energy of a divine creator.
Okay, I think you might have just blown my mind there. As the years have passed, do you see the idealism of that decade in a different light at all?No, I see it in exactly the same light. It’s the light of truth, the light of sun, the light of the divine energy. Once you see it that way, nothing ever changes. But I guess I was lucky, too, in having my wife Dorothy to share my life. We’ve been married since 1967. When you find somebody to love, you can do anything.
What’s the biggest misapprehension people have about Jim Morrison?(Slightly prickly) I don’t know, man. You tell me what people think and I’ll tell you whether it’s true or not.
Well the picture of him that emerges from the Danny Sugerman book and the Oliver Stone film is of a talented guy who was also a pretty mean drunk.That’s largely correct. I think that what people have to realise is that Jim was first and foremost a poet, writing about deep, dark Freudian secrets. Walking along the Venice Beach in southern California talking about philosophy and art and our favourite saxophone players. That’s the guy I put a rock’n’roll band together with.
You didn’t like the film?Not really. Jim Morrison was a witty, charming, intelligent man. He was also – as you say – a mean drunk. But onscreen, we only got the mean drunk. We didn’t get the warm, loving, funny Jim, too.
You’re in your 70s now. He was 27 when he died. It may seem an odd question, but has your relationship with him changed at all over the years?No. It’s still a love-hate relationship. That is to say, I love him. But I hate him for dying. It was Jimbo – the alter-ego of Jim Morrison, that dark, Irish drunk – who took himself to Paris. And Jimbo that killed my friend Jim Morrison. And I hate that Jimbo.
Which of the old songs do you most like to play and are there any you don’t enjoy playing?Well, I love to play Light My Firebecause the improvisation is front and centre on that song. The songs I don’t love to play so much are the ones that have complex chord changes I have to remember. But for me the best part of live performance is sitting at the keyboard making music with my buddies and – as we used to call it – tripping out.
Speaking of joie de vivre, finally, did I read somewhere that you once shared a stage with Van Morrison?(Laughs) Our very first gig as the house band at legendary LA live venue the Whiskey a GoGo was supporting Them. We couldn’t believe it. We were huge, huge fans. On the last night we ended up jamming with them. Van was holding the mic stand upside down singing “G-L-O-R-I-A”. Jim was perched on the amplifier behind him singing along. Van was very young, but even then he seemed tired. I remember him asking me if I ever got sick of being on the road and playing music all the time. I said, “I’m really sorry Mr Morrison, but this is our first gig. We absolutely love it.”
Do you ever wonder why he performs if he hates it so much?Ah, he doesn’t hate it. Van was just the kind of guy who likes to complain. But he loved being onstage. Wow, it’s really amazing to think that was 45 years ago now. And he’s still touring. He’s still playing.
Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger of The Doors and the Lombard Philharmonia Orchestra play the Grand Canal Theatre, Dublin on July 17