LOS ANGELES — When the Doors were still a fledgling quartet, and the band members were honing their chops playing five sets a night at the London Fog club in Hollywood, it wasn’t rock stardom on keyboardist Ray Manzarek’s mind as he and his three band mates laid down an extended jam for their debut album that ran more than seven minutes.
Manzarek was thinking more of one of his jazz heroes when he cribbed some of John Coltrane’s ideas from the saxophonist’s recording of “My Favorite Things” for his own solo in the song that would become the Doors’ signature hit, and one of the defining singles of the 1960s: “Light My Fire.”
“We loved that we were getting Coltrane played on AM radio,” Manzarek said years later. “I’m not sure how many people caught that, but I’m sure some did.”
Manzarek, who was responsible for the piercing electric organ sound on “Light My Fire” and most of the L.A. group’s cornerstone songs, died Monday at a medical clinic in Rosenheim, Germany, after a lengthy battle with bile duct cancer. He was 74.
While studying film at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1965, Manzarek (pronounced man-ZAIR-ek) met fellow student Jim Morrison and they decided to start a band built around Morrison’s poetry. They enlisted drummer John Densmore, whom Manzarek had met in a transcendental meditation class, and Densmore in turn introduced them to his friend Robby Krieger, a guitarist.
Beginning in 1967, the Doors charted 15 hit singles on the Billboard Hot 100, including “Hello, I Love You,” “Touch Me,” “Riders on the Storm” and “People Are Strange,” up through Morrison’s death in 1971 at age 27. All six of the group’s studio albums released during Morrison’s lifetime made the Top 10 of the national sales chart, the biggest hit being “Waiting For the Sun,” which spent four weeks at No. 1 in 1968.