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In this world of disposable pop stars whose career longevity rides on the whims of self-important programmers at MTV, it's an incredible treat to play host to a bona fide living legend. Doors guitarist Robby Krieger, he of "Light My Fire" fame, certainly lives up to that title.
Though Doors lead singer Jim Morrison died under mysterious circumstances nearly three decades ago, the band's influence still burns as bright today as it did in 1968. Krieger's anecdotes about Morrison and his bandmates ring with immediacy and drama, especially for LAUNCH executive editor and Miami native Dave DiMartino, who actually was in attendance at the infamous gig where Morrison allegedly "whipped it out." When someone like Krieger enters the room, it's one of those scenarios where you realize you're dealing with a guy who really experienced it, not someone who's written a book about it, made a film about it, or compiled a boxed set to reflect it.
Actually, Krieger did appear on LAUNCH on CD-ROM to discuss the new Doors box, The Complete Studio Recordings, as well as play a fine solo performance on electric guitar. Video excerpts of the conversation can be viewed in Issue No. 34 of LAUNCH on CD-ROM; an exclusive live performance "Spanish Caravan" can also be viewed on the same disc.
You were just noodling on guitar and that leads me to ask, how did you write "Spanish Caravan"?
Robby Krieger : I started playing flamenco music before the Doors; it was the first kind of guitar music I ever played. About six months or a year before the Doors I started playing electric guitar, so I kind of put away the flamenco guitar, but I still liked to play it and I was looking for a way to get it into the Doors repertoire. I remembered this one song that everyone learns when they play flamenco, [so] I took that, changed it a little, bit, figured out a chorus and verse, and that's how it came about.
Why in your mind has the popularity of the Doors maintained so long and never slacked off?
Robby Krieger : I guess it must be that the music still holds up, you know? When you hear it on the radio or play it in your car, it still sounds good. That's really the only true test, I think: because when kids hear it, they like it. Even young kids. I thought at first, this must be parents turning their kids on to the Doors and stuff, but it's not that at all. I talk to a lot of young kids; 13-year-olds just hear it on the radio or at someone's house and they dig it. We put a great deal of effort into recording things and--not that we knew they would last a long time or anything--but we tried to make them as good as we could, using as few gimmicks as we could when we recorded, and I think that's the reason.
Of all the albums the Doors recorded, which holds up the best in your opinion?
Robby Krieger : I can't answer that, because I'll listen to one and think that's the best, then I listen to another and think that one's the best. Obviously, the first one, everybody loves the first album, and I particularly like the last album, L.A.Woman. I like Strange Days a lot, and sometimes I like Soft Parade. They all have something good-- not to say one's the best. One reason you can say the first one is the best is because we'd played those songs for two years, every night, so all we had to do to record was turn on the tape machine, and that to me is the best way to make an album.
Since the music has survived the test of time, can you cite band's major contribution to rock 'n' roll?
Robby Krieger : That may still have to be answered later. I think people still have not figured out the Doors or gotten as much out of them as they could. Because there are so many of those songs that people don't hear that much or that people have yet to discover on some of the albums. I think it's the depth of material that people haven't even really realized yet.
Most people think that Jim Morrison was the sole songwriter. What is your perception of your role as songwriter in the band?
Robby Krieger : Well, at first Jim was the songwriter, you know, and I had written maybe one or two songs in my life before that. But the thing was, we didn't really have much material, we had eight or 10 songs--this was before we really had gotten started. Jim mentioned, "Why don't you guys write something, why am I the only guy writing here?" I was like, "All right, I'll try. What the hell, right?" So I went home and "Light My Fire" was the first one, and it's been all downhill ever since. I was not the most prolific of songwriters; it was really grinding to write a song for me. It was like, one every three months, you know? But I liked doing it and Jim was really great about doing my songs. No matter how silly or ridiculous, he would always take a stab at it. I tried to write like he did because I wanted the songs to fit in, so I tried to write about universal themes like he did. When I first started doing "Light My Fire," I did it about fire, because fire was one of the four elements--earth, air, fire, water. I also wrote quite a few water songs, as you might know.
So many books have been written about the Doors and the Oliver Stone movie The Doors came out a several years ago. In your opinion, has the media "gotten it right" with regards to the Doors over the years?
Robby Krieger : Pretty much people's opinions are based somewhere between the movie and the books: mainly No One Here Gets Out Alive, which Jerry Hopkins and Dan Sugerman wrote. The truth lies somewhere right-field of those things. You had to have been there--that's the whole deal. I'm afraid no one will ever really know how it was, but that might be okay.
Looking back on those days, is there one moment where you felt you guys had really peaked or gelled as a band?
Robby Krieger : That's hard to say, I suppose as time went on, we had to get better, so the obvious answer would be L.A. Woman time, even though we weren't playing a lot of gigs because the Miami thing had happened and we couldn't get many gigs. But as far as recording-wise and just being a band coming up with stuff as a band, I think L.A. Woman was the best. That's pretty much how we came up with those songs. We were just playing one day, fooling around, and out comes "L.A. Woman." Same with "Riders On The Storm." "Riders On The Storm," we were screwing around, playing "Ghost Riders In The Sky," and from there, it went into "Riders On The Storm."
Talk to me about Miami.
