Over the course of a short career that only lasted a little more than five years, the Doors had a tremendous impact on rock and roll. They were a truly unique group, with a singer, Jim Morrison, who was a genuine poet with an almost mythical persona. Unlike most bands at the time, the Doors did not have a bass player. Ray Manzarek played the bass lines on his keyboards. John Densmore was a solid, steady drummer. And Robby Krieger was an elegant guitarist with a distinctive style unlike the blues-based guitar leanings favored by most his six-string peers. 20 years after being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, Robby Krieger sits down for an exclusive interview with the Rock Hall, reflecting on the passing of friend and bandmate Ray Manzarek, patching up differences with John Densmore, the Doors' greatest moments, where the Doors would've gone had Jim Morrison lived, Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, what he's listening to now and more.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: First, let’s talk about Ray Manzarek’s death…. Did you see that coming? Had he been sick for a while?
Robby Krieger: Not really…. He only found out in March, and by May, that was it. He had liver bile duct cancer. It had gotten into his bones by the time they diagnosed it. He went to that clinic in Germany, where Michael Douglas was treated. But it had already gotten too far.
RRHOF: Were you and Ray still close?
RK: Yeah, we had been touring together for the last 10 to 12 years. He lived up in Napa Valley, so I didn’t see him much except when we were on tour. But we got along great. So it’s not easy…. But there was a very nice memorial service for him in Napa Valley, where he lived with his wife Dorothy. It was great to see how many people showed up, including his brothers; Jac Holzman, who was the president of Elektra Records; Michael McClure, the poet, and many old friends who I hadn’t see for way too many years.
RRHOF: What’s your relationship with John Densmore now? I know you had a falling out after you and Ray created the Doors of the 21st Century band.
RK: Well, we’re trying to get back on better terms now that Ray’s gone. We’re talking about doing a show on Ray’s birthday, which is February 12th. A kind of tribute for Ray. That would be the first time John and I have played together in quite a while. When we created the Doors of the 21st Century, he didn’t want to play, and he said, “Okay, you guys go play.” Then when we got Stewart Copeland and started booking some big shows, he changed his mind and said, “Now wait a minute!”
RK: Right. We did stuff after that, too. We did Storytellers on VH-1 with Ray and John and a bunch of different singers. And we played a couple of different shows together and stuff. Around 2000, my band was over in Europe, and John came and sat in with us. But then there was that whole thing where we wound up going to court over the use of the Doors’ name. That’s never good for anybody, except for the lawyers!
RRHOF: You’ve done several solo albums, as well…. The most recent one was Singularity.
RK: That came out in 2010. That started off as a tribute to Miles Davis, when he died quite a few years ago. My buddy Arthur Barrow, who plays bass and was Frank Zappa’s guy, had been doing stuff with me for years, and we did this crazy piece that started with a flamenco guitar, but we never finished it. Then, a couple of years ago, we decided to finish it. That’s how the album started. We had a few other guys from Zappa play on it, including Tommy Mars, who plays keyboards. And Richie Hayward, who was the drummer in Little Feat, played with us before he passed away. And a guy named Larry Klimas, who is a sax player, was on the record. He’s played with Neil Diamond, War and Chicago, and he still plays with me in the Robby Krieger Jam Kitchen.
RRHOF: That’s your current band, the Jam Kitchen, correct?
RK: Yeah, we just did a tour recently. We did some shows in August and September. We were in Chicago, Detroit, New York and Boston, then we went down to Florida. So that’s a fun thing for me, working with these really fine musicians and playing some more outside stuff.
RRHOF: Who all is in the Jam Kitchen?
RK: Well, we have Arthur Barrow, Tommy Mars, Larry Klimas, and we have a drummer named Tom Brechtlein, who’s played with Kenny Loggins, Chick Corea, Robben Ford and others. And then there’s Vince Denham, who is a sax player. He plays with Michael McDonald, and he’s also in the Jam Kitchen. And we have some other musicians who join us. We don’t play as big venues as I played with Ray, but it’s still a lot of fun. And we play a few Doors’ songs, like “Back Door Man,” “Riders on the Storm,” stuff you can stretch out on.
