His dark notes

The sound of Ray Manzarek's keyboard combined skill and a lively sense of doom

Think The Doors and you think a cloud of flaming hair and the electrifying notes of a keyboard. The flaming hair is long gone — Jim Morrison, the Lizard King, died in Paris in 1971. And now the keyboard falls silent. Ray Manzarek, co-founder of the Doors, died on May 20. Like the Beatles, the Doors have their originary myth, a chance meeting between Manzarek and Morrison in 1965, when they were both students at UCLA. The Doors thrived on the juxtaposition between the two musicians — Morrison the showman and Manzarek, whose bluesy keyboard gave the band their distinctive sound.

The Doors were born in the age of rock n' roll, when most bands were glorying in a newfound hedonism. Though infused with the sexual energy of rock n' roll, this band was more brooding and introspective, drawing its name from a William Blake poem and aspiring to a philosophy. It was also informed by the political turbulence of 1960s America. "Those were some dark times," Manzarek later said, speaking of Vietnam and the civil rights movement. Inevitably, it soaked into their music. And so the opening sequence of Apocalypse Now, iconic Vietnam war movie, is soundtracked to the elegiac Doors song, "The End". Often, the darkness lay in the keys — the entropic notes of the Vox Continental organ in "Light my fire" and "Break on through (to the other side)", the menacing electric piano in "Riders on the storm".

Manzarek brought to the Doors the sensitivities of a blues and jazz fan and a premium on musical excellence. In 1974, he declared that rock n' roll was coming to a dead end, "the only place it can go is toward higher musicianship". This mix of skill and a lively sense of doom makes Manzarek's keyboard one of the most recognisable sounds of the era.

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