By: Dr Matt Warnock
Photo Credit: Joe Lopez
There were few bands in the late 1960s and early 1970s that were as successful and as controversial as The Doors. Their music changed the rock landscape, clearing the way for every band that followed to explore long-form compositions, metaphorical lyrics and extended improvisations. They, meaning mostly Jim Morrison, also helped define what it means to be an iconic rock star, with all the troubles and excesses that accompany that title.
During their tenure as one the world’s most popular bands, The Doors sold over eighty million albums, and continue to sell a million records a year to this day, a testament to the timeless quality of their edgy, yet poetic, catalogue.
Though he will always be remembered for his work with the Doors, and their contribution to rock history, guitarist Robby Krieger has remained active after the group disbanded in 1973. Working separately with former Doors band mates, drummer John Densmore, The Butt Band, and Ray Manzarek, Riders on the Storm, the multi-faceted guitarist has also released a number of solo records, including 2010′s Singularity.
Though the title may suggest oneness, a single moment in time or a single event, the music on the album is diverse, covering a wide range of genres. There are jazz tunes, “Solar Wind” and “Trane Running Late,” Flamenco improvisations, “Russian Caravan (Intro) and “Event Horizon (Intro)” as well as two tracks featuring some of Krieger’s classic slide work, “Southern Cross” and “Let it Slide.”
Krieger’s guitar work on the album showcases his dedication to the instrument and his quest to continually exploring new avenues of musical thought. There are moments where his improvisations may meander a bit, but overall his playing is as creative and engaging as it’s ever been. His use of octaves, and a quote from Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee,” during the melody and solo section of “Solar Wind” are but two examples of the musical range Krieger possesses on his instrument.
Check Out The Doors Collection at Amazon.com
With Singularity receiving positive reviews, and finding himself in the middle of a European tour with former Doors organist Ray Manzarek, Krieger is proving that he can still play with the excitement from his earlier years, while pushing his music into new and exciting directions at the same time.
Matt Warnock: Two of the songs from Singularity, “Russian Caravan” and “Event Horizon,” begin with solo, Flamenco guitar intros. You began your guitar studies with Flamenco guitar and have kept it up throughout your career. What is it about Flamenco that attracts you to that music?
Robby Krieger: I’ve always been drawn to Mexico and Spain, maybe I had a past life in Spain, who knows. When I was young my dad had a Flamenco record that I listened to a lot called “Dos Flamencos,” which had two Flamenco guitarists playing together.
When I started playing guitar I wanted to learn how to play Flamenco, so I took lessons and all that. That was the first serious guitar stuff that I did.
Matt: Were both of those intros fully improvised, or did you have a specific form, key or progression in mind when you went into the studio to record them?
Robby Krieger: When you play Flamenco there are certain forms that you use. “Russian Caravan” comes from Seguidilla, which has a specific rhythmic motive to it, [Sings motive] that you hear throughout the song.
The other track, “Event Horizon,” is a Spanish Caravan song, it’s also known as “Leyenda.” In fact we were sued when I used that lick, [Sings opening motive from "Leyenda"]. Some guy in France actually owns that music. I figured it was public domain by now, you always hear it in movies or whatever. Many people play that song, but nobody does it the same.
A lot of these Flamenco licks come from two guys, Carlos Montoya and Sabicas. Pretty much everybody copies those guys. I think that would have been around the late 1800′s when that started happening. Up until then, Flamenco was purely dance music.
Matt: Those two tracks really stand out as being very personal to you. Since you’re obviously close to this music, have you ever thought of doing an album of Flamenco material?
Robby Krieger: I haven’t thought of it. I don’t think I have enough Flamenco to fill a whole album right now. I could do it but it’d take me a while. I’d have to dig out my old Flamenco records and really work it up. But that’s not a bad idea.
Matt: On the track “Solar Wind” you quote the head to Charlie Parker’s tune “Donna Lee.” Has Bird had a big influence on your playing over the years? What draws you to his music?
Robby Krieger: I love Charlie Parker. He was so innovative. He was the Carlos Montoya of jazz I guess you’d say, in that everybody copies his licks. His licks were so good that people make them into songs, even he did that. It’s amazing how prolific he was.
When I practice guitar, I hate to just practice solos and stuff, I’ll go and work on Charlie Parker licks. It’s really fun, but you have to slow them down quite a bit to figure them out. [Laughs]
Robby Krieger: When I do the more jazzy stuff nowadays I use a pick. I use a pick about half the time and my fingers half the time. To get that kind of speed I think you really have to use a pick.
I read this article by Wes Montgomery one time. Who used his thumb to play the guitar, he never used a pick. They asked him if he had to do it all over again would he go back and use a pick, he said definitely. So I try and use both when the situation calls for it.
Matt: There’s another track on the record, “Trane Running Late,” which is sort of an homage to saxophonist John Coltrane. Are you drawn to these players because they play the saxophone, it’s the instrument that speaks to you, or is it the players themselves?
Robby Krieger: I don’t think it’s the horn. If Coltrane was a guitar player it would’ve been better for me. [Laughs] It’s just their music that I identify with, that makes me want to play what they play.
With Coltrane it was the freedom. How he freed himself from the changes. Parker was great at making the changes and Trane was great at freeing himself from the changes. That’s what speaks to me more than the horn.
