AC/DC said it best: "Rock & Roll ain't noise pollution. Rock & Roll ain't gonna die." And for so many bands, truer words have never been spoken. Take The Doors. Born in the California of the sixties when political tensions were heating up and the youth were on the borderline of getting angry and getting high, the band created a whirlwind of hypnotic music before the death of their creative lead singer, Jim Morrison. Forty-three years later, their music is still on the airwaves, still seducing the youth with their charismatic psychedelic nuggets. Forty-three years from now, you will still be able to find "People Are Strange," "Riders On The Storm" and "Light My Fire" playing somewhere. It's almost a guarantee.
Robby Krieger was The Doors guitar player and writer of numerous Doors hits. He seemed to be the quiet one of the band, standing back and creating musical tapestries alongside keyboard player Ray Manzarek and drummer John Densmore; trippy playgrounds on which Morrison physically and vocally mesmerized a nation. Books upon books have been written about this band, the focus primarily on Morrison and his wild child antics and Byronesque poetic charm. But what about that hidden gem to Morrison's left? That scrawny guy with the wiry hair, etching out riffs that would end up being labeled as iconic many years later? What's his story?
When it comes to The Doors, there isn't a question that Krieger has not been asked. When Morrison passed away in 1971, the band tried to continue on but finally drifted away into other musical projects. Krieger and Densmore formed the Butts Band before the guitar player started working on solo material and collaborations with such artists as Eric Burden and Berry Oakley Jr, getting more into Jazz Fusion and Flamenco, traveling with the Experience Hendrix tour, and actually returning to a version of The Doors featuring The Cult's Ian Astbury on vocals. So it's not like Krieger gave up after The Doors. Artists never stop being artists. But when it comes to that particular band, people just can never get enough.
A new DVD has hit the shelves this month. You may have seen snippets from it here and there, in music videos and documentaries over the years, but for the first time the entirety of the 1968 film, Feast Of Friends, is available as of November 11. This was the film the band was making themselves, bringing along a cameraman and soundman to document some of their travels. But the film was never finished, until now, having been remastered to beautiful audio and video quality. The addition of a British documentary called The Doors Are Open and a version of "The End" from Toronto in 1967, gives the disc extra pop for the buck.
Glide had the pleasure of talking with Krieger a few weeks ago about Feast Of Friends. Laid back and extremely friendly, he shared some memories with us about growing up as a self described "weird nerd," his time in The Doors as the film was being made, meeting the angel of the folk music explosion and how his luck with Porsches just wasn't that good.
What do you think about the new restoration of Feast Of Friends?
I think they did a great job putting it together. You know, Feast Of Friends was actually never released as a film like it was intended to cause we never really finished it. We kind of got sidetracked halfway into it. They've used some of the footage for various videos and have used a little piece here and a little piece there but it's never been released as is. There was a bunch of outtakes we never used so that was kind of cool to see those and have those be part of it. And then along with that, you get a couple of other videos as a bonus. My favorite is The Doors Are Open, which is a show we did in England back in 1968, I believe. It's in black & white but I think it's our best performance ever videoed.
Whose idea was it in the beginning to actually do a film about The Doors?
Well, Jim and Ray were both film students and they were at the film school at UCLA. I was at UCLA too but not in the film department. So those two were like very much into movies and making movies and Ray really wanted to be a movie director. So I am pretty sure it was their idea to do a film about The Doors. There was nothing fancy about it. We just brought a cameraman and a soundman along with us on tour and Jim always used to say, "Well, the movie is making itself." (laughs)
The thing I noticed is that everybody looked happy. There was a lot of laughing, a lot of smiling going on.
Yeah, it's not really the gloomy Doors that you think about, like you see in the Oliver Stone movie (laughs). But I think this is a good adjunct to the Oliver Stone movie which showed one side; it was pretty one-sided, showed all the weird stuff that happened. I think this is, well, obviously it's more reality because it's just some guys following us around with cameras (laughs).
You look almost normal.
(laughs) Yeah. We do now but back then, you know, we looked pretty weird. Going through airports and stuff with long hair and stuff back then was a little different than it is now. Now, everybody looks like us. But it took a little bit of nerve to be different back in those days.
