Interview with Robby Krieger of The Doors

Nowadays, nihilism and disaffection are commonplace in guitar rock. Nearly every loud band worth its effect pedals performs at least a few songs about self-immolation, existential dread, or out-and-out hostility. But back in the late-60s, as flower power spread its seeds across the land, few folks were consumed by darkness and negativity. Then Jim Morrison uttered the prescient line," This is the end/your only friend, the end, and almost overnight, a nation of disconsolate, Vietnam-fearing teens, flocked into the abyss to embrace the Lizard King." Of course, Morrison's bleak lyrics and dusky vocals would have sounded almost silly without Ray Manzarek's droning, near-gothic keyboard lines and Robbie Krieger's spectral, psychedelic guitar lines.

At the time those guitar parts seemed just about as unusual as Morrison's singing. Instead of embracing the blues, R&B, and Chuck Berry-style rock n roll, Krieger strived to carve his own musical niche. His background as a flamenco guitarist and his need to hold down the music's rhythm as well as melody led him to play in a style that was virtually unprecedented. Over the years, many 60's bands have become passe or been relegated to the safe and distinguished classic rock vaults, but the Doors' music still sounds edgy and vital.

Pass through any high school hallway and you'll likely find Doors quotes, photos, and the band's logo hanging inside the lockers of the iconoclastic and misunderstood. Call it a cultural phenomenon or just plain synergy, but the band's evocative atmospheres and insurrectionary spirit continues to touch generation after generation.

The band recently released an album of outtakes and b-sides called Doors Rarities, and last fall a wide range of artists including Bo Diddley, Stone Temple Pilots, Marilyn Manson, Creed and Aerosmith paid tribute to The Doors on the album Stoned Immaculate. Krieger, Manzarek and drummer John Densmore all played on various tracks, but Manzarek and Densmore usually aren't heard together. They're currently still feuding about comments Manzarek wrote in his autobiography Light My Fire: My Life with the Doors, which was re-issued in paperback in March, 2000. Despite the rivalry, the Doors still have plenty in store for fans including four previously unreleased live albums and maybe even a Pay-Per-View concert. Why release a rarities album after 1999's box set?

Robbie Krieger: Ever since the Oliver Stone movie [The Doors] came out, there's been a renewed interest in the Doors, and every couple of years the younger kids in high school and junior high school get into the Doors. And people are always wanting to hear new stuff. So this is stuff a lot of people haven't heard. Why do you think high school and junior high school kids keep rediscovering the Doors?

Krieger: Obviously, it's the music. They hear it on the radio and they like it. The sound doesn't seem dated like some of the bands from the 60's. The depth of the material in these songs and those albums transcends generations. I think we were way ahead of our time, and just now it's starting to be understood. Do you think the darkness in the music appeals to young, frustrated kids?

Krieger: Yeah. And so many kids identify with Jim because Jim was a troubled persona, and there are so many of these kids today who are growing up in dysfunctional families. I think they relate to Jim and the words of the songs. You, John Densmore, and Ray Manzarek all worked on portions of the upcoming tribute record Stoned Immaculate, which features such diverse artists as Stone Temple Pilots, Aerosmith, Bo Diddley, Marilyn Manson, and Creed. What was that like?

Krieger: It was great. I ended up playing on most of these tracks. And I got to know the guys in Creed and these other groups, too. So then Creed asked me to come to Woodstock and play with them, which was great. We did "Riders on the Storm," "Roadhouse Blues," and a couple of their songs. Is there any chance of the remaining Doors doing more stuff in the near future?

Krieger: Uh, you never know. [Classical virtuoso] Nigel Kennedy just did an album of Doors stuff with his orchestra. He did this great violin thing, and he wants us to play with him in a big concert in Paris this summer. So we've been talking about that. He also wants us to record with him on a new album. But there have been more conflicts since [March, 2000 when] Ray released [the paperback edition of] his book [Light My Fire: My Life with the Doors]. He totally slammed John. It's kind of ridiculous that those two guys are at odds, and I'm left in the role as the peacemaker. Since the book came out, John and Ray have not been in the same room at the same time. Did John and Ray always fight?

Krieger: No, before Jim died the three of us got along fine. The Doors was a perfectly balanced group. But after Jim was gone, that balance disappeared, and the three of us couldn't keep it together. But time heals all wounds. How do you get along with those guys now?

Krieger: I get along fine with both of them, but it's not as though were buddy-buddies. Me and John used to be roommates and we used to be very close. But like I say, after Jim was gone, that just took another turn. Will there be any more Doors records?