Matt: You also play slide on two tracks, “Let it Slide” and “Southern Cross.” The slide has been a part of your sound from your early days with the Doors until now. Do you find that you hear certain riffs on the slide? That certain musical ideas will just come to you on the slide?
Robby Krieger: Yeah, I dig playing slide a lot. I try not to play slide the way most people do. I try to use it in a different way, like on “Moonlight Drive” for instance. It’s not just a blues thing. It’s more of a sound.
I’ve always loved the slide from listening to Blind Willie Johnson and Robert Johnson, all the Johnsons. [Laughs] All those old blues guys were great. I knew I’d never be as good as them so I thought I’d try doing something different with it.
Matt: Well it’s worked out well for you.
Robby Krieger: Thanks. One of the songs we’re going to do on this upcoming tour is “Waiting for the Sun,” which has a very unique slide part in it. Do you know that tune?
Matt: Yeah. On that tune, and everything you do with the slide, I find you have a very personalized approach to the slide. You didn’t just do the same old blues thing. Which may have made things harder at first, but in the long run you found a personal sound with the slide.
Robby Krieger: Thanks again man. I just ran into a guy, Roy Rogers, and I love how he’s playing slide. There are lots of great slide players out there. I’m just trying to do my own thing.
Matt: The cover for the album was inspired by one of your paintings. Do you find that your art inspires your music and vice-versa?
Robby Krieger: I guess it goes both ways. The painting was called Singularity, which is where the name of the album came from. It reminded me of a black hole and what would happen around the edges of a black hole. I can hear the music going as matter gets sucked into the black hole.
Matt: Have you always been a painter?
Robby Krieger: I’ve been painting for about the last twenty years. My mom was an artist and I fooled around with it as a kid, but never seriously until much later. One day a radio station out here had a benefit for AIDS patients. They asked a bunch of people if they would create something to donate to their auction, to help raise money. That’s when I started painting again.
Matt: Speaking of black holes, on the track “Event Horizon,” you get this very cool distorted sound, which meshes nicely with the Fender Rhodes. Are you using your Gibson SG on that track, and the rest of the record, to get those crunchy sounds?
Robby Krieger: Yeah, I did use the SG on a lot of this stuff. It’s become my favorite guitar in the last five years. I stopped using SG’s for a while, I was using 355′s. Then, my road manager was always bugging me to play it so it would look more like The Doors, and bugging Ray to use a Vox organ. [Laughs]
Finally, he found a ’67 in a pawn shop somewhere and I’ve been playing it ever since. Gibson is coming out with a signature model now, and it’ll be an exact replica of that guitar.
Matt: Do you have a preference for what amps you use in the studio? Are you a Fender guy or a Marshall guy?
Robby Krieger: Definitely Fender. I have an old Twin that I use in the studio a lot. I also like the Blues DeVille on stage. I know a lot of people like Marshall’s but I just can’t get a good sound out of those amps.
Matt: Are you using any pedals on the record or just the gain channel on the Twin?
Robby Krieger: When I play live I do use an older Boss pedal, an ME-10. It has all the different sounds in it. It’s an analog pedal. I don’t like the newer ones. When I’m in the studio though, I like to just use the gain channel on the amp.
Matt: You’re getting ready to head out on the road with Ray Manzarek for a tour of Europe this summer. What’s it like playing with Ray after all these years? Is it like old times or is there a new vibe to it?
Robby Krieger: It’s great, we have a lot of fun. Not having Jim around makes it totally different. In a way it’s not as exciting. But in another way it’s more fun because we don’t have to worry about all the bad things that could happen. [Laughs] We stretch out more. Ray and I are really able to do our thing.
We have a great vocalist with us now, Mili Matijevic, who was in Steelheart, a great band from back East. He’s great and he’s got a great voice. It’s just fun to do Doors songs you know.
Matt: The new documentary, When You’re Strange, was recently released and it’s got a much different vibe to it than Oliver Stone’s film. What did you think of the new movie as compared to Stone’s film?
Robby Krieger: This is the real thing. It’s actual footage of us back in the day. You can’t get more real than that. Stone’s thing was a Hollywood movie. I think he did a great job with it, especially the musical side of things. I was there for most of it and I wanted to make sure they were as true to life as possible.
Like the Miami show and the concert in New Haven, where Jim was busted on stage, at the Whiskey, those kinds of things. For me, musically, that was one of the best rock and roll movies ever made. Val Kilmer was amazing. I thought he should have gotten an academy award for that role.
Matt: When you look back at those events, New Haven and Miami, were you aware that you were changing the course of music? That the Doors were redefining what rock music was, and what it meant to be a rock star?
Robby Krieger: No we weren’t aware of anything like that. We were just doing our thing. It was a bummer, because when something like that would happen they would ban us from here or there. It was ridiculous.
There were crazier things going on in strip clubs all the time, or a play like “O Calcutta” which was total nudity. Nobody said anything about that stuff. They were just trying to make scapegoats of us,
Matt: With the new record out and a tour of Europe this summer, do you ever get tired of life on the road?
Robby Krieger: The music never gets old or boring, that’s still as fun as it always was. Living out of hotels is definitely is a bummer, but you gotta do it in order to bring the music to the people.