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Vol. 9, No. 1, 2010
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Robert J. Lewis
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the door's


interviewed by


“In 1966," writes Serge Gamache, "America’s counterculture provided the background for the emergence of The Doors: armed virgins trudging through the jungles of Viet Nam, provoking in Morrison nightmarish visions and recurrent dreams . . . the spirit of protest that . . . morphed into the unique droning sound that became synonymous with Doors music and the rise of their charismatic lead singer who embodied, like no one else in his time, the Dionysian principle . . . His band mates, who were gifted improvisers and Coltrane aficionados, became wary of their leader’s volatility . . . a Catch 22 stuck in a melting pot of genius and torment."

In a no holds barred interview, UItimate Guitar’s Steven Rosen gets guitar great Robby Krieger to opine on the two Jims (Morrison and Hendrix).

STEVEN ROSEN: Do you remember the first time you heard Jimi Hendrix?

ROBBY KRIEGER: I remember exactly.

STEVEN ROSEN: What was that moment like?

ROBBY KRIEGER: There was a guy named Murray the K. with whom we were doing a video shoot in New York and he said, “Hey man, if you’ve got a minute come up to the studio, I wanna play you something. This has just come over from England and it’s called Jimi Hendrix Experience." At the time I hadn’t even heard of Jimi Hendrix. He played “Purple Haze,” and I said, “Wow! That’s different.” [laughs] I couldn’t believe it. I’d never heard anything like that.

STEVEN ROSEN: And how was it different?

ROBBY KRIEGER: The guitar of course.

STEVEN ROSEN: How long had you been in the Doors when you heard this?

ROBBY KRIEGER: A couple of years.

STEVEN ROSEN: So the Doors in fact predated Hendrix by quite a bit?

ROBBY KRIEGER: Not by much. We started a couple years before. I think Jimi made it around 1968 whereas we came upon the scene the year earlier, so it was more or less the same period.

STEVEN ROSEN: Do you remember the first time you actually got the Are You Experienced album in your hands?

ROBBY KRIEGER: I remember having the album. I don’t remember the first time I actually played it. I actually remember more the second album, Axis: Bold As Love because at that time I was getting more into blues and stuff, and that album really knocked my socks off.

STEVEN ROSEN: Do you regard that as his best album?

ROBBY KRIEGER: I think so, but the first one is also amazing.

STEVEN ROSEN: You mentioned you were getting into blues. How did Jimi’s style or playing influence you?

ROBBY KRIEGER: I’d been into blues but when I heard that he would sit down and pick apart Albert King licks, that was kind of a light bulb on my brain because I’d never really done that. Before that, Rock & Roll guitar was more of a means than an end. I didn’t really consider Rock & Roll guitar as being that big of a deal until he came out; it was just a way to meet girls and that kind of stuff, you know [laughs]. After he came around, I got a lot more serious about it, that’s for sure.

STEVEN ROSEN: So Jimi was the first one who really made you realize how creative you could be with the instrument and how far you could take it?


STEVEN ROSEN: Did you listen to his contemporaries? The Jeff Becks, Page, the Zeppelin thing. Did they do anything for you?

ROBBY KRIEGER: For sure, I listened to all those guys, but Jimi was the more innovative one. The guitarists you mention were great but they just kind of stole stuff from the old blues songs. Jimi did, too, but he had a way of making it all his own.

STEVEN ROSEN: Did you ultimately get to meet Jimi?

ROBBY KRIEGER: Yeah, even though he lived in New York most of the time and we never really got to jam or anything. We played the Isle of Wight show together and I sat next to him on the plane going over to England for about eight hours.

STEVEN ROSEN: Do you remember anything about what you talked about?

ROBBY KRIEGER: Mostly drugs.

STEVEN ROSEN: At the time, did you have any sense that maybe Jimi was a little too fragile for this world, that he wasn't going to be here for much longer?

ROBBY KRIEGER: Not at all, not as much as Jim Morrison whose fragility we felt right from the beginning. Jimi struck me as a little more together but I really didn't know him that well, and couldn’t say one way or the other.

STEVEN ROSEN: So the Isle of Wight was the only show you guys ever played together?

ROBBY KRIEGER: I believe so.

STEVEN ROSEN: Do you remember his performance, your performance, hanging out or anything at all? That turned out to be one of his last shows.

ROBBY KRIEGER: That was around 1970 and it turned out to be one of our last shows, too. I remember I actually did a show after that, at the Forum, and he did seem kind of tired or something. I couldn’t put my finger on it. He was with Band of Gypsys then and he was kind of admonishing the audience just to listen, don’t go crazy and stuff. Whereas before I’d seen him at the Whisky [A Go-Go] a couple of times and he was just amazing. I think by that time, at the Forum, like Morrison, he was getting a bit bugged by the whole scene.

STEVEN ROSEN: So when you saw him at the Whisky, it must’ve been a really interesting moment in time seeing Jimi with you being in a major band like the Doors?

ROBBY KRIEGER: Oh yeah. He had just broken out, probably the first or second album and The Whisky was just insane: people were standing on the tables. I’d never seen the Whisky so excited. Jimi had the double Marshall stack. It was loud [laughs].

STEVEN ROSEN: Was there anything specific about his playing that you loved? His chording, tonality, songwriting?

ROBBY KRIEGER: It was everything. I loved his vocals. He was probably the best I’d ever seen at singing and playing guitar at the same time. It was like he could divide his mind into two places at once. He didn’t even have to think about what his guitar hands where doing while he was singing. That really amazed me, during the live shows, his naturalness, the way he was able to bring his songs on to the record.

STEVEN ROSEN: Did you ever talk to Jim Morrison or any of the other guys in the band about Jimi?

