Interview: Guitarist Robby Krieger Discusses The Doors' Albums and Working with Jim Morrison
Robby Krieger sheds light — album by album — on one of rock’s most mysterious bands.
Did you ever think about how strange it was not to have a bass player?
Definitely. We always thought about that. We wanted a bass player, and we auditioned a few — but we never could find one who was right. Looking back, I’m glad we didn’t, because the Doors’ sound was largely a result of the fact that Ray had to play really simple bass lines, which gave the music a hypnotic feel.
And not having a bass player affected my guitar playing a lot. It made me play more bass notes to fill out the bottom. Not having a rhythm player also made me play differently to fill out the sound. And then, of course, I played lead, so I always felt like three players simultaneously.
“Light My Fire,” the first song you ever wrote, was a number-one hit. It’s sudden success must have been mind-boggling.
It wasn’t that sudden. It actually felt like forever to us. We started the band in 1965, and nothing happened for two years. We were going crazy. Finally, after being turned down by everyone in town, Elektra signed us. Our first single bombed, and it was another six months before “Light My Fire” hit. So it seemed like a long time. We felt like veterans.
Did you use your standard gear in the studio? Were you playing an SG?
Yeah, though the first red one I had was a Melody Maker. I had a few red SGs in the Doors, but they’re all gone now, mostly stolen or lost. Amp-wise, I usually used a Twin Reverb in the studio.
You almost allowed “Light My Fire” to be used in a car commercial before Jim put an end to it. Did Jim do the right thing?
Oh yeah, absolutely. In fact, it’s been our policy to reject any subsequent offers—and we’ve had quite a few. I really hate it when I see other bands selling their music to commercials. And by the time a big corporation is interested in using your music, you don’t need the money. So there’s really no excuse.
Released November 1967
When the second album came out it was attacked by many critics as being a retread of the first. Do you think that was valid criticism?
Only on one count. I’ll admit that “When the Music’s Over” was similar to “The End” in length and structure, but so what? Something works, so you do it again. It’s one of my favorite songs.
I don’t think that Morrison’s poetry rap is quite as interesting on “When the Music’s Over” as “The End.”
No, it’s not. How can you possibly top “The End”? What’s left once you’ve fucked your mother and killed your father? [laughs] The reason it’s my favorite song is my solo — I think it’s my best.
That solo is composed of two solos being played simultaneously. Did you improvise both of them on the spot?
Pretty much. In fact, I’ve never been able to reproduce them. That solo was really a challenge because the harmony is static. I had to play 56 bars over the same riff, which isn’t easy. It’s a lot easier to play something over an interesting chord progression. But we did that a lot because we were really into [saxophonist] John Coltrane, who pioneered “modal” jazz and soloed brilliantly over static harmonies and minimal chord progressions. I was always trying to play something that sounded like him — just totally out there in terms of tonality. I think “When the Music’s Over” is the closest I ever came.
You recorded Strange Days less than a year after your debut. Did Elektra put a lot of pressure on you?
No, we were ready. We had tons of material for the first two albums; the pressure came on the third album. We ran out of stuff and Jim was pretty fucked up on liquor by then, so it was hard to write with him and that’s when I started writing more of my own songs. It was also difficult to write while we were touring, so we started writing a lot more in the studio.
What was life on the road with the Doors like?
Not as crazy as you would think. At first, it was mostly teenyboppers and groupies and a few local nuts hanging around. But a couple of years down the road, when people realized how weird we were, we really started drawing some creeps. We still do, I might add—Morrison wannabes show up on my doorstep all the time. And they always want to sing. [laughs]
Speaking of weirdoes, “People Are Strange” has a great chord progression. Did you write that?
Yeah. Jim came up to my house in Laurel Canyon one night, and he was in one of his suicidal, downer moods. So John said, “Come on, Jim, we’ll go see the sunset. That’ll get you out of this.” We went up to the top of Laurel Canyon and it was incredibly beautiful — we were looking down on the sun reflecting off the top of the clouds. Jim had a total mood flip-flop, and said, “Wow! Now I know why I felt like that. It’s because if you’re strange, people are strange.” And he wrote the lyrics right there. Then I came up with the music and we went back down the hill.
Why wasn’t “Moonlight Drive,” the first song you wrote and rehearsed together, on the first album?
It wasn’t really the first song: “Indian Summer” was, and “Moonlight Drive” was the second. But we didn’t think the version that we cut was good enough, so we decided to drop it off the first album and try again next time. Unfortunately we’ve never been able to find the damn master for the first version. I think we may have found it now, and I hope I’m right because I always thought it was good. It was totally different than the one on Strange Days. It was real dark and laid-back, very spooky.
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