What was going on in your world at that time?
It was just after the first album was out so, you know, Vietnam was going on and there was a lot of political stuff happening. Kennedy had been killed, I think both of the Kennedys by then, and Nixon had got into the White House so we were kind of disillusioned politically. For a while there it looked like we were going to change the world and everything was going to be really cool and then that all changed. And you know, we didn't really think of ourselves as political, we didn't try to proselytize a certain viewpoint or anything. We just thought of ourselves as like a mirror of society.
I was going to ask you how individually political you guys actually were, because your music seems to get pulled in anytime anyone is talking about Vietnam, the protests and the Civil Rights movement. Your music is always in that soundtrack.
It wasn't as though we were apolitical or anything like that. I mean, we all hated the war and all that stuff just as much as anybody else. But we didn't want to use our notoriety or fame in order to express a point, like some guys did. In our opinion, artists should mirror society. It shouldn't try to profess a point or our point of view. To me, that rubs me kind of the wrong way when I see people doing that. Although, like in the last twenty years or so, I think it's okay to come out when something is so bad that you've got to say something about it, then fine, you know. But like I said, that's not what we were trying to do. We were just trying to make art and thereby change the world. I think music is the one thing that everybody likes and can agree on and if you can start from there then there's a chance that everybody won't kill each other. Maybe (laughs)
Do you think that you scared the older generation whose kids were into your music? And what do you think it was that scared them so much?
Freedom. The fact that we represented freedom, you know. We talked about that in the songs and I think that the parents, like all parents, they want their kids to be in line and not go crazy or do anything too weird (laughs). And for some reason, I think, people identified The Doors as representing just being able to do whatever you wanted to do.
And they didn't have that in their generation.
Right, right, exactly, and maybe that was a good thing, I don't know (laughs). Maybe not, cause look what happened—World War II and World War I. We were all brought up on wars and we thought there was something wrong with that picture, you know. I think if people had more freedom, then the way that people get caught up in doing bad things like the Nazis and extremists and like that, is because they don't have the freedom to do what they want to do so they will go along with anybody that offers them a way out basically; even if it's to kill yourself as a suicide bomber. You know, I'm sure to them that sounds better than what they're living at the time. If conditions are so bad that's the case then you've got to change something, something's got to change. I know it's hard to change people's minds but that's the struggle, you know, and always has been.
There is footage at the beginning of Feast Of Friends of a performance and it's just total chaos. There are security men actually on the stage in front of you guys, the crowd couldn't even see you. But it's total chaos and the kids just keep coming and the men keep pushing them off and it doesn't end. Do you remember that particular performance?
Oh, there were quite a few like that (laughs)
Did it ever scare you, that chaos?
You know what, it really wasn't scary. We were having fun up there and the kids wanted to be part of it and come up. You know, I think compared to some of the stuff that went on in the punk movement in the eighties, late seventies, that was pretty tame. I mean, crowd surfing and spitting and all that stuff, that didn't come in till later (laughs). Just a bunch of kids wanted to get up on stage, big deal. Why do you need a million cops up there? Have you seen that James Brown video that's out? [Mr. Dynamite: The Rise Of James Brown] There is one scene in there where kind of a similar thing happens. It was after Martin Luther King died, got shot, and James Brown did a show in Boston and the people are all set to riot and stuff and so he started doing the show and a bunch of kids started jumping up on stage and the cops just start beating the shit out of them and all of a sudden James says, "Hey, don't do that man. Let 'em do what they want to do. It's okay." And a bunch of kids came up and were dancing and having a good time. Nothing bad happened, you know. It kind of reminded me of that. But I've never really felt threatened up on stage. To me, they love you so much they want to get up there and I never felt anything bad from an audience.
How much of a sixth sense did the four of you have with each other to play together live with Jim being so spontaneous and theatrical? How did you know what to do?
(laughs) You know, it's not something you think about. You just have to do it. It seemed like we were able to do that from out of the four of us, real easily. So it just seemed natural to us.
I wouldn't know what to do.
