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The Doors at London Airport in 1968. Left to right: John Densmore, Robby Krieger, Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek. Manzarek died May 20 of bile-duct cancer. (Getty Images)

Remembering Ray Manzarek, Keyboardist For The Doors

May 24, 2013 (Fresh Air from WHYY)

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This interview was originally broadcast in 1998.

The mythology surrounding The Doors has centered largely on its lead singer, Jim Morrison, who died under mysterious circumstances in 1971. Morrison is still considered one of rock music's tortured poets and sex gods, but instrumentally, The Doors' distinctive sound was based on Ray Manzarek's keyboard playing. His are the riffs made famous in such songs such as "Riders on the Storm," "Break on Through" and "People Are Strange."

Manzarek, who died of bile-duct cancer on May 20, spoke with Fresh Air after the publication of his memoir Light My Fire: My Life With The Doors in 1998. He described encountering Morrison on the beach near Los Angeles shortly after they'd both graduated from UCLA. Morrison told him he had spent the months since graduating writing songs. Manzarek asked him to sing one of those songs and was blown away. "I said, 'Man, this is incredible. Let's get a rock 'n' roll band together,'" he told host Terry Gross.

It didn't take long for Morrison and Manzarek to add drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger to the band. The four soon found themselves at the epicenter of a cult of sexual adoration that gathered around Morrison. Manzarek recalled anticipating this development from the beginning.

"It was fabulous," he said. "I mean, we made our music, that's what we did. You know, the fact that Jim attracted the little girls was something that I knew he was going to do when I saw him at 135 pounds on the beach [and said], 'We're going to start a rock 'n' roll band and you're about the handsomest guy I've seen.' I didn't say that to him. 'The girls are going to love this guy,' and the girls did love him."

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