New Doors Still Open For Robby Krieger
(originally appeared in January issue of San Diego Troubadour)
I’m not real fond of ranking – as in who’s the best band ever? People have been known to argue for hours, days, even years over who comes in where on what list of favorite artists. But, if I were hard pressed to give my list of the top five bands in rock music, the Doors would be there very near the top. The Doors occupy a unique place in the world of rock music. They have seemingly existed in their own universe for the last 45 years. At a time in music history when many bands arrived in L.A. with mixed results and fading quickly, the Doors opened new musical vistas found in jazz, blues, and rock, thus creating a new platform for future bands. The Doors brought a focused diversity fused by its four distinctively talented members. They extended long jazz-like jams before anyone in rock music ever considered it. They broke new ground with rock as performance art in their live shows, which were often unpredictably raw and spontaneous.
With the shaman-poet performance of Morrison; the upended church organ converted to psychedelia of Manzarek; and the steady, consistent, and skilled jazz influenced percussion of Densmore; Krieger brought in an original approach to guitar and solo artistry, which makes him a contemporary and peer of other guitar legends of the era such as Clapton, Hendrix, and Santana.
This background makes the initial listening to Robby Krieger’s Grammy nominated solo album, Singularity, a kind of revelation. While the Doors have most commonly been associated with their charismatic lead singer, the flamboyant and self-destructive Jim Morrison, hearing Robby’s lead guitar on this new album, filled with flamenco and fusion jazz, reveals how very much he contributed to the experimentation and ambient sound of the Doors. With the studied sensibility and discipline of a classical jazz guitarist, the passion of a flamenco player, and the experimental nature of a jazz musician, Robby Krieger gave the Doors a solid musical soundscape to draw from. He does the same with this first solo release in ten years. The songs play like an epic musical journal, a meditation on creativity and the passion that emerges from out of nowhere, out of the singularity of the moment of creation.
A Los Angeles native, Robby studied flamenco guitar while he surfed the shores of the Southern California beaches. His family encouraged his music. Beach communities like Hermosa and Manhattan Beach were not far from the jazz and blues clubs at a time when musical categories were not as important the pursuit of good music. During his adolescence, Robby embraced classical and jazz as well as rock and blues. It was this foundation that provided the sound he would bring to the Doors. During their brief six-year history he guided us through hard edged blues (“Back Door Man”), psychedelic improvisations (“The End”), and some of the first ever slide guitar in rock music (“Moonlight Drive”). A great suggested listen in the study of his influence on the Doors is his remix of the Doors classic “Peace Frog,” now titled “War Toad,” from his 2000 release Cinematix. He even managed to work in some flamenco on the song “Spanish Caravan.” And the flamenco was an ever-present influence in most of his electric guitar work with the band.
But Robby’s diverse and intensely distinctive and creative guitar was not his only contribution to the Doors’ music. He was also the one who wrote songs like “Light My Fire,” “Love Me Two Times,” “Love Her Madly,” and “Touch Me.” Over the years Robby has received numerous accolades and awards, including a 2007 Lifetime Achievement Grammy for the Doors. He has produced only a handful of solo albums. In 2002 he joined keyboardist Ray Manzarek to form the Doors of the 21st Century with Ian Astbury of the Cult filling in for Morrison. A successful period of touring allowed him to bring his Doors classics guitar work back to a live venue. I attended their 2004 show at the L.A. County Fair and the results were, once again, revealing. After hearing both Ray and Robby for so many years on record, to witness them resurrect and bring to new life the music they had cultivated so many years before was, in a word, electrifying.
After losing a legal battle over the use of the band name, Ray and Robby tour today as Manzarek/Krieger. For a limited time Robby is touring with the jazz players and musicians who formerly worked with Frank Zappa (who also appear on the Singularity album which he produced with). Touring with Ray will resume next year in Mexico City. With his nomination for a Grammy in the Pop Instrumental category, he is the first solo member of the Doors to be so honored in a competitive category. At the same time, the band has been nominated for Best Extended Music Video for the documentary film, When You’re Strange. It looks to be another good year for the Doors and an especially fine one for Robby who stands a good chance of winning a well-deserved Grammy for Singularity. In the following phone interview Robby shares his thoughts on the new album and his old band.
Terry Roland: Is this your first Grammy nomination?
Robby Krieger: Yes. I have a lifetime achievement award with the Doors, but this is the first nomination in a competitive category.
TR: Your new album, Singularity – how did it come to be?
RK: It originally started as a tribute to Miles Davis. I did it with Arthur Barrow. We’re both huge Miles fans. We were trying to do something like Sketches of Spain. You know, I was going to be Miles and Arthur was going to be Bill Evans and do the studio production. These guys were our idols. We started it years ago and then we both lost interest in the project. We had a lot of tracks. Finally, about a year and a half ago, we got together and decided we had to finish this.