That's what was fun about it, was we never knew quite what was going to happen. Kept you on your toes (laughs)
When the money started coming in and you got famous, what was your first big splurge?
I bought me a Porsche, a 911 (laughs). Then it got stolen so I bought another one and that got stolen. So I gave up on Porsches. One of them got stolen right out of my carport on my birthday.
What was it like growing up in the Los Angeles area?
Well, a lot of people would say it's idyllic, you know. The beach is right there and all that, which was true. But for me, my family was Jewish and where I lived in the Palisades, it was THE most WASPy area of LA (laughs). My parents didn't like the Jewish thing so they were trying to kind of pass themselves off as white people, I guess (laughs). I don't know, I wish I had grown up more in Hollywood or somewhere like that where there was more diversity, but I shouldn't complain, I guess. It was fun.
What is your first memory of music?
Probably "Peter & The Wolf." My dad had a lot of records and one of the first things he played for me and my brother was "Peter & The Wolf," which was kind of fun, you know. We had a piano at home and I started listening to some of my dad's records. He had these great old like blues records and stuff like that. Then my mom liked Frank Sinatra so we would hear that on the radio. But the first thing I really liked was Elvis. Elvis came out in 1955 with "Hound Dog."
What did your parents think about you pursuing music instead of a typical job?
They liked the idea, I mean, they were glad of anything that I was actually interested in because mostly I wasn't interested in anything (laughs). No, they were very supportive , surprisingly, of me liking music. My dad really didn't think I would actually make a career of it or anything. When I was in UCLA with the other guys, I didn't tell him I'd actually quit school when I really thought The Doors were going to do something. So he didn't find out about that till a couple years later but then he was okay with it (laughs)
What were you like in high school? Were you the nerd or a jock?
(laughs) I was in Junior High and early high school and I was kind of a nerd. I wasn't into music yet, not really, and my friends were mostly the weirdos, you know, the weird nerds, and we would get drunk and stuff. But the cool kids would have parties to go to and we'd always hear, "Where's the party? Oh the party's over here tonight." And we would never get invited to the party (laughs). So we'd have to crash the party. "Alright, we're going to crash the party." Most of the time, you couldn't even find the party much less crash it but then the couple of times we did crash the party, all we did was stand around and try to look cool (laughs). I don't know, I was always kind of young for my age. I guess my mom and my parents started me and my brother too soon in kindergarten. They wanted to get rid of us, I guess (laughs). So we were like a year ahead or behind everybody and you know how that is when you're the youngest kid in your class—you're not cool. That was a big mistake but then when, luckily, I got bad grades and stuff my parents sent me to a private school and I had to go back a year, I was better off for that.
So at that point in your life, what did you think you were going to do with your life?
At that point, I had no idea but I had started to play guitar and stuff and I did, actually, hope I would be a musician, because I was pretty good pretty quick at guitar and that's pretty much the only thing I was ever any good at (laughs)
Why didn't you stick with the trumpet?
You know what I really wanted to do was be the kid that played the trumpet for Reveille in the mornings at school but this other kid got the job and I was never quite as good so I gave up on that.
I understand that you played flamenco guitar in your youth and then years later you came back to it. What was so fascinating about it?
One of my dad's records was a flamenco record and I really liked it so I guess that's why. I just always loved the sound of that. You know the first kind of guitars that I played that my friends had were these cheap Mexican guitars but they had the nylon strings and flamenco-type sound so I guess that's why (laughs). I still play flamenco. In fact my last album had some flamenco on it, called Singularity. The first song is flamenco.
Are you working on anything now?
Yeah, we're working on another one right now so hopefully it will be out around the first of the year.
Does your son Waylon still play with you?
Yeah, he does. In fact, we just did a show for Harley Davidson called the Love Ride. All these bikers come out to this area out by Castaic Lake and we did a big show out there with Buckcherry. My son Waylon is trying to be an actor but he still likes music and he's getting to be a pretty good singer.
Who was the first real rock star you ever met?