RRHOF: So let’s talk about the Doors. When you look back, what are your thoughts about the band?
RK: Basically, I think about how unusual it is for four people to come together like that and just have the perfect musical personalities to make a band like that. You don’t see that very often.
RRHOF: What kind of impact do you think the Doors had on rock music?
RK: I think we were the first kind of jazz-influenced rock band. We’d stretch out our songs and do more instrumental stuff. Then there was the poetry, with Jim’s lyrics. And that was before rap. I can’t say we were the first rap band, but we did use poetry in our lyrics. And we had songs like “Unknown Soldier,” which was an anti-Vietnam song.
RRHOF: What are some of your favorite Doors’ songs?
RK: We had the only flamenco-based rock song with “Spanish Caravan.” “L.A. Woman” is one of my favorites. That song just came about out of a jam. That probably would have been the direction we would have taken had Jim lived.
RRHOF: Are there any Doors’ shows that you remember and that you are particularly fond of?
RK: I think the first time we went to San Francisco and played the Fillmore. That was quite amazing. All of our San Francisco shows were great. And Madison Square Garden was pretty cool. Some of the early Chicago and Detroit shows were wonderful. We had great audiences.
RRHOF: I saw you here in Cleveland at the Allen Theater….
RK: That was a crazy show. The audience didn’t quite know what to make of us, and after the show, after we left the stage, they destroyed the place. They messed up all the chairs and on and on. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because we didn’t come back for an encore. I think it was pent-up emotions. They didn’t know what to do, and then after we were done playing, it was like…. “Okay! Let’s destroy the place!”
RRHOF: Let’s talk about your induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
RK: That was pretty cool. Eddie Vedder inducted us, and Don Was played bass. We didn’t really get to rehearse much because Eddie Vedder decided to drive down from Seattle to L.A., where the ceremony was being held. And there was this huge storm, so he barely made it. He got there the last day of rehearsal. And he was a big Jim fan, and he grilled me for hours about Jim.
RRHOF: What did it feel like being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
RK: It was very cool. It was one of the first years they did that, and it could have been corny, but it wasn’t. Bob Dylan was there, and I got to talk to him, and he was one of my idols. And all of our families and friends were there, because it was in Los Angeles.
RRHOF: What music are you listening to now?
RK: You know, I mostly listen to the jazz channel and the Sixties station on XM. Jim Ladd, I like his shows.
RRHOF: Are there any new bands you like?
RK: I’m really not so impressed with most of the new stuff. I did sit in with John Mayer [recently], though, and that was cool. It was in New Jersey, and I performed “Call Me the Breeze” with him.
RRHOF: Going back to the Sixties, what do you think about the impact the Rolling Stones had?
RK: They were huge. They were one of my favorites. When I was in college at Santa Barbara, I thought their first couple of albums were amazing. I always liked blues, and that’s really what they were at first – a blues band. I was really amazed that English guys would be able to play the blues that well. And I liked the Animals for the same reason. And Van Morrison…. His first album was brilliant.
RRHOF: As a guitar player, what did you think of Jimi Hendrix when he first hit the scene?
RK: Pretty amazing. I was quite impressed. We were in New York and doing a video with Murray the K, and Hendrix hadn’t hit yet. And Murray said, “Hey, come here. I want you to hear this record I just got.” And he played me a couple of Hendrix songs, and that was the first time I heard him. Pretty amazing….
RRHOF: So what are you up to now? Anything particular you are working on?
RK: I have a studio I am putting together down in Burbank. So that’s my main focus right now. It’s going to be pretty cool. It’s going to be all old-school gear. I think a lot of bands today are going back to that sound. So I’m going to do my stuff there, but we will also have other bands and musicians come in and record there.