TR: So you had demo recordings to build from?
RK: Yeah, sort of rough sketch. The main part, the thrust really, is the song “Russian Caravan.” It starts with acoustic Flamenco and then it goes into this whole orchestral thing arranged by Arthur from the flamenco. By the time we finished it was nearly 15 minutes long. After we finished that track, we decided to make a whole album. It’s turned out to be kind of Latin, Spanish jazz.
TR: You’ve always brought a jazz mentality to your music. I remember, with the Doors, “Light My Fire” was a kind of Miles/Coltrane-influenced jazz jam. Was that the first time anyone in rock attempted to something like that?
RK: Yeah. I think the only thing that came close was Paul Butterfield in East-West.
TR: I noticed your nomination didn’t come up under jazz or rock but under the pop instrumental category.
RK: Yeah, the categories with the Grammys are kind of strange. I saw that the album is nominated along with other jazz artists… You know, Kenny G, he’s jazz. And Larry Carlton, he’s jazz. I think there are just too many categories.
TR: Will you be doing any playing around L.A. for the Grammys?
RK: Yeah, there’ll be a show at the Grammy museum for the nominees in the category.
TR: Tell me about the title and how it relates to the album? It seems sort of conceptual.
RK: Well, Singularity was kind of a fluke. We ended up using one of my paintings titled “Singularity.” To me, the term is like the Big Bang Theory. You know, something comes from one thing. It’s like first there was nothing then suddenly everything came out of this one point in space. It must’ve been like God saying he was bored and so he decided to make something happen. So, I decided to name the songs after things that have to do with outer space. You know, like the song on the album “Event Horizon,” which is part of a black hole. It has so much gravity that everything gets sucked in. Event horizon is that area around the black hole. Other songs have similar themes, like “Southern Cross” and “Solar Wind.” It’s about creativity, how it happens in the moment.
TR: Yeah, I know the writer Larry McMurtry said about writers of fiction, “We write from silence.” Kind of the same concept?
TR: So you’re touring right now?
RK: Yeah, we just got back from New York.
TR: You’re being billed as the Robby Krieger Jazz Trio.
RK: I don’t know where that came from. We’re not a trio, there are actually five us and there might be six.
TR: Who’s in the band?
RK: Arthur Barrow who produced the new album; he used to be with Frank Zappa. Tommy Mars on organ; he also used to be with Zappa. There’s Chuck Manning on sax and Tom Brechline on drums, who used to play with Chic Corea.
TR: Let’s talk a bit about the Doors.
TR: I’ve noticed some balance in the view of the band recently with the movie When You’re Strange and the Doors’ website. It’s a reminder that the band isn’t really about one person but we were four members who each brought important contributions to the overall sound.
RK: Yeah, we were a real band. That’s really rare. I know back then, they tried to bill us as Jim Morrison and the Doors, but that didn’t work. Jim didn’t want it. Jim always wanted it to be the way it was, everything equal. It was his idea to split everything four ways.
TR: I saw the band in 1967 at Anaheim Convention Center. It was a crazy scene.
RK: Who else was on the bill?
TR: You opened with Jefferson Airplane closing. The show was held up because Jim was late, showed up an hour late, I think.
RK: Sounds like Jim. I don’t really remember that. I do remember playing shows with Jefferson Airplane though.
TR: I was only 12. I always consider that show my rock and roll bar mitzvah. I went in a boy and came out a freak!
TR: In recent years you’ve been playing with Ray, for a while as the Doors of the 21st Century.
RK: Yeah, that was with Ian Astbury from the Cult. Now we just go by Manzarek/ Krieger. We just recruited the singer from the band Wild Child, Dave Brock.
TR: Is he as good as Ian was?
RK: I think he’s better. Much closer to Jim. Ian kind of had his own thing going from the Cult. But this guy really gives more of Jim. Everybody wants more of Jim.
TR: Any more tour plans with this line up?
RK: Yeah, after the first of the year we’ll be going down to Mexico.
TR: Boy, the Doors have always been in demand in Mexico.
RK: Yeah, we went down there in the ’60s. It was a really big deal. It became a political thing. Jerry Hopkins wrote about it. The government stopped us from playing a bullring. We ended playing a club for bunch of rich people. But, since then, the Doors have been huge in Mexico and around Mexico City.
TR: Well, I really hope to see you win the Grammy! I look forward to seeing you at Anthology in January.
RK: Thanks. Yeah, stop in and say hi.
Robby Krieger will be at Anthology with his jazz group on Wednesday, January 19, 7:30pm, at Anthology. Tickets are available at www.anthologysd.com/