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Love Him Two Times: Robby Krieger of the Doors (The Interview)
As songwriter and guitarist for the Doors, Robby Krieger earned his rightful place in rock and roll history.
Penning such timeless hits as “Light My Fire,” “Touch Me,” “Love Me Too Times” and “Love Her Madly,” Krieger’s free-form jazz-flamenco inflected licks fueled the Dionysian darkness of the Doors’ musical milieu and helped transform the fledgling local L.A. hot shots into an international sensation.
Still musically active, Krieger’s latest project, Robby Krieger’s Jam Kitchen, offers testament to his consummate six-string skills and well honed creativity.
Rock Cellar: Tell us about your new band Robby Krieger’s Jam Kitchen.
Robby Krieger: We’re in the middle of recording. I have a new studio I’ve been putting together out in Glendale. It’s finally just about finished so we’re out there recording our stuff out there and it’s turning out pretty good.
Rock Cellar: What’s the vibe behind the music you’re writing, a free form musical slate?
Robby Krieger: Well it starts out that way. Like we do these jams and record them, and then the songs kind of come from those jams. As far as being a jam band, that’s where that comes from but when we finish the song they’re more crafted.
Let me tell you a little about the band. It’s my old friend from Frank Zappa’s band, Arthur Barrow … he and I have been doing projects for the last 20 years, mostly instrumental stuff. On our last album, Singularity, we recruited some other guys from Frank Zappa’s band like Tommy Mars, a keyboard player.
Then a little bit later when we started doing live shows we got Chad Wackerman to cut with us so that’s three guys from Zappa’s band and then we got a guy named Larry Klimas who plays the saxophone, he was with War for a while and he’s played with everybody in town pretty much.
Rock Cellar: Are there any jam bands out today that have caught your ear?
Robby Krieger: Well, I think Gov’t Mule are my favorite of the jam bands. In fact, I’ve played with them three or four times last year. I really like Warren Haynes mainly but the other guys are great too; just the way they all fit together. They’re amazing; they have such a big repertoire that they can do five shows and never repeat a song.
Rock Cellar: What’s the first song you wrote where you felt, wow, this is really good?
Robby Krieger: (laughs) “Light My Fire.”
Rock Cellar: Were you writing songs for a while when you came up with that one?
Robby Krieger: No, not really. I had done a few things but that was pretty early in the songwriting slate for me.
Rock Cellar: The verses in “Light My Fire” are very interesting with that modal feel.
Robby Krieger: Yeah, it’s got different kind of minor chord in it. A regular A minor chord has a C on top and I dropped the C down to B so that made it sound kind of modal. I wanted it to sound kind of East Indian. So you’re right, the verses have that modal sound and the solos too.
Rock Cellar: When you brought that song into the band, what was the reaction?
Robby Krieger: Everybody loved it immediately. It wasn’t released as our first single because it was too long. In those days you had to have a three minute song to be a single and it was six minutes. So we put out “Break On Through” first and that did okay but not great; I think it went to number 40 on the charts.
Robby Krieger: We didn’t want to cut “Light My Fire” down ‘cause we loved the solos in the middle. This guy named Dave Diamond had the first FM radio station out in the Valley back in the early ‘60s and he would play the long version of “Light My Fire“ on the radio because on FM you could do that.
But there weren’t any other FM stations; that was the only one in town so it didn’t have a very big listening base. He said every time he played that song, people would call up and go, “What the hell was that?”
He told us, “You guys are crazy, you should cut it down and get it on AM radio” so we did. And then they started playing the long version anyway.
Rock Cellar: So you were victorious with that one.
Robby Krieger: Yeah, that’s right. (Laughs)
Rock Cellar: When the Doors were an up and coming band on the L.A. scene, who were the contemporaries you rated?
Robby Krieger: Well, Arthur Lee and Love was the main group we liked; Buffalo Springfield was happening as well as the Byrds, Sky Saxon and the Seeds with Sky Saxon and then there were the San Francisco bands too.
Rock Cellar: Was there camaraderie between bands or a sense of rivalry and competition?
Robby Krieger: It was pretty friendly competition. We all kind of lived up in Laurel Canyon; the Mamas and the Papas lived near our house and Zappa was up there and also Buffalo Springfield so we all knew each other but it wasn’t a jammy thing. It wasn’t like we all jammed with each other; it was more a thing of us doing gigs together.
Rock Cellar: Did you see a lot of those bands playing on the Strip?
Robby Krieger: Oh yeah, we used to see all of those bands. The Doors were the house band at the Whisky so we got to play with a lot of those bands as the second act so we got to learn from them too.
