By: Matt Baamonde
Forty-plus years after the Summer of Love and the release of The Doors’ self-titled debut album, 61-year-old Doors guitarist Robby Krieger is a busy man. Recently, Krieger appeared at the Berklee College of Music’s Berklee Performance Center in Boston where he performed a set with Doors tribute band Morrison Crossing comprised of ex-Berklee students, and spoke to the audience and reporters on a variety of topics, past and present.
The following night, Krieger took the stage at Washington, D.C.’s Constitution Hall as part of the Experience Hendrix Tour, an all-star guitar-centric tribute to Jimi Hendrix. Whether the result of a nostalgic fling, the enduring nature of classic rock or the eerie similarity of war-troubled times, there’s ample evidence of a resurgent interest in hippie-era mood and music.
A meaningful connection exists between Boston and The Doors. On April 10, 1970, The Boston Arena served as the venue for the band’s first stop on their final tour, a performance captured in the 3-CD set The Doors: Live In Boston . Given Berklee’s interest in guitar and songwriting education, guitarist Krieger, who penned Doors classics such as “Light My Fire,” “Love Her Madly” and “Touch Me” and has a spot on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the top 100 guitarists of all time, was a good fit for the Boston campus.
Krieger’s 30-or-so-minute set with Morrison Crossing and candid Q&A session shed light on his current playing style, The Doors’ influence on punk and the Gibson Custom Custom Robby Krieger 1967 SG .
Matt Baamonde: Your guitar work seems really jazz based, even your music with the Doors sounds heavily influenced by jazz. Do you think it’s a good foundation for guitarists as a platform for their music?
Robby Krieger: Yes, of course. I think the Doors’ music was based on jazz in a way because we improvised a lot. I think you should listen to as much jazz as possible to get ideas for songs.
Matt: We know you’re a guitar collector, what are some of your favorite pieces that still inspire you?
Robby Krieger: I’m not really that big of a collector. I’ve got maybe 20 or 30 guitars. But I only buy ones that I play. I have a ’60 Les Paul Sunburst. I’ve got an old ’59 Strat that’s pretty neat. I’ve got a [Gibson] Johnny Smith. I’ve got a couple of [Gibson] Barney Kessels. I’ve got a great [Gibson] Wes Montgomery model L7, it’s like an L5 with one pickup, and then that’s really about it as far as collectible guitars.
Matt: Were there any reservations either from you or the band about releasing Live in Boston? Just because it wasn’t the tightest performance but it was very energetic.
Robby Krieger: Well, it took this long, let’s put it that way. It takes quite a while to realize that the performance sometimes isn’t as important as the whole overall deal and the message. So yeah, it did take a long time.
Matt: What advice do you have for young guitarists? Where would you focus their attention?
Robby Krieger: I would say, go back. Go back further than Eddie Van Halen [Laughs] ’cause there’s a lot of cool stuff to be learned from the guys in the ’60s and ’50’s and before that even. A lot of the old blues guys…there’s some great stuff that you’re missing, you know, if you don’t go back that far.
Matt: I don’t want this question to come off offensive at all, but I don’t think it is. Jim Morrison – obviously a complicated character. You mentioned how touring with him was a challenge. Sort of a two part: How tired do you get about hearing about Jim all the time as opposed to the music, and how annoying could he be?
Robby Krieger: [Laughs] Jim was [annoying], you know. People talk about him all the time and sometimes they do overlook the music. But, they would never would have noticed the music if it weren’t for Jim, you know, and they never would have noticed Jim if it weren’t for the music. So, you have to live with both. What was the second part of the question?
Matt: Maybe it’s a little loaded the way I asked how annoying he could be. How was it to be with him?
Robby Krieger: [Laughs] Well, it depends on his state of mind! If he was drunk he could be very annoying. He could be very nasty depending on his mood. And he could be the sweetest guy in the world the next day and then you’d always forgive him. So, it was a love-hate kind of deal with him.
