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 talk about lyrics with Jim?
Not much. He didn’t like to explain lyrics because he wanted people to interpret them themselves. But he thought about that stuff a lot. He was also somewhat into pure impressionism — which I think is what he liked about my songs. I always tried to write something that just fit the music, even if it didn’t especially mean anything.
Released June 1971
Legend has it that L.A. Woman was cut entirely live.
Not entirely, but a lot of it was live, and the song “L.A. Woman” was completely live. I think that could be the quintessential Doors song, and the way we came up with it was amazing. We just started playing and it came together as if by magic. Jim made a lot of it up as he went along, which is amazing because I think it’s one of his most poetic songs. I can remember Jim sitting in the bathroom with the mic singing and all of us just having a great time.
That album was the first time you had a rhythm guitarist— Marc Benno.
That was basically just so we could do it live. It freed me up. And we thought it might add a different flavor. I actually enjoyed it, and I didn’t have to do as much overdubbing.
You still did some overdubbing; it sounds like there are at least four guitar tracks on “I’ve Been Down So Long.”
Yeah, there probably are. Ray played a guitar and Benno played, and I probably overdubbed one too. I think I also overdubbed two or three slide parts.
That slide solo is one of your craziest.
Definitely. I was just trying to capture a mood without worrying about technique.
The beauty of your slide playing — and your blues playing in general — is you don’t mimic the originators. And you never really cleaned your blues up — you left it a little messy. Some white guys tend to be very anal.
That’s right. That’s what I didn’t like about Mike Bloomfield — too perfect. I always just tried to do my thing. I could play traditional blues slide, but all the other guys reacted more enthusiastically to my untraditional slide playing. In fact, that’s what got me into the band. Jim always loved my slide playing—he wanted me to play it almost exclusively.
Did Jim ever critique your playing?
He would always tell me that I was the most underrated guitar player around. What’s funny is that the four of us hardly ever criticized the others’ playing—or even suggested anything. We worked so well together that we hardly ever had to talk about it. Everybody just played the right part in the right place at the right time.
“Cars Hiss By My Window” is a rather unusual blues.
Yeah. That was our Jimmy Reed piece. Jim was really getting into the blues at that time and he loved it when I would just play straight blues. He’d sit there and make up songs on the spot. He just wanted to play all night. It’s too bad because I really think that had we done another album it would have been a lot more straight blues stuff, which I always loved.
How did “Riders on the Storm” develop?
We were fooling around with “Ghost Riders in the Sky” one day and somehow it turned into “Riders on the Storm.” It just happened.
Another change on L.A. Woman is the absence of reverb, particularly on Jim’s voice, which was so heavily reverbed on your first few albums.
Well, Sunset Sound, where we recorded the first two albums, had one of the best echo chambers in the world. It was a live chamber, which they don’t make anymore. And it sounded so great that we used it a lot more than we might otherwise have. We piped everything through there.
But L.A. Woman was recorded on an eight-track in our rehearsal space and Paul Rothchild was gone, which is one reason we had so much fun. The warden was gone.
So, even after all your success, you still had that sort of relationship with the producer, where he was cracking the whip?
Yeah, we just kind of took it for granted that he would produce and we would do things his way — you stick with success. And, finally, he was like a rat deserting a sinking ship. I think he figured it was time to bail.
So there was a sense that the Doors were a sinking ship?
Yeah, definitely. We couldn’t play anywhere, we were fucked because of the Miami incident. Morrison Hotel didn’t do that well, Jim looked bad and was getting fat… All things considered, I thought it was pretty cool that L.A. Woman did well.
I think we came up with something so loose because there was no pressure. We figured we were already screwed, so we were having fun again. we were so far gone that it was like our first album.
Just weeks after the album entered the Top Ten, Jim was dead. Do you remember finding out?
Yeah. I got a phone call and I didn’t believe it because we used to hear shit like that all the time—that Jim jumped off a cliff or something. So we sent our manager off to Paris, and he called and said it was true.
People often talk about the inevitability of him dying young. Do you buy that?
No! I thought he would never die. I thought he’d outlive everybody, like one of those Irish drunks who’d drink a fifth of whisky a day and live until they’re 80. He seemed invulnerable, the way he would do things and jump out of windows without getting hurt. I never saw those things, but I would hear about them the next day. For some reason, he was fairly well behaved around me. Somehow our relationship developed where he stayed fairly calm around me, thank God. [laughs]
After Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin died, Jim supposedly told people that he would be the third to die at 27. Did you remember him saying such things?
Yeah. He was definitely obsessed with death. He talked about it all the time.
There’s always been talk that he’s not dead, and Ray has occasionally fueled that idea. Have you ever thought that?
Yes and no. I’ve allowed myself to fantasize at times, but I’m sure that if he wasn’t dead he would have gotten hold of us by now. But then again, if there’s anybody who could pull off something like that, it was him. I still think about him quite a bit. I always have dreams that he’s alive, and we’re playing together again. Wishful thinking.
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