Rock Cellar: What was the most mind-blowing show you saw at the Whisky?
Robby Krieger: Probably Jimi Hendrix when he first came there. Cream was pretty good (laughs) but Hendrix really blew me away.
Rock Cellar: Seeing what Hendrix did with the guitar, did he inspire the manner in which you looked at what the guitar could do?
Robby Krieger: Yeah, definitely. He was the big influence on me. I didn’t sit down to try and copy him or his sound even but I listened to him all of the time.
Rock Cellar: How did your love of jazz, raga and other non-rock idioms come into play with the songs you wrote and performed with the Doors?
Robby Krieger: I was really a flamenco player before I played electric guitar.
For one thing, I didn’t try to copy anybody like a lot of the other guitar players did; they try to copy someone like (Mike) Bloomfield and BB King and stuff. I never went for that route.
I think more than that it was playing with Ray (Manzarek) and John (Densmore, they made me play a different way because we didn’t have a bass player, for one, nor did we have another guitar player, so I had to cover a lot of those bases. I’d only been playing electric guitar for six months when I joined the Doors. Like I said I was playing flamenco and folk music up until then so it really molded the way I played just because of our instrumentation.
Rock Cellar: When did you realize the Doors had gone from a local sensation to a national phenomenon?
Robby Krieger: That was when “Light My Fire“ hit number one. It was totally exciting because up to then we’d been playing clubs and high schools and stuff like that. I remember being at my parents’ house when I first heard Light My Fire had gone to number one. I was there at my parents’ house having dinner with a few friends.
We were listening to the countdown on the radio, the Billboard countdown. When we heard that number three was a Beatles song and number two was Stevie Wonder’s My Cherie Amour, that’s when I said, “Uh oh, that leaves us at number one” and we were number one that week. We all went crazy. (laughs) The rest of the band was thrilled.
Rock Cellar: When you received your first big royalty check, what did you buy?
Robby Krieger: I bought a burgundy 911 S Porsche from one of the dealers in L.A. I had these Indian rugs put in it from India. It was so cool but then the car got stolen.
Rock Cellar: Very early on as a writer you came up with one of the band’s biggest hits, “Touch Me,” which had an ambitious structure far beyond your formative songwriting scope. That song has an amazing horn arrangement.
Robby Krieger: For that album we had a great bass player named Harvey Brooks who was in the band Electric Flag. He played on the early Bob Dylan stuff too with (Mike) Bloomfield. He was very helpful in arranging those songs. I’m not really sure what inspired “Touch Me.”
I’d been listening a lot to that second Hendrix album Axis: Bold as Love. Touch Me kind of came out of nowhere.
Rock Cellar: I hear Elvis in Jim’s singing, was he a big Elvis fan?
Robby Krieger: Oh yeah, he loved Elvis. In fact, Elvis was my first rock and roll experience when I heard him do “Mystery Train“ and “Hound Dog.” Jim didn’t consider himself an Elvis type singer but he definitely loved his whole vibe.
Rock Cellar: “Touch Me“ is a song Elvis could have done.
Robby Krieger: Yeah. You know who I was trying to get to do “Touch Me“ was Jose Feliciano, after he’d done Light My Fire. This was about ten years after that and I ran into him at a TV studio. I said, “Man, you should do another one of our songs?” And he said, “Like what?” And I said, “How about ‘Touch Me‘?” He grabbed his guitar and just played it perfectly.
Rock Cellar: Did he cut it?
Robby Krieger: No. (laughs) I’m hoping he will someday; I’m still working on it.
Rock Cellar: Tragically, we lost Ray Manzarek this year. Thinking of your long time friend and band mate, what are your fondest memories of him?
Robby Krieger: Well, he was like our father figure ‘cause he was a little bit older than us; I think he was eight years older than me.
I think without Ray, Jim would have just gone off the deep end and never done anything. (laughs)
Ray was the guy who kind of held it all together. He grounded us, even on stage he played that piano, bass and organ together and he really was the one who held the sound down. John and I just kind of danced over the top of it. (laughs)
Rock Cellar: Though the years, the real Jim Morrison has been lost amidst the myth. What is the biggest myth about Jim that you’d like to puncture?
Robby Krieger: The Oliver Stone movie never shows Jim as a normal human being which he was a lot of the time. It’s really only when he was drinking too much that he became a crazy wild man; especially in the earlier days he didn’t drink at all. I wish they would have shown more of that side of him and I think Feast of Friends does show that.