Matt: You mentioned to learn guitar you need to watch bands listen to records and then develop your own style. How do you feel about a place like Berklee that’s teaching the guitar?
Robby Krieger: You know, there’s good points and bad points. I hear a lot of people say, “Oh, all the guys that come out of Berklee sound the same,” you know, and stuff like that. But, then again, we didn’t have anything like Berklee back in those days so there’s a lot of great people that come out of here too.
For some people it’s probably the right thing, and others it’s not. I think if you’re coming here to try to learn how to write a song, forget it. If you want to come here to learn how to be a bandleader or something a little more technical, then that’s great – an engineer, whatever. But, I don’t think anyone can teach you how to write a song or how to play the guitar.
Matt: Are you eyeing any new guitars or new gear lately?
Robby Krieger: I have a new guitar that Gibson is gonna put out that’s modeled after my guitar, actually an SG. It’s gonna be a little different than that one [Krieger points to his current SG], but it’s gonna look like that. It’s gonna be my model. Finally. Never had one before! So, it should be cool. I’m always looking for something, but I haven’t found it yet.
Matt: This is kind of an unusual question. I should preface it by saying I read a book about the Jewish origins of punk rock called the “The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB’s,” so this is kind of why I’m going in this direction. I heard that you were Jewish, is that true?
Robby Krieger: Correct. Was that the Jewish origins of punk rock?
Robby Krieger: [Laughs] How’s that?
Matt: The New York origins of punk and a lot of people were Jewish. The whole Lenny Bruce formula that doesn’t matter if you’re Catholic, if you live in New York, you’re Jewish. You know, it really is kind of true with a lot of people. But you were not raised religiously?
Robby Krieger: Not really, not religious. So didn’t really affect me that much, I guess. My parents kind of rebelled against the whole orthodox Jew thing because their parents were into it. I guess they both kind of rebelled against it and me and my brother never went to church, maybe once or twice.
Matt: What did your father do?
Robby Krieger: He’s an engineer. Actually, a rocket scientist from Northrop.
Matt: I have a specific question about the Norman Mailer Benefit you did with Jim. It was just you and Jim kind of jamming to the blues. I was just wondering what those gigs were like, and if you felt Jim would do more of that if he were to live, just you and him kind of jamming.
Robby Krieger: I wish we had done more of that. That was the only thing we did like that, unfortunately. I would have liked to have done more. Jim, he liked Norman Mailer stuff to read and Norman Mailer decided to run for governor or mayor, I forget which, of New York so we did this benefit for him. There were a lot of different poets, I think Alan Ginsburg was there. It was a lot of fun.
Matt: Was it a good environment for him as a performer?
Robby Krieger: Yeah, definitely. That was when he was in his prime, you know?
Matt: Before the Doors, did you consider yourself a professional musician, where did you see your career going if the Doors never happened?
Robby Krieger: I didn’t consider myself a professional musician. I was just kind of doing it for fun. And who knows where I would have gone. I would probably would have been flipping burgers at In and Out [California fast food chain].
Matt: Do you still do drugs at all?
Robby Krieger: I try not to. [Laughs] Once a drug addict, always a drug addict.
Matt: What was it like going on as the Doors after Jim passed away?
Robby Krieger: It worked pretty good for about a year. In about two years we did two albums. But then we started going in different directions, the three of us [Krieger, drummer John Densmore and keyboardist Ray Manzarek], and it just started not to work. And then we decided to find a singer because Ray and I were singing, We decided to find a singer so we all moved to England and I think just the stress of being over there and stuff just got us crazy and we split up.
Matt: Guys like Les Paul wer still playing weekly gigs in their ‘90s. So, what’s in your future? What kind of career do you still see coming for you?
Robby Krieger: I could see that happening. [Laughs] Music seems to be one thing you can still do as you get older without losing it too much. I’ve seen Les Paul and he was amazing! Maybe not as good as he used to considering his age, but he still played really good!