Veteran rock guitarist Robby Krieger is as busy as ever these days. The legendary fret-meister first garnered international acclaim in the turbulent ’60s decade as the guitarist for the Doors, one of the few bands that could probably be cited as an “icon-status” aggregation without much debate among popular music historians. Krieger’s lyrical riffs and raucous tone were critical facets of that combo’s one-of-a-kind sound, and interest in the Doors and their music continues to the present time (as we’ll soon see).
Following the death of singer Jim Morrison in 1971, the Doors recorded a couple of albums as a trio (the other members were keyboardist Ray Manzarek and drummer John Densmore) then disbanded. Krieger has been in other outfits such as the Butts Band, and has forged a commendable career as a solo artist who concentrates primarily on instrumental albums, and when he went on the record with VG for a second time (the first was in ’94), his new album, Cinematix, was yet another instrumental effort he was eager to discuss.
Vintage Guitar: Why do you prefer instrumental albums?
Robbie Krieger: Well, for one thing, I don’t have a singer to write for! And another thing is I guess I don’t have that much to write about – lyrically – although I have been writing some words lately. So my next album might have some lyrics.
But I love instrumentals, and I’ve always wanted to have a hit instrumental like “Walk Don’t Run.”
Which do you think is more of a challenge, writing a melody for an instrumental song, or lyrics?
It depends on what kind of song you’re going for. If it’s a pop song, it’d be easier to write if you’re figuring words into it. But for something like fusion, words would just get in the way.
In the mid ’90s, your trio didn’t have a bass player; the keyboard player utilized pedals. However, there are bassists with impressive chops all over Cinematix.
I got tired of not having a bass player, but (keyboardist) Skip Van Winkl was great; it was amazing how he could coordinate his hands and feet. Most organ players are really only using one foot when they play bass pedals, but he could use both. It was like he was doing a dance on those things!
The new album first became available on the internet.
It was on MP3 first, where part of it could be downloaded. Then I got my own website, and we’re selling it there. It’s also in stores now.
Was it recorded digitally, or did you use some analog methods, as well?
A combination of both. I recorded most of it digitally at my studio, but on a couple of songs I used a “real” studio that had 24-track analog. It all ended up digital, anyway.
The sticker on the CD case describes the album as “A soundtrack for your mind.” Whose idea was it to make the actual disc look like and old movie reel?
Our artist, Darwin, who’s also my partner in R&D Records. He comes up with a lot of good ideas.
There’s an intimation that you’re supposed to envision your own images when listening to this album.
Well, I think a good instrumental should make you envision something in your mind. When I hear something like “Cut the Cake,” it makes me “see” something, and the problem with MTV is that it takes away from your own imagination.
“Missionary Jam” gets pretty frenetic, and sounds like it might have almost gotten away from you.
(chuckles) It was exactly what the title says – a jam. No rehearsal, we just started playing. It was recorded at John Avila’s studio; he’s from Oingo Boingo, as was John Hernandez, who played drums on that song. I’d sit in with those guys sometimes. I thought that jam turned out really good, although we didn’t know where it was going next!
There was an all-star lineup on “Psychedelicate,” including Edgar Winter, T. Lavitz, Billy Cobham, and Alphoso Johnson. Guitarist Jeff Richman played lead on that tune, but you took the solo.
The day we tracked that song, I was sick; I didn’t play on the basic track until later. Jeff played the lead part on the basic version, and I figured I’d replace it later with my guitar, but I liked what he’d done so much, I left it. I wasn’t saying that I had to play every melody on the record, and he’s a great guitar player. He teaches at all the guitar schools out here in L.A.
I presume you used your old mono (Gibson) ES-355 on the new album.
Yeah, I used that quite a bit, but I did use a Strat on “Idolatry.” I found an old ’67 SG that I played, as well. I’d used a hollowbody for so long that I hadn’t even thought about SGs for a long time, but that ’67 is on a couple of songs.
After all that time, did the SG feel awkward, in that the neck might have felt like it was further out to your left when compared to the 355?
