Gritty Blues

It’s going to be a memorable night on Feb. 8, when legendary Door’s keyboardist Ray Manzarek makes his Maui debut with slide-guitar great Roy Rogers at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku.

These two masters will rock the house with an electrifying sound they’ve termed “modern 21st-century blues.”

“It’s great playing with Roy Rogers, he’s brilliant, one of America’s top slide-guitar players,” says The Door’s co-founder Manzarek. “He knows the blues and I know the blues. We both come together in a common place. People say, ‘what the heck is Ray Manzarek from the Doors doing with Roy Rogers the blues player?’ Well, we both have our foundation in the blues. I grew up on the south side of Chicago with the blues. And he’s a blues cat. So we’ve come together under the auspices of the blues and that’s what we’re playing, modern 21st century blues with interesting lyrics, working with very interesting lyric writers Jim Carroll who wrote ‘The Basketball Diaries,’ beat poet Michael McClure and Warren Zevon. We’ve taken their words and we’ve made music to them.”

Manzarek collaborated with the acclaimed composer Zevon of hits like “Werewolves of London” and “Lawyers, Guns and Money” a few months before he died.

“I met him at Barney’s Beanery, the legendary Jim Morrison hangout in Los Angeles,” explains Manzarek. “I told him we were putting some blues stuff together and could he write some lyrics for us. And he said, ‘Sure, what are you looking for?’ I said, ‘Something about the dark underbelly of Los Angeles. He said, ‘I can do it, but I don’t have a lot of time as I’m dying.’ I thought it was a joke. He said it was, ‘lung cancer, too many cigarettes. I’ve got two months to live, but I’ll get you what I can.’ So we have a little Warren Zevon poetry that we put in the show.”

Playing together on and off for about seven years, Manzarek and Rogers unleashed their collective talent on their marvelous, latest CD, “Translucent Blues.”

As one reviewer noted, ” ‘Translucent Blues’ is an edgy, tension-filled record that performs a devil’s dance to blues grooves, jazz waltzes and rock boogies.”

It’s quite profound to hear Manzarek’s distinctive keyboard style, a hallmark of The Doors’ sound, fused with Rogers’ searing slide playing.

“Many people have said, ‘How can you and Roy get together?’ They don’t understand it’,” Manzarek continues. “And I keep thinking, what is there to understand?”

Of course, any keen Doors’ fan would know The Doors were rooted in blues. “There’s a blues foundation to what The Doors were doing,” he notes wryly. “They weren’t just sex crazed.”

While Manzarek continues The Door’s legacy touring with guitarist Robbie Krieger, and Rogers heads his own band, the Delta Rhythm Kings, they both savor their unique collaboration.

“I sat in with Ray about eight years ago and it just clicked,” says Rogers. “I knew his style. The Doors were a real synthesis of musicians with Ray being front and center as far as the musical aspect. We started as a duet and got along famously. It’s just a great collaboration and we thoroughly enjoy the improvisational aspect of it. We really achieve our own sound and don’t try to recreate anything. We’re stretching the envelope of the blues. We have a lot of fun making good music and letting it rock.”

One of the world’s premier slide guitarists, Roger’s accolades include eight Grammy nominations as producer and performer, working with John Lee Hooker (four Grammy nominations and two Grammy Awards) and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott (two Grammy nominations).

He also earned a Grammy nomination for his “Song for Jessica,” and one with Bonnie Raitt for Best Rock Female Vocal on “Gnawin’ on It,” which he co-wrote.

Rogers fell in love with the blues as a teenager. “I started playing guitar when I was 12 and had a teacher who used to play with Sly Stone,” he explains. “I was playing with older guys in a band in 1963 and I grew up very fast. Then I got into slide guitar when I was about 15 hearing Robert Johnson. Slide guitar is one of the most expressive ways to play; you can get every kind of nuanced tone.”