You see Jim being a really cool guy talking to that priest and how he really was so I think that’s gonna help go a long way towards puncturing that myth.
Rock Cellar: The Doors’ Feast of Friends documentary has finally been released after over 40 years, tell us about it.
Robby Krieger: That was filmed in the summer of ’68 on our first tour after “Light My Fire” had hit number one. Ray and Jim were both film students at UCLA and they were both into movies and stuff. They wanted it to be part of the Doors to do some film stuff.
This was before the days when everything was videoed; there were no small camera. We took a guy named Paul Ferrara and a couple of other guys, Babe Hill and Frank Lisciandro and we said, “Okay, let’s take a couple of cameras and a Nagra sound recorder, come with us on this tour and as Jim would say, “the movie will make itself”. It was what was called cinema vérité where the movie just makes itself.
That was getting popular at the time where there’d be these weird little movies. So they followed us up to Vancouver, Seattle and Portland where we did some show and then we went to Chicago and the Singer Bowl in New York; that’s where that crazy footage came from of all the fans going nuts and breaking all the chairs. (laughs) It’s basically just following us around on tour.
But what happened was we never really finished it. We only ended up with about 45 minutes of stuff that we liked and to make a movie you need an hour and a half of footage. So we kind of put it on hold. Jim wanted to do this other film which he did start doing with those same guys called Highway so Feast of Friends got put on the back burner for a while.
Rock Cellar: What are your favorite moments in Feast of Friends?
Robby Krieger: Gosh, just mostly the live stuff on stage and the craziness. My actual favorite part is not Feast of Friends but it’s the black and white stuff of England which we added in to the DVD. I think it’s our best show we ever got on film. It’s live footage of the band that was shot at a place called the Roundhouse, which used to be a train station.
It’s pretty cool stuff. There’s also some bonus footage of us recording “Wild Child” in the studio. The Hollywood Bowl film is the only time we actually got a three camera shoot and real sound and all that. I wish we had done more of that.
Rock Cellar: If you hear the Doors on the radio, do you listen or change the channel?
Robby Krieger: (Laughs) No, no, I listen. I used to listen and go, “Oh shit, I wish this was louder” but after 50 years or so you begin to say, “Hey, that’s a great song I’m glad I was part of that.”
You know what happens, after you make a record you hear the damn song so many damn times because you have to mix it down and play different takes on it that you really do get tired of it. But with time, it’s fresher. And luckily with the Doors songs they still sound good. (laughs) A lot of people aren’t that lucky.
Rock Cellar: Many rock and roll stars, from Alice Cooper of Glenn Frey of the Eagles, are passionate about golf. What is it about the game that appeals to you?
Robby Krieger: I think golf is a lot like music. I started playing golf when I was a kid; my dad was a big golfer so I was golfing when I was eight-years-old. With music, once you start playing you have to stay out of your own way in order to play your best and not think too much and just let it flow – and the same applies to playing golf.
If you start thinking too much and trying to force the issue it just doesn’t work. You need to let it happen. You’ve gotta do your homework and learn how to hit the ball but once you do then you have to learn how to stay out of your own way.
Rock Cellar: Tell us about your yearly golf invitational benefiting St. Jude’s hospital.
Robby Krieger: It’s officially called the Scott Medlock-Robby Krieger St. Jude’s Invitational and it’s held each year at Moorpark Country Club out in Simi Valley. We‘ve been doing it for ten years. We started out doing it for the Pat Tillman Foundation, as Tillman tragically got killed by friendly fire. So we did that for about three years and then we switched to St. Jude’s, which is a great organization. It’s a children’s hospital in Memphis and they do cancer research for kids and the amazing thing is kids from all over the world can go there and they never get charged a dime. They have a lot of fundraisers that people do for them but I think ours is one of the best.
Rock Cellar: Do you have a “man cave” and if so, what we would we find there?
Robby Krieger: (laughs) I do actually have a man cave. I told you that I was building a studio and that’s kind of it. I had a little studio in my house and I still do but it’s kind of hard to get anything done at home as there’s always something going on. The studio is pretty cool.
We’re kind of going back in time. It’s got a Neve board and an API board which are all tubes to get that cool sound that people want to get nowadays.
I think there’s gonna be a big backlash to the digital sound. You notice how all records sound the same these days? It’s because digital is like that.
So we’ve got real tape machines and all that. I’ve also got a golf simulator out there so between takes you can play golf indoors.
Rock Cellar: Now that’s a true man cave for you.
Robby Krieger: Yeah, I love it. (laughs)
January 8, 2021