Robby Krieger Interview

© by Rainer Moddemann.

During my first visit to Los Angeles it was rather difficult to get an interview date with Robby Krieger. Robby and his band were working on two albums simultaneously in the studio, and he was also busy doing the final mixing of already finished tracks in another studio.

Eventually, however, we were able to agree a date one afternoon, when a studio appointment for the band was cancelled.

Robby Krieger lives in the Benedict Canyon, through which runs a small winding asphalt road. On one of the numerous hills which line the road on both sides and hiding the houses behind from view, a narrow dusty alley leads to a large green gate, which vividly reminded me of Elvis's gate at Graceland. Linda Kyriazi, Robby's PR manageress, who drove me to this interview in her car, did not need to ring the bell, and the gate opened with a quiet squeak. Our arrival had obviously been watched.

The car stopped next to a few American veteran cars parked underneath shady magnolia trees adjacent to a two-storey house. Robby emerged from the front door with a friendly "Hello, how are you?". He was wearing one of those kitschy, but comfortable Hawaiian shirts, corduroy trousers and no shoes. His hair had got thinner and more reddish, than I had remembered from my earlier meeting with The Doors.

He invited us into his comfortably cool, air-conditioned house and told us to make ourselves at home. This was, however, made impossible for me by Robby's dog, Teddy, a huge shaggy gray monster, who tried to knock me over to the ground, despite his master's calling to him not to do this. Only after I grabbed a sock that was lying on the floor with which I managed to lure Teddy out of the front door, we got the desirable coziness - apart from Robby now running outside to rescue his precious sock!

Rainer testing Robby's guitar
Rainer testing Robby's Dobro guitar.
Photo © Linda Kyriazi.

In the meantime I got the opportunity to take a look around family Krieger's living room (Robby lives here with his wife, Lynn, and his son, Waylon). There seemed to be a homely kind of chaos in this huge room. Numerous platinum and gold records were standing on the floor or hanging on the walls. Above the gray fireplace ledge a Nastassja Kinski poster graced the wall, which showed her naked apart from a fully grown boa constrictor being wrapped around her. Next to this stood a quietly sounding television set and a sinfully expensive music tower with black speakers built into the wall. An enormous wall of shelves was overflowing with records, reels, books and cassettes. A very old Dobro guitar was leaning in front of the large round window with a view onto large oaks and smaller shrubbery. Amongst the freshly ironed clothes on the living room table was a brown Persian tomcat, who watched me suspiciously.

Linda was putting some cans of beer into the fridge in the adjoining kitchen, remarking that "... Robby always forgets to buy any drinks when he gets guests!", when Robby returned and asked me to follow him. He turned towards a glass door and hurried up a few stairs to his home studio. Here I also find numerous platinum and gold records on the walls of a room which is otherwise filled with countless musical instruments and other musical equipment.

My eyes immediately turned to a black 1955 Gibson Les Paul with golden metal attachments that was leaning against a Fender Twin Reverb amplifier. Robby, who had noticed my interest, smiled. "This is my original Doors guitar which I always used when playing the slide, either at concerts or in the studio, during Moonlight Drive', Who Do You Love' or Wild Child'. I think you can also see it in the video Dance On Fire'.""And where is the red Gibson SG, which is better known to Doors Fans from the photos?", I asked. Robby pulled a face. "Somebody stole that one of me towards the end of the Doors era. It is probably hanging somewhere on a fan's wall right now. It was my favorite guitar which I had right from the beginning. Really, this was my very first electric guitar and I had used it during the whole time I spent with The Doors." He picked up a red Gibson 335 and plugged the other end of the lead into an amplifier. A few more little lamps lit up on other electronic equipment, and the rich sound of a trombone filled the studio. "With these Computers I have millions of possibilities of changing a guitar's sound," he said, pushing further buttons. Now the guitar sounded like a harp. "So this is Robby's hobby", I added, hinting at the 12" single with the same title. He smiled. "Actually, I only record demos and try out new sounds in this studio. For records I rather prefer real guitar sounds and, of course, a real band. I don't like these drum computers."

Following the push of a button, the drum computer just mentioned released a heavy rhythm, to which Robby started playing a faster-than-the-speed-of light solo. In the meantime, I looked at the Doors' first gold single for "Light My Fire", having already been stripped of color by the constant light from the sun, which hung from a beam above the mess of cables.

We later returned downstairs to the living room, where Teddy was already resting underneath the table. Armed with an ice cold beer, Robby walked over to the music system and put on one of his tapes. "You must listen to this," he said. "A track for the new album." Deafeningly, a funk jazz song penetrates the room. "This thing is called Strut A-Various'!" he shouted into my ear. "A pun of to strut' and Stradivarius'." "A strange title for a song without any violins in it", I shouted back.

Rainer testing Robby's guitar
Rainer testing Robby's Dobro guitar. Note the Nastassja Kinski poster!
Photo © Linda Kyriazi.

Suddenly something cold was pushed into my hands - the Dobro. I played a few chords on it, which, of course, were drowned out totally by the volume of "Strut A-Various". Robby inserted a second cassette, playing a curious comedy tune called "The Black Beatles", which he had taped from the radio. We had a good giggle over this. Eventually Robby switched on several of his Tiffany lamps, took the freshly ironed clothes off the table and was ready for the interview.