Not really, because a couple of years ago, Gibson made me a new 355 with an SG neck. I went to the NAMM show, and saw a blond 355 reissue their Custom Shop had built, and said I’d really like to have one of those. I tried it, but didn’t like the neck, so the the Custom Shop said they could make one with any neck I wanted. I found a neck on a ’62 SG that felt great, so they copied it for my 355.
The remix of “Peace Frog” (originally on the Doors’ Morrison Hotel) into something called “War Toad” is an intriguing track.
I needed an extra song for a European release, and Danny Sugarman, who works the Doors, said Elektra had hired some guys to do a remix on “Peace Frog” for Europe, but it was really bad. Danny said, “Why don’t you do one, and put more guitar on it?” My friend Scott Gordon, who had engineered my No Habla album, had gotten real good on the Pro Tools recording technology, and I worked with him in that format.
We’re working on getting some airplay. A D.J. on KLOS who’s a Doors aficionado has been playing it every night; his audience is really into the Doors, too.
There’s a new Doors “tribute” album called Stoned Immaculate, but members of the Doors played on many of the tracks. A version of “Rider On The Storm” is the original version with additional instrumentation from Creed, and yourself.
I was on most of the songs on that album. It turned out that anyone who wanted to play on that record also wanted to play with us. It’s kinda weird playing on your own tribute album! (laughs) On “Riders On The Storm,” I added some new slide guitar with my Les Paul.
Your association with Creed also included a performance at Woodstock ’99. I’ve interviewed several people who played at the original, but you’re the first person who can provide a perspective on the ’99 concert.
And I didn’t play at the first one! It looked like there were millions of people, but there were a lot of bad vibes doing on, because the audience was not getting treated right. We did three songs – “Riders On The Storm,” “Roadhouse Blues,” and one of their songs.
Creed seems to have a slightly different sound from a lot of the modern rock bands; I understand they tune down. However, a lot of current bands have a crunchy, mid-rangey sound; I don’t think there’s a much musical diversity around as there was when the Doors were together.
Well, most of ‘em are awful derivative; I’m waiting to hear something totally new, but I do like Creed and their guitar player, Mark Tremonti – he has a new hollowbody PRS.
We did a VH-1 “Storytellers” show with a bunch of the guys on that tribute album – John, Ray, and I played, as did guys from Creed, Stone Temple Pilots, the Cult, and Perry Farrell.
A decade ago, the Cult’s Ian Astbury projected a huge Morrison fixation (Krieger chuckles). You’ve performed with him at the Whiskey in L.A.
That was at one of Ray’s gigs, and (Astbury) did a couple of songs with us. He’s got the loudest voice I’ve ever heard.
You sat in with your son Waylon’s combo, the Oakley-Krieger Band?
Yeah, and he plays in my band now.
What about live performances?
We’ve toured to support Cinematix, and are getting ready to go out again. I take along the 355 Gibson built for me, and the SG. My son plays guitar, and we’ve also got bass, keyboards, and drums.
As for the future, I’d like to get back into soundtracks, like that HarleyDavidson thing I did a few years ago – that would be some instrumental music where you’d have to write for the visuals that are already there; the complete opposite of something like Cinematix. Like I said, I’m thinking about doing an album with lyrics, and Ray’s been talking with me about doing something together, so we’ll see what happens.
One of the all-time great examples of “audio-visual association” is the Doors’ epic song “The End,” which plays a prominent role in Francis Ford Coppola’s celluloid Vietnam saga, Apocalypse Now. How many people hear Krieger’s droning, sitar-like guitar whenever they see a Huey helicopter?
While “The End” wasn’t written for the film, it’s indicative of how the music created by Messrs. Krieger, Manzarek, Densmore, and Morrison continues to mesmerize listeners decades after it was recorded. Robby Krieger is keenly aware of this phenomenon, but he’s not in a time warp, and his ongoing efforts aver his musical creativity is as viable as ever.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Aug. ’01 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.