ROBBY KRIEGER: Sure we talked about him. What I remember in particular is Jim saying, “Well, Jimi’s gone and Janis is gone and I’m next.”

STEVEN ROSEN: He actually said that?


STEVEN ROSEN: And they were all gone within months of each other.

ROBBY KRIEGER: Within a year and all at the age of 27.

STEVEN ROSEN: What a waste.

ROBBY KRIEGER: Somebody told me that Jimi was actually a lot older, that he just said he was 27. I don’t know.

STEVEN ROSEN: But it’s documented when he was born?

ROBBY KRIEGER: I don’t know. It’s pretty hard to believe a guy at that age playing guitar like that.

STEVEN ROSEN: But when you think of people like Clapton at 17 with the Bluesbreakers and Stevie Winwood . . . .there’s not a lot of them but you were a young guy doing some amazing guitar stuff?

ROBBY KRIEGER: And then there’s the amazing Stanley Jordan who was pretty young.

STEVEN ROSEN: So how did you get involved in the Experience Hendrix tribute show?

ROBBY KRIEGER: I guess our managers and the Hendrix management had been collaborating since we’re both in the same situation with both Jims deceased.

STEVEN ROSEN: What songs do you play on?

ROBBY KRIEGER: “Manic Depression,” one of my favorites. Probably gonna do “Killing Floor.” I don’t even really know what I’m gonna do yet. I haven’t done my first show with them. “All Along the Watchtower.” I would like to do“Spanish Castle Magic.”

STEVEN ROSEN: Did you know all these songs beforehand?

ROBBY KRIEGER: I knew some of them and I’ve certainly heard all of them. The only weird thing is that everybody’s playing in E flat, which I’d never done.

STEVEN ROSEN: The down tuning?

ROBBY KRIEGER: Exactly. It’s a bit different playing in E flat. And then there was the inevitable problems with some guys forgetting about tuning down a half a step [laughs]. I remember last year Buddy Guy did that one night. We started playing . . . “What the hell’s wrong? What’s going on here?” [laughs]

STEVEN ROSEN: Well, he’s only a half a step off, right?

ROBBY KRIEGER: Yeah, which is the worst thing you can do.

STEVEN ROSEN: You like his “Manic Depression?” A song that sounds simple but isn’t?

ROBBY KRIEGER: None of Hendrix’s songs is simple. A lot of them have really weird, complex intros, you know? Like “Manic Depression,” where he goes [sings] “Da-da-da, da-da-da, dom.” One time he does it five times, the next time he does it six times [laughs]. The Doors were like that, too. We just played it as we felt it and there were times when the bars would be off, like a ¾ bar where it wasn’t expected. And then Jim would come in early sometimes and that’s how it went down on the record. So when people try to learn that, it’s always a challenge. Some people just do it in four, other people do it just like the record.

STEVEN ROSEN: Do you actually play a Hendrix solo or do your own little thing during solo sections?

ROBBY KRIEGER: I try to do some of the solos or parts of them like he did it and then I’ll go off and do my own thing. I don’t think anybody wants to hear the solo exactly how Jimi did it because nobody can do it that well.

ROBBY KRIEGER: What’s it like playing with Mitch Mitchell and Billy Cox? If anybody understands the Hendrix rhythm section it’s those guys?

ROBBY KRIEGER: It’s great to talk to those guys about how the sessions went down. And of course they are really nice guys.

STEVEN ROSEN: You emerged as a guitarist/composer during the golden era of rock and guitar, especially the West Coast scene. Are there any moments or players that stand out from those days?

ROBBY KRIEGER: We played with a lot of groups at the Whisky but the most exciting was the group Them: they were always our favourite, and getting play with Them at the Whiskey was a treat. The last night we played, we all jammed together on “Gloria, ” which was amazing. We not only saw Hendrix at The Whisky, but Cream, who were amazing, and the Allman Brothers. The Whiskey was just great back then.

STEVEN ROSEN: And what did you think of Eric Clapton and Cream?

ROBBY KRIEGER: I love Cream and listened to Clapton with the Bluesbreakers. He was just great.

STEVEN ROSEN: Did Duane Allman have an influence on your slide playing?

ROBBY KRIEGER: Not really. We were kind of out before them, but I did love what he did. We used to hang around with those guys quite a bit because John Densmore’s ex-wife used to hang out with Berry Oakley. His wife was best friends with my wife, so we used to hang around with the Allman guys all the time. In fact, I used to take him out fishing on my boat. We used to have a great time.

STEVEN ROSEN: “Light My Fire” which you wrote, remains one of the great classics of all time. How do you respond to it now? What’s it like hearing yourself on the radio everyday?

ROBBY KRIEGER: Well, it was great the first thousand times [laughs]. But I still love to hear the Doors songs on the radio, and not just “Light My Fire,” but any Doors song.

STEVEN ROSEN: And if I’m not mistaken you got to keep all your publishing from those songs, right?

ROBBY KRIEGER: Yes we did. We got lucky.

STEVEN ROSEN: I know all about the horror stories, about Jimi getting ripped off.

ROBBY KRIEGER: We actually sold our rights to Elektra Records for five thousand dollars back when we first signed up. Luckily they were really cool guys and they gave it back to us when we re-signed with them. So we were indeed very lucky.

STEVEN ROSEN: For a mere five thousand?

ROBBY KRIEGER: That was actually very normal back then. When a group signed with a record company they sold the publishing to them because, you know, a group always needs money. Five grand was a lot back then. Who knew it would be worth fifty million at one point?

STEVEN ROSEN: Thank you, Robby Krieger.

Editor's note: If you're in a quandary trying to choose a guitar that is right for you, we recommend Ray Beck's note perfect Beginner Guitar HQ on the 15 factors to consider according to the science.

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