Robby Krieger : Miami probably was one of the peaks. The movie was really good in one respect. He [director Oliver Stone] really tried to recreate the stage shows very closely. I was around for most of the shooting of those. I would tell him exactly how it looked and where everyone was standing. He got that Miami show very close, where the stage collapsed and Jim gets thrown into the audience and it's a wild snake-dance out in the audience. We didn't know if Jim was going to live through that one. That was scary! When the stage collapsed, John and I ran up the stairs as fast as we could. I don't know what Ray did. But there were huge amplifiers falling everywhere and stuff.
Speaking of that movie and movies in general, is it cool with you that people think that your music evokes a specific time and response in history? I'm thinking about the movie Apocalypse Now , and how perfectly your music captured the sensibility of that era, and how well it worked in that film.
Robby Krieger : I think so, except I don't want it to be pigeonholed as that. Like I said before, a lot of kids hear the music and think of the Doors as "their" band. The Doors always evoked a certain underground feeling in people where they feel they've discovered us, and I wouldn't want it to be pigeonholed to the '60s that much.
How hard was it to hang on after Jim's death--what was the struggle and how did you resolve it?
Robby Krieger : We never did resolve it. It was tough. When Jim was gone, the whole balance of the group was gone. We tried to go on. We did a couple of albums, and they weren't bad. There was some good stuff on them. We went out and toured and stuff. But it turned out we couldn't get along anymore. The three of us, who used to be good friends when Jim was around--I guess we had to be to balance his energy and stuff--but when he was gone, the three of us went in opposite ways and couldn't get along anymore. We had a contract to make more albums, but we stopped after two and just lately we started getting back together a little bit, hanging out. But now, [keyboardist] Ray [Manzarek] came out with his book unfortunately, and he kind of slammed [drummer] John [Densmore], so the two of them aren't really talking anymore...but I won't talk about that.
I saw you guys perform at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame ceremony with Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder. How did you feel that night?
Robby Krieger : The thing with Eddie Vedder was great at the Hall Of Fame induction. You know, he didn't want to do it at first, because he thought, "I can't do that, how can I fit into Jim Morrison's shoes?" But the Hall Of Fame people kept after him: "Come on, Eddie!" So finally he decided to do it. Two or three days before the rehearsals were set to begin, he decided to drive down to L.A. from Seattle in probably the biggest rainstorm we've ever had on the West Coast. He made it a third of the way in two days. He said he was listening to Jim the whole time, to the Doors. He said he really got into it. He finally made it on the last day of rehearsals. We had a few hours to rehearse and it came together real good.
Since your music has survived so long, do you hear echoes of your band on the radio these days?
Robby Krieger : Oh yeah, so many, you couldn't believe. Echo & the Bunnymen is one. It's amazing how much influence--Doors influence--I hear out there. I take it as a compliment, because it shows people are listening.
If Jim hadn't died, do you think you would still be playing together today?
Robby Krieger : I'm sure we would have still been playing together as the Doors. I see all these other groups from the past who've kept on and are still playing, and I think it's kind of like old fighters--they just keep fighting. What else are they going to do? It's the same with bands. What else would we do?
Do you feel the critics ever really "got" you?
Robby Krieger : I think they liked to get us, especially during one period--like from '68 though '69--after uh, on the first album, critics loved the Doors. They loved anybody who said anything other than, "Oooo-ee, oooooo-ah, gotta pee, Ma," you know? So, uh, but then, after a couple of albums, they thought, "Oh, these guys are too smart for their own good, they're too"--what's the word they always used?--"pretentious." You know? And Jim was not pretentious. If anything, he was not pretentious, he was speaking from the heart more than anyone I knew. They basically got it wrong.
Despite all the raves, do you think the Doors are underrated in any way?
Robby Krieger : Yeah, like I mentioned before, there's a lot of Doors songs that you'll find on some of the albums that nobody's really gotten into yet. Not that they've been overlooked, but the others are just so obvious, I guess. But I think they will-in the next 10 years, I think people will get a whole new slant on the Doors that they didn't have before. And there's plenty of stuff to dig in there.
Do you think the Doors could exist today with the way the record industry has evolved?
Robby Krieger : It depends more on the band than the industry. I think the way the industry is now; it makes it harder for a group to stay together than it used to be, because there are so many temptations on kids and groups, especially when they start young. One reason we made it and stuck together as long as we did was because we were a real team. We were four people and we split everything four ways, even publishing.
What were some of your favorite bands when you were starting out?
Robby Krieger : In those days before the Doors, I was into folk music, flamenco, jug band music. I went to school up near Berkeley and that's the kind of stuff people were into up there. We were very influenced by the music coming out of New York and Boston. My favorites were a group of guys called Koerner, Ray & Glover. There were three guys: Dave "Snaker" Ray, "Spider" John Koerner, and Tony "Little Sun" Glover. They were from Minneapolis, right near where Bob Dylan was from. They went to New York, met up with Paul Rothschild, who later became our producer. And they did some albums on Elektra. And then there was the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, which was my favorite blues band, and Rothschild produced them, too. So it was very weird that Paul wound up being our producer a couple years later. There was something going on there.
What are you listening to today?
Robby Krieger : Nowadays, talk radio. I'm mostly into the jazz stations.
How would you like the Doors to be referred to in the future, let's say, in the year 2040?
Robby Krieger : I don't know. It's not up to me. I'd like to see what people say about us at that time. I hope it's something good, but if it's something bad, that's better than nothing at all.