May 26, 2017

Two Keyboard Players

In 1980-81 I lived in LA for eight months appearing in TABLE SETTINGS at the Matrix Theater. Almost every night, after the show, most of the cast would head over to a bar/restaurant called Kathy Gallagher’s in West Hollywood. Many performers hang there until closing time and one night I was at the bar in long conversation with the congenial guy next to me. I forget most of the conversation (girls?, LA lifestyle? Movies?) but at one point he asked what I was doing in LA. I told him I was an actor, signing test deals with the networks and appearing in a play. I asked what he did. “I play keyboards”, he replied. “Really? I played piano and played keyboards in a lot of bands in high school. I had a Baldwin organ and an Ampeg Gemini II.” We continued talking about organs, the sound of a Farfisa (the popular Italian organ manufacturer) and Baldwin compared to a Hammond B-3, amps, the Leslie tone chamber etc. I talked about the Ampeg and how it was not a bass amp usually used with organs, but had a 15″ speaker and delivered a different sound. After a few minutes of this (and I was by no means an expert on organ playing) I asked how he made a living. “Oh, I play with some bands. Do some recording.” “Any groups I would know?” I asked. He mentioned a few that seemed vaguely familiar but didn’t change tone when he added, “And I was also the keyboard player for THE DOORS”.

It was Ray Manzarek, one of the most famous rock keyboardists in the world. His solo for ‘Light My Fire’ is probably the most famous rock organ riff in history.

I was shocked and embarrassed. I could have dropped to my knees and bowed: ‘I’m not worthy. I’m not worthy’ like the characters in Wayne’s World. Here I’d been blabbing about my amateur tinklings on my folding Baldwin organ with one of the great rock organists! He was such a sweet, humble guy, answering all the fan questions I had about The Doors and we would say a quick ‘Hi’ every time we met in Kathy’s during my run at The Matrix.

Ray Manzarek died yesterday in Germany at the age of 74. An artist who was also a humble, down to earth guy…at least in the very limited time I spent with him. Thinking of you today. And remembering your solo, which I inartfully tried to mimic so many times in High School…Thanks.