Transcendental Blues and the Girl with a Shoe: An Evening with Roy Rogers & Ray Manzarek.
As I shifted in my chair at the Curtis Park 24th Street Theatre, I thought about when I was 13, back in New York. I’d just put my first order in with Columbia House Records: The Doors, Roadhouse Blues. Now, some 30 years later, I was waiting for the last few stragglers to be seated for an evening performance with slide virtuoso Roy Rogers and Ray Manzarek, known most widely for co-founding and being the keyboardist/bassist for the Doors.
I was curious beyond words to hear what Doors stories Manzarek has. After so many books, movies and years have passed, I couldn’t imagine what there was left to tell. Even more so, I was excited to finally hear the new material he and Rogers are now producing for their upcoming album, Translucent Blues, to be released in the earlier part of next year.
Opening the show was Electropoetic Coffee, the duo of award-winning guitarist Ross Hammond and poet Lawrence Dinkins, Jr., a.k.a. NSAA (pronounced En-Sah-Ah).
The pair of young men covered topics from national disasters to politics and the economy with a theatrically polished Sydney Poitier style. The delivery of their material was exacting, gritty and intense. With their free-form metaphoric approach and Hammond’s ethereal loops and echos, Electropoetic Coffee should get out of the Java Houses and over to Off-Broadway where they ultimately belong.
It had started raining by the time the house lights went down again, which only added to the intimacy of the room’s ambiance. So, on the evening of a full moon, one of the creators of my favorite Doors song, “Riders On The Storm,” would be taking the stage to the sound of rain.
After brief greetings to the audience, Rogers picked up his guitar and Manzarek took a seat behind his keyboard. There was no hesitation about getting straight to it, and they launched the perfect song to kick things off, “Presidential Boogie.”
Manzarek then conjured up an impromptu “Sacramento Blues,” singing lyrics he most likely made up as he went. It made for a great ice-breaker with the audience as he took a poke at Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and sang about budget woes.
While Rogers changed guitars, opting for his double-necked monster, Manzarek continued with a beautifully light, jazzy piece he dedicated to Gil Evans, who worked closely with Miles Davis at one time.
The mood was light, and the music was crisp and full of purpose. Even though I’ve seen him a few times, Rogers’ speed and style left my mouth hanging open. He worked one end of the guitar while notes he’d just played sustained themselves forever. He successfully filled pockets between notes, creating floating transitions where, only seconds earlier, there was nothing but piano. It was almost as if there were three or four musicians instead of two.
The room maintained a hypnotic silence until Manzarek snapped everybody out of it by suddenly injecting a riff from “Light My Fire.”
“Well, I know you must have some questions,” he said. “I think I see a microphone over there so, let’s go.”
Many of the questions were about typical things such as how he started The Doors and what his favorite moments were. Then, the mood took a slight turn when a woman stood up from her seat in the middle of the front section and shouted “More music, less verbage!” to which everyone immediately started murmuring…“Bourbon? Bourbon?”
It then turned into a joke the two men made on stage about them playing music for bourbon. While the audience told the woman to sit down and shut up, a young girl approached the microphone and nervously said hello to Manzarek.
“You don’t know how incredible it is for me to be standing here talking to you,” she said. “Your music…you changed my whole life.”
Manzarek thanked her and waved for the next question, but the girl had something in her hands.
“I didn’t have anything to bring, so I brought my shoe…” Her voice cracked and she started to cry a little. “I know I’ll never have a chance to tell you how much this night means to me and how meeting you is something I know… is just a once-in-a-lifetime…so I have my shoe. It’s a Chuck Converse Doors edition shoe. I wondered if you’d sign it for me?” She shook, struggling to speak through the tears and her nerves, and courageously held up the shoe.
At this point, half the audience is trying to inconspicuously wipe their teary eyes.
Manzarek quickly smiled, waving his hand. “No, but thank you, I really…I really can’t.” Then he paused, “Do you even have a pen?”
“Please…please, no…I don’t have a pen…” She looked at him, and then she turned to the audience.
It was now or never. I reached down into my camera bag where I always have an extra Sharpie. Grabbing the pen, I ran across the front of house and handed it to her.
Turning to Manzarek, I said, quite loudly, “Sign the shoe!” And, as echoes of “Sign it, Sign it… began to stir the room, one of the most uber-legendary Rock-N-Roll artists in the country bent down at the edge of the stage, reached out to young Kayla Platsis and signed her shoe. The crowd roared to its feet. Manzarek took a bow.
The next question was about the accuracy of the Oliver Stone movie, The Doors. (I had read that Stone and Manzarek clashed during the making of this film, so I was glad someone had brought it up. I wanted to hear his side of the story.)
Manzarek immediately preempted his answer with a disclaimer, stating that he and Stone do not get along to this day, and wanted to make it clear that the movie is not an accurate reflection of The Doors or of Jim Morrison. He talked about how Stone, fueled by cocaine and tequila binges, ultimately created a movie more about how, quite possibly, Stone might like to imagine himself running around day after day in leather pants, rather than tell a factual story about The Doors.
Manzarek took a minute to explain how, in the early days, they couldn’t even get a paid gig. That life, early on, was slow and quiet. He and Morrison would walk along Venice Beach discussing philosophy, wondering, “Why we were here to begin with. What did it all mean?”
Manzarek continued, “Jim had a very serious, sober, side. The shaman, the poet, the philosophic man he was, was nowhere to be found in that movie.”
Instead, he said, there was a lot of money spent by Stone to create “a cool story that people could relate to” with an actor who looked as close to Morrison as possible. That there was more drive to create a drug-filled fantasy film about things that didn’t ever happen and to portray other things as he saw fit, as long as it made money.
Manzarek recommended that those interested in accuracy should consider looking at Tom DiCillo’s When You Are Strange. Narrated by Johnny Depp, for whom Manzarek had nothing but compliments, the film includes commentary from Morrison’s sister and father.
Manzarek closed the Q-and-A session with his rendition of “Crystal Ship.”
It was an eerie feeling to hear the piece, and Rogers added to the goosebump effect by leaving the stage during the song. As Manzarek sat playing under the blue stage lights, I almost expected Morrison’s voice to come floating out of the air to accompany his friend.
With Rogers returning to the stage, it was time for some grit and gravy – time to get to the business of serious, down-home blues. The pair ripped into some Hookeresque material, and then some more traditional blues that showcased Rogers’ phenomenal handwork as he danced across the guitar, making it scream and wail.
Rogers changed guitars a third time to a mini electric Les Paul for this part of the set. There is a reason why Roy Rogers is on the short list of true slide guitar maestros. He is among the elite in his craft, and it’s a privilege to see him perform.
The tempo eventually started to come to a slower pace, and the twangin’ grew to a soft murmur as Manzarek took on an almost classical approach to a new version of “Riders on the Storm.”
Rogers, back on the double neck, added feedback sounds and his own touch to the version. Again, I had to keep reminding myself that there were only the two of them up there.
Roy and Ray were fantastic hosts to an adoring crowd that stomped the floor for an encore and was rewarded with one more, a healthy serving of the title cut of their musical journey together, “Transcendental Blues.”
PHOTOS: 1-4: David Alvarez
PHOTOS: 7,8: Daniel Battershell
PHOTOS: 5,6,9: Mary Franklin