Krieger: We're starting a Doors label next year. We're gonna be doing the bootlegs one better by releasing a bunch of live stuff. Most of the bootlegged stuff is so horrible. And we've been able to get better quality stuff of these bootlegged shows, so we're gonna put out some of our early concerts from 1969 and 1970. There's a New York concert, and ones from Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, and Detroit. And hopefully doing this will cut into what the bootleggers are doing. I'm really anti-bootleg. Especially when the shit sounds terrible. Any chance at all of an eventual Doors reunion?

Krieger: Last year I did a European tour and John sat in on a lot of the gigs with me. That was fun. One reason we don't do a big tour is because the three of us have decided not to play as the Doors. So every time I play with John or Ray, everyone goes, "Oh, it's a Doors reunion," but we don't want to give that impression. On the other hand, the three of us played with Eddie Vedder at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and that was so cool. So, who knows? After this tribute album comes out, we may get back together and do something with some of the singers who are on the album. I doubt it would be a full tour, but maybe a Pay-Per-View special or something. Why did you re-master the whole back catalog for release as a box set last year?

Krieger: Well, we hadn't really done that since 1987, and at that time the digital trip hadn't gotten underway yet. So we were really able to make the stuff sound great this time. For instance, on "The End" there's some stuff we brought up that you just couldn't hear before. Then, in "Break on Through" the vocals go, "She gets high," and we had to duck out in those days because the record company didn't want us to say high. So we brought that back up. Your guitar playing with the Doors was pretty groundbreaking. What were you aiming for as a guitarist?

Krieger: Everybody in those days was playing like Chuck Berry, and I wanted to stay away from that. I started out playing flamenco guitar, so I didn't use a pick. And that right there gave me a different sound. The other thing was we didn't have a bass player or a rhythm guitar player. So that also made me play kind of different. You had to support the rhythm.

Krieger: Ray and I both filled in for the bass and rhythm players that weren't there. I think thats one reason why the Doors sounded like they did. Ray had to play the bass lines with his left hand, so he had to do a very repetitive almost synthesizer-like bass lines, and that made for a very hypnotic sound. And the same thing went for me. I was able to use the bass strings and the other strings at the same time, and play kind of in between the lines. I wasn't into the wild shredding type of leads. And also I think I was one of the first to use a slide for rock 'n roll guitar. At the time did you think you were doing anything revolutionary guitar-wise?

Krieger: I think we were all doing something new and that's what I wanted to do. I didn't want to play what had already been played. And the other thing was I liked the more smooth sound of the bass pickup. I never used the treble pick-up hardly at all in the Doors. And I got a darker sound that way. Who were your influences as a guitarist?

Krieger: Lots of flamenco guitarists. And I loved jazz. I loved Wes Montgomery and Larry Carlton and Kenny Burrell. Of course, I liked Mike Bloomfield too, but I wasn't trying to copy what he was doing. What are you doing with your own music these days?

Krieger: I'm playing instrumental jazz-rock. It's hard-driven fusion stuff. I do a few things from Tony Williams' Lifetime. In fact, I did three or four songs with the bassist from Tony Williams' Lifetime, which was really great. There are a lot of different players on my new record called Movie Music. Edgar Winter is on one song, Billy Cobham is on one song. Ritchie Haywood played drums on a song. Greg Bisonette and Bruce Garey, who's the drummer for the Knack, also played on it. Is it nice to explore new jazz realms as opposed to having to relive past glories?

Krieger: Yeah. In fact, for a while I wouldn't do any Doors stuff and I wouldn't even talk about it. But after a while I realized that the Doors are so huge. People dig it so much that I owe it to fans to talk about it. When I go out and play now, I'll do half Doors stuff at least. The Doors were considered to be so outrageous in their day. And now there are all these artists like Slipknot and Marilyn Manson, who are taking shock value to its extremes.

Krieger: Obviously, we paved the way for all those guys, and a lot of them are fans of the Doors. When Marilyn Manson came down to the studio for the tribute album he was real into knowing what Jim was all about. And Scott from Creed told me he was so into the Doors that when he read that Jim was born in Melbourne, Florida, he moved there and decided to start a rock 'n roll band. When you visit Paris, it's amazing to see how many tourists go out of their way to visit Jim's grave in the outskirts of the city.

Krieger: They figured out that Jim's grave is the number two visitor attraction in Paris after the Eiffel Tower. There was a time when they were talking about getting Jim's grave out of there, and then they finally realized what a draw it was, and now they want to keep him there forever.

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