Ray Manzarek says goodbye in a hidden track on the new album “Twisted Tales.”
The former Doors keyboardist didn’t know he had terminal cancer when he improvised a tune at the completion of one of the songs from the third and final Ray Manzarek-Roy Rogers album. “Black Wine/Spank Me With a Rose” was one of three with lyrics written by beat poet Michael McClure, Manzarek’s good friend and collaborator. It is probably the closest to the Doors sounding song on the record.
“Ray and I had come up with the groove,” Rogers told Tahoe Onstage.” We were just primed and ready and he sang the song live.
“Ray was so excited he got the vocals in the first take. He was so happy. We had no idea what he was going to do. That was the perfect way to end the record.”
Manzarek played and sang and joked while Rogers, drummer Kevin Hayes and bassist Steve Evans joined in.
“We don’t even know what key he’s in,” Rogers said. “And then we end it, and it’s just like a train wreck, a beautiful train wreck.”
The album is filled with music written by Manzarek and Rogers and had been completed for several months. When Manzarek was diagnosed with cancer, the duo decided it was time for its release. The 74-year-old Manzarek died from bile duct cancer May 20 in Rosenheim, Germany.
“It happened so fast , it blows your mind,” Rogers said.
“In February, we did four dates on four different islands in Hawaii, and we had a great response. He said that he was getting a little tired and that he was going to go see a doctor when he got back. He wasn’t fatigued on the tour that we could tell. But he (said he) was like walking around the house and feeling like he had to take a nap. Well, that’s not right. So he got home and within two, two-and-one-half weeks he was diagnosed with the big ‘C.’ That was in February and he died 90 days later.
“He decided to forgo any Chemo treatment. He knew his days were limited. He was going to do a cleanout in alternative clinics in Germany and Switzerland that detoxify your body. He said, ‘I am going to detox and I’m going to come home and take it a day at a time, Roy.’ I said, ‘Cool. I’ll see you when you get back.’ He didn’t make it back.”
Rogers and Manzarek made three albums together, including “Ballads Before the Rain” in 2008 and “Translucent Blues” in 2011. The first had a tranquil flavor, “Like a glass of wine during a Lake Tahoe sunset,” Manzarek once described. The second was blues, the genre Rogers is most known for and the style Manzarek grew up listening to as a youth in Chicago.
Before “Twisted Tales” was released, Rogers told Tahoe Onstage, “It’s different.”
Indeed, most of the songs have lyrics by Manzarek’s poet friends McClure and Jim Carroll. Rogers, who has a penchant for musical exploration and collaboration, contributed lyrically to a handful of songs.
“It’s the process of taking the music other than where you are,” Rogers said. “It’s always been about that for me. For me it’s about the music and becoming good friends with Ray. The music is certainly eclectic if anything. You have to expand your chops. … and part of that is taking risks, for me anyway, that expands my horizons musically.”
Rogers added a haunting slide guitar solo on “Street of Crocodiles,” which has the lyrics of Carroll, best known for his first book, “The Basketball Diaries.”
“He writes some strange stuff, man,” Rogers said. “That’s just outside stuff to me. I could never write like that. It doesn’t mean I’m uncomfortable with it. It’s just different. It needed to be something very strange to go with that. It was very cavernous, if you will.”
Rogers several years ago wrote a song, “The Will to Survive,” which for him has atypical lyrics. This album was ideal for its release.
“I wanted to do something funky and feature the guys,” Rogers said. “I wanted the strange organ and go half -time in middle and have this whole dynamic of song with these lyrics about surviving that has an edge to it. I had been sitting on that song for a long time. I couldn’t do it with a trio because you ‘gotta’ have a counterpoint. And Kevin just nailed it.”
Rogers lives in Nevada City and Manzarek was in nearby Napa County. The two had a mutual agent, so their collaboration seemed likely. Rogers first sat in with Manzarek about eight years ago during a show in Healdsburg’s Raven Theater.
“It was just one of those simpatico things from the get,” Rogers said. “It just felt great. We were all smiling. That was the start. For two, three years, I just sat in as an extension of his solo gigs, then it became duet gigs.”
Eventually, they toured as a duet, until they came to the conclusion: “This deserves a band thing. We’ve got to rock this up. Without a rhythm section, you can’t beef it up.”
The Delta Rhythm Kings, Rogers’ bandmates Hayes and Evans, were added and, sadly, “Twisted Tales” was the final production.
Three of the songs from “Twisted Tales” are led instrumentally by guitar and Rogers said he could possibly play them live someday, but “it’s weird to do it without a keyboard.”
Manzarek was part of one of rock’s most iconic bands, the Doors, from 1965-73, then continued making music with that band’s guitarist Robby Krieger. He also collaborated with McClure on some records. More of Manzarek’s music could surface because, after all, even a new Doors song was discovered last year. However, “Twisted Tales” was the final album he finished.
After collaborations with artists Norton Buffalo, John Lee Hooker, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Shana Morrision and Carlos Reyes, Rogers summarized his final album with Manzarek.
“People are going to love this record or they are going to hate it,” he said. “I haven’t gotten any hate yet.”
Ray Mansarek and Roy Rogers