Well, the first musical star I met was Joan Baez. When I was going to school up in Menlo Park, she did a show up at Stanford and we got backstage and got to meet her. That was pretty cool. Then about forty years later, a couple years ago at the Grammy Awards, I got to meet her again and I said, "Hey, remember when I met you backstage at Stanford and I had you sign my hand?" (laughs) And she wasn't impressed (laughs). She didn't remember.
What do you remember most about playing at the Isle Of Wight Festival in 1970?
Well, unfortunately, the one they filmed of us wasn't one of our best performances cause Jim was in kind of a bad mood because of the Miami trial, and all that stuff was going on, but as I remember, it was kind of weird. They had a lot of stuff that was going on, bad stuff, at that festival that year. A bunch of kids broke in, knocked one of the fences down, and had a lot of police out there and stuff. And Joni Mitchell was crying. She was so upset cause they were beating up the kids. So it was kind of weird, kind of a weird scene. It wasn't my favorite festival (laughs). I liked the one in Austin [SXSW]. I've done that in the last couple of years. I recently did one in Nashville [Bonnaroo]. I did a thing with Skrillex. That was pretty cool. We had Damian Marley and the kid from Cage The Elephant. He's a big Doors fan. We did "Break On Through" and he was great. He's a great performer.
You've played on the Experience Hendrix tour several times. What was that like? I hear that's a really fun thing to do.
Yeah, that is really fun. In fact, they were playing at the Greek a couple of weeks ago and I went over there and checked them out. But yeah, I've done it almost every year for the last four or five years but I didn't do it this year. I actually am doing a Hendrix show in New York over Thanksgiving but it's not part of that Hendrix thing. But I love Jimi Hendrix and it's so much fun to play those songs and to hang out with all those great guitar players. You learn a lot and it's pretty cool.
Which of his songs was the most challenging for you to learn or to play?
I like to do "Manic Depression." That's pretty tough because you have to do it right or else it falls apart. Then "All Along The Watchtower" is a good one but not easy either because the beat is turned around in the beginning so Mitch Mitchell taught me the correct way to do it (laughs), doing it backwards. I mean, it sounds like an easy song to play but it's not. At least not correctly.
When The Doors ended and you went into a whole new musical world, were you nervous?
Yeah, it was kind of weird. Your whole world was shaken up. Crazy when your good buddy dies and the whole band was thrown out of whack. We actually kept on for two albums after Jim died but then the three of us just couldn't get along anymore after the whole dynamic was gone. Actually, John Densmore and I formed another band called The Butts Band. We went over to England and found some guys that we liked and it was actually a pretty good band. You can look up some of those songs on YouTube, the Butts Band. Of course, when you're in a huge band like The Doors and then all of a sudden there's nothing, it's not easy.
Whose idea was it to put "Back Door Man" on the first album?
Oh, that was my idea, actually. I had heard "Back Door Man" by John Hammond Jr. He had a record out called John Hammond & The Screaming Nighthawks and it was a picture of him on a motorcycle on the cover. Cool album. I played it for the guys and they liked it so we did his version of "Back Door Man," cause if you listen to the original, which was written by Willie Dixon, Howlin' Wolf plays it, it's quite a bit different.
I'm only going to ask you about one Doors song: "Love Her Madly."
Oh, I wrote that about my girlfriend who is now my wife, and the fact that when we would be fighting, which was quite often (laughs), her favorite thing to do was, she'd say, "Well, I've had enough of this and I'm leaving" and she'd go out the door and on her way out she'd slam the door so hard that the whole house would shake. So, "Don't you love her as she's walking out the door." (laughs)
Is she the same lady who is in Feast Of Friends with you?
Yeah, that's her
And you're still married to her to this day?
Yeah, believe it or not (laughs)
How many years has that been?
At this point at the end of the interview, Krieger decided to turn the tables and ask me a few questions.
So when did you get into The Doors?
When I was a kid but I will tell you something funny: I used to write Doors lyrics on the bleachers at school. We had these old wooden bleachers and I would write like a couple of lines from a song, cause people used to doodle all over them, and people would come find me and ask, "What does this mean?" And I would be like, "Go listen to the music."
They didn't know it was The Doors lyrics?
I just don't think they knew what it meant
Well hey, I don't even know what half of those songs meant (laughs)