As keyboardist for the Doors, Ray Manzarek brought a level of virtuosity and taste to rock keyboards while (usually) showing a level of restraint most other rock keyboard innovators of the 1960s could not. (I mean the prog keyboardists such as Keith Emerson, Jon Lord, etc.) Manzarek helped bring various non-rock influences to “psychedelia”, such as Latin musics and musical theatre. And as a player he brought restraint to his solos, with the notable exception of “Light My Fire.” Check out his piano solo on “The Crystal Ship,” a restrained yet somehow note-perfect fill.
Manzarek doesn’t show off here at all, but the piano recalls earlier musical traditions in its beginning while still almost sounding like rock music at the end. I lack the musical education to properly describe it. But suffice it to say, most other emerging virtuoso rock keyboardists of 1967 would have tried to show how many notes they could play.
Manzarek broke away from the rock tradition of only using the Hammond, as he used multiple different organs and other electrified keyboards. He was certainly one of the earlier rock keyboardists to use a harpsichord as well. (The harpsichord had been featured on a number of earlier rock songs but had been played almost always by a session musician.) Since the Doors could never agree on a permanent bassist, Manzarek often filled that role as well, playing the band’s basslines on the low end of an organ (live more often than in the studio).
Manzarek had other talents: he contributed the marimba to a Doors track or two, and he was actually the band’s lead singer before Jim Morrison joined and they renamed themselves. On Absolutely Live you can hear him sing. Nobody would mistake him for being the vocalist Morrison was, but it’s interesting to note that Manzarek could have easily been his own band’s front-man. Instead he chose to be part of something greater.
Manzarek was part of one of the most significant “psychedelic” bands and he played a huge role in that band’s music. And as a player his playing showed others a different path: it showed that players didn’t have to show off to be taken seriously. Manzarek’s solos and leads are more often examples of taste than they are of virtuosity. And I think that makes him one of the all-time greats.