In the 1980s, blues legend John Lee Hooker invited Rogers to join his band and he toured with Hooker as a featured guitarist/vocalist for four years. Hooker raved about the young guitarist. “Roy plays so good, some of the best slide I’ve heard, best blues I’ve heard,” he reported. “He gets real deep and funky, and he masters whatever he plays.” Rogers then produced four remarkable recordings for Hooker – “The Healer,” “Mr. Lucky,” “Boom Boom,” and “Chill Out.”

“You learn about life being with John,” he recalls. “His life was his music and his music was his life. I can’t talk enough about a man who was so universally admired.”

While ‘Rogers was pursuing music in northern California, down south in L.A., Manzarek had met Jim Morrison at UCLA film school and would connect with the other future Door’s musicians at a Maharishi Mahesh Yogi meditation class.

One of the architects of The Doors’ mesmerizing sound, Manzarek is one of rock’s most influential keyboard players. His soloing, which reflected his classical and jazz background, was pivotal in the allure of such classics as “Light My Fire,” “Riders on the Storm,” “Spanish Caravan,” “When the Music’s Over,” and “Roadhouse Blues.”

“The whole thing was great,” he says. “But the great tragedy is that Jim Morrison died at 27. I only wish I had been in Paris to grab him by the scruff of the neck and say, get out of this debauched atmosphere and come on back to Los Angeles, lie down on the beach, get some sun and get strong and healthy again and let’s get to work. But I wasn’t able to do that.”

A newly restored film, “The Doors Live at the Bowl ’68,” released on DVD last year, captures the band in all its glory.

“We had four or five cameramen and they were just shooting away free form,” says Manzarek, who is credited as director. “I said, make sure it all works out and it did. It was edited again recently and it looks fabulous.”

Is he surprised at all by The Door’s enduring legacy? “I’m very happy about it,” he says. “We hadn’t considered longevity one way or another. That wasn’t the reason we made the music. You make the music to be in the moment. Music is a vibratory act of performing. Music is like Zen meditation. There’s a moment in time that you seek to capture and you’re not thinking 40 years into the future. If you do your job properly you lose yourself in the moment.”

Following the end of The Doors, Manzarek released a number of solo albums including an ambitious, innovative rock version of Carl Orff’s masterpiece “Carmina Burana.”

“It’s one of my favorite pieces of music,” he explains. “The song that started me on the road to doing as much as we could of ‘Carmina Burana’ was the piece called ‘Tanz.’ I never could figure out the time signature until I actually bought the music and a piano accompaniment to the chorus. I played it on the piano and loved it. So I got together with some musician friends and we said let’s see if we can put a rock version together and see how it sounds.”

Teaming more recently with Rogers, the duo’s debut recording, “Ballads Before the Rain,” probably surprised their fans. It’s a sublime, instrumental collection of piano and guitar duets of originals, a couple of Door’s interpretations and some Erik Satie and Manuel de Falla. “We wanted to make a record that was different and put the duet in a different format,” Rogers notes. “It was somewhat esoteric and there was basically no blues on it.”

Manzarek adds joking, “Never go out of the box, always play like The Doors. Don’t worry, I won’t do it again. We did ‘Ballads Before the Rain’ because we’re a couple of laid-back guys. That was our homage to Hawaii.”

In a few months, they will release the new album, “Twisted Tales.” “It’s definitely got some twisted lyrics and it’s more of a rocker than ‘Translucent Blues,’ says Rogers. “We really like it.”

Manzarek and Rogers are heading to Maui as a quartet with former Robert Cray band drummer Kevin Hayes and bassist Steve Evans, who has performed with Elvin Bishop. For folks wondering what they will hear, the legendary keyboardist says we can expect, “some hard-driving, kick-butt-rocking, 21st century blues, and a couple of The Doors’ songs.”

* The Manzarek Rogers Band performs on Feb. 8 at Historic Iao Theater. Tickets are $35 and $55 for Gold Circle. Doors open at 7 p.m., show is at 8 p.m. Call (808) 896-4845.