These are strange days for Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger.
Tonight in Mount Clemens, they’ll be Riders on the Storm, the legally embattled band they formed to play the legendary music they made as the Doors between 1965-73. And on Thursday afternoon in Cleveland, they’ll be the Doors again, opening a new exhibit, “Break on Through: The Lasting Legacy of the Doors,” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
And on Thursday night, they’ll be back to being the Riders, playing at the Cleveland House of Blues.
“Yeah, it’s, ‘Which band am I today?’ ” cracks keyboardist Manzarek, 68, who donated several items, including his original Vox organ, for the Hall of Fame exhibit. “In one 24-hour period, we’re going to be not the Doors, the Doors and then not the Doors again.
“Which I kinda like, by the way. It’s very existential.”
But it’s also frustrating for the two members, who, along with drummer John Densmore, discontinued the Doors in 1973, two years after frontman Jim Morrison died in Paris. But the work — including seminal hits such as “Light My Fire,” “Break on Through,” “Touch Me,” “Roadhouse Blues” and “Hello, I Love You” — endured, with album sales, many of them posthumous, of more than 50 million copies.
After reuniting for a 2000 tribute album and VH1 “Storytellers” episode, Manzarek and Krieger decided to create a touring concern. And that’s where the trouble started.
Though initially dubbed the Doors of the 21st Century (“Any fool can figure out that it’s not the same as the Doors,” Manzarek notes. “And everyone knows that Jim Morrison’s dead and he’s not gonna be there”), the duo was forced to change its name after being taken to court by Densmore and the estates of Morrison and his widow, Pamela Courson, who also filed a copyright infringement lawsuit.
“The judge said we cannot use the name ‘the Doors’ in any way, shape or form,” says Manzarek, who, with Krieger, is appealing the ruling. “We were prevented from using the Doors, the Doors of the 21st Century, the Open Doors, the New Doors ...
“Doors business is OK, but if Manzarek and Krieger go out and represent themselves ... as the Doors, they shall be smitten with lawsuits and stuff like that. The whole point of it is just to stop Ray and Robbie — but you can’t stop Doors business.”
And Doors business is actually quite good. The group has celebrated its 40th anniversary with a box set, “Perception,” a band autobiography, “The Doors By the Doors,” and the re-release of expanded, remixed versions of the group’s six studio albums with Morrison.
In addition to the Hall of Fame exhibit, which opens to the public Friday, the group also is planning to release a three-CD live album from 1970 concerts in Boston and an authorized documentary for 2008 that Manzarek says will “attempt to tell the true story of the Doors as opposed to the sensationalized Oliver Stone version” in the 1991 film “The Doors.”
He and Krieger also have continuing plans for Riders on the Storm, which takes its name from the Doors’ 1971 Top 20 hit. The group has a new singer, former Fuel frontman Brett Scallions, who joined the group earlier this year after original singer Ian Astbury left, amicably, to return to the Cult.
“Brett is doing just great, man,” Manzarek says. “He’s even better than I thought he was going to be — ballsy voice, tall, thin, spiked blonde hair, prowls the stage like a cat, wears leather like it’s licorice. Need I say more?”
With Scallions in place, Manzarek hopes Riders can move forward with an album the group’s been working on for the past couple of years. He and Krieger have written the music, with lyrics coming from poets such as Jim Carroll and Michael McClure, as well as rockers Henry Rollins and John Doe of X. They also have a couple of verses from the late Warren Zevon for a song called “River of Madness,” which Manzarek says will be fleshed out and finished by others when the group returns to the studio later this year.
But for now, he notes, “this is the Doors’ big 40th anniversary, so Riders are out there playing all over the place. Could I have anticipated this? No, of course not, but you don’t think about 40 years on if you’re a musician.
“The point of being a musician is to make that existential capture of the Zen moment in time. You make your music here, now, and you enter into infinity if you do it the right way. So you don’t think about the future. If you’re thinking five years ahead, you’re not gonna capture that moment in time. You must think about the now — be here now, as they say.”
Riders on the Storm and Bangkok Five perform Wednesday (May 23rd) at the Emerald Theatre, 31 N. Walnut St., Mount Clemens. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $32.50; a $200 VIP ticket is available and includes a meetand-greet with the band. Call (586) 913-1360 or visit www. emeraldtheatre.com.
Send your thoughts and comments to