Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Rick & The Ravens

In 1961 a hot little combo calling themselves Rick & the Ravens emerged in Los Angeles. They played a mix of originals and covers, in a light garage band style that crossed over into surf and blues.

The lineup was originally Rick Manczarek on guitar, Jim Manczarek on organ and harmonica, Patrick Stonier on saxophone, Roland Biscaluz on bass and Vince Thomas on drums. In 1962 Rick's brother Ray, who had been playing with his own UCLA jazz trio, joined on vocals and keyboards. Ray quickly began to dominate the band with his ivory-tickling prowess and his bluesy vocals - during this period he was actually known as "Screamin' Ray Daniels" and brought the house down many a night with his raveup blues-shouter versions of Smokey Robinson and Willie Dixon songs.

In 1965, Rick & the Ravens featuring Screamin' Ray recorded six songs released across three singles on Aura Records: "Soul Train", "Big Bucket T", "Henrietta", "Just For You", "Geraldine", and "Rampage".

That same year, Ray spotted a friend of his named Jim Morrison in the audience, and urged him to come up onstage and sing "Louie Louie" with them. He did, and everyone was impressed - Morrison put so much into his performance that he sang himself raw until his voice gave out. Eventually Ray asked him to become a permanent member as the band's lead singer and he accepted, even as Rick must have been asking himself, "whataminute, isn't this supposed to be my band??"

Rick & the Ravens went back into the studio and recorded six more songs: "Go Insane", "Moonlight Drive", "Summer's Almost Gone", "End of the Night", "Hello I Love You", and "My Eyes Have Seen You". The lineup by now was Jim Morrison on vocals, Ray Manzarek on piano and background vocals, Rick Manzarek on guitar, Jim Manzarek on harmonica (by now the brothers had dropped the letter C from their surname), John Densmore on drums and a girl named Patricia Sullivan on bass.

Ray's two bros were disappointed in the quality of the newer and spookier recordings, and doubly disappointed that efforts to shop them to a label failed. They left the band, and it staggered along for awhile longer as a quintet whose namesake wasn't even in the group anymore. In October 1965, Robby Krieger joined, who had previously been a band called The Psychedelic Rangers with Densmore. Two months later, Patricia Sullivan was let go from the lineup when Ray bought a brand new Fender Rhodes PianoBass, and decided his left hand could handle all the bass work just fine.

Morrison didn't show up for their third rehearsal with the new lineup, and the concerned band members discovered he'd been arrested in a fight with some bikers at a bar in Blithe, CA. They bailed him out of jail, and from all accounts, Jim caused no more trouble after that, and behaved like a perfect gentleman ever since.

After that, it's unclear what became of the boys. Reportedly they finally got a recording contract with Elektra Records, but I'm not sure whatever happened with that. It's a shame, too, because judging from the handful of recordings they left behind, Rick & the Ravens seemed destined for superstardom - especially that Jim Morrison fellow. Well, in another life, perhaps; in another life.

- - JSH

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