(Later added to this conversation of June 1988 were excerpts from other interviews I held with Robby in April and June 1989)

Robby: Does it work? (He points to the tape recorder and the video camera). I have the same one (he means the recorder).
Rainer: At least the tapes run. Well Robby, your new album - what kind of music will be on that one? Something like "Versions"?
Robby: Yeah, sort of "Versions". There'll be a few of my own compositions plus some old ones like on "Versions".
Rainer: Cover versions?
Robby: Yeah. There'll be an Elvis Presley one.
Rainer: Oh, which one?
Robby: Well, Linda's ecstatic about that (Linda, Robby's PR manager, smiled). It'll be "I want you, I need you, I love you".
Rainer: Ah, that one "... with all my heart."
Robby: Yeah. And also the "Lonely Teardrops".
Rainer: Isn't that a Ray Orbison song?
Robby: No - Jackie Wilson. And a few other surprises.
Rainer: You should do a Robert Johnson cover version, Robby, I know he's one of your favorites, and also one of mine.
Robby: If I could do as good as he could I would do (he laughs).
Rainer: The Rolling Stones did his "Love In Vain", not mentioning that it was a Robert Johnson tune.
Robby: Really? Huh! Did they get away with that?
Rainer: I think so. To my knowledge nobody complained.
Robby: That's fun. Actually "Crossroads" is good the way Cream did it. I like that, although I still like Robert Johnson's version better, I think. It's amazing that probably very low percent of the people who heard Cream also heard Robert Johnson.
Rainer: He was the master of slide guitar.
Robby: Oh definitely!
Rainer: Was he the first one who inspired you to use a bottleneck?
Robby: Not the first, but one of the first.
Rainer: He recorded less than 35 songs in a hotel room ...
Robby: Yeah, not many. Some people have showed me some bootleg stuff supposed to be Robert Johnson. It's hard to tell. It might be. It's really bad quality stuff, you know, who knows.
Rainer: I heard of a Robert Johnson CD coming out very soon, with all known songs plus unreleased material.
Robby: Really? Must get this one when it's out.
Rainer: Your Halfspeed Master LP and CD "Robby Krieger" contains some surprising stuff. I especially like the song "Costa Brava".
Robby Krieger live 1989
Robby Krieger live in 1989.
Photo © Rainer Moddemann.
Robby: Good!
Rainer: Have you ever been at the Costa Brava in Spain?
Robby: Yeah. Actually we drove along the coast, stayed at this big old castle up there, I forgot the name of it, it was a beautiful place! Yeah, I liked that I. And we went to Barcelona and Madrid, saw some Flamenco, and visited the Ramirez shop where I bought a guitar. I have three Ramirez guitars. Have one 63, the same exact model that Sabicas uses. That was fun - I didn't know that he used that model, and I had mine for 20 years, and I saw him recently, looked inside his guitar .. a 63! Same one as mine!
Rainer: How did you get the idea to write "Spanish Caravan"?
Robby: Oh, from Flamenco stuff that I learned. A song called "Granadinas", which is a form that everybody learns, that's more classical.
Rainer: So "Spanish Caravan" was a kind of cover version or a Spanish traditional?
Robby: Yeah, in fact they sued us for it. The people who owned whatever song that came from, they tried to sue us for it, but they didn't get very much, cos it's such a widely known thing (sings the guitar solo from "Spanish Caravan"), but they claimed they owned this little something stupid.
Rainer: How much did you have to pay them?
Robby: Aaaah, not that much. I think we gave them the publishing that was earned in France or something, because that's where they were.
Rainer: Unfortunately "Spanish Caravan" was cut...
Robby: Yeah. (grins)
Rainer: Where's the lost part of it?
Robby: Ha, I wish I'd know!
Rainer: That's pity! I heard you worked a long time at that.
Robby: It was a couple of minutes that was cut out from the version on the album, I spent a whole day in the studio on that, and the producers cut it out finally. I still can do it, but I haven't done it in a long time. I definitely plan to record that one day, you know, to re-record that.
Rainer: Why did they cut that part out?
Robby: Oh, it was a little long, they said. Maybe they wanted it for a single, but I don't know why they cut it, to tell you the truth.
Rainer: What guitar did you use for "Spanish Caravan"?
Robby: For that part I used the actual Ramirez guitar, and I guess that's why they didn't use it, it didn't ... well, we used that guitar for the first part of "Spanish Caravan" and went to that electric one...
Rainer: Are there Flamenco guitarists you like?
Robby: Yes, Sabicas and Juan Serrano.
Rainer: May I have another Coors? I read in a book that Morrison also had a few of these?
Robby: Coors? No, he didn't like Coors that much (laughs). He drank Miller's. I like it myself.
Rainer: Let's talk a little bit about the videos that The Doors released. First, "Dance On Fire" - do you agree with the visual concept? Did you work on that as well?
Robby: On "Dance On Fire"? I didn't really have that much to do with it. Ray was the video man and you know he loves to do that kind of stuff, I didn't really think we had that much good stuff that we could make a video, you know, but I guess the Doors' fans wanna have anything that we have, you know, anything possible, so...
Rainer: I visited one of my fanclub members over here in L.A. recently, and she had three outtakes of"People Are Strange" from the Murray The K Show...
Robby: Three versions?
Rainer: Yeah. In one Jim forgot to start singing, ...
Robby: Ah really (laughs)? How did she get that?
Rainer: I don't know. Probably some bootleg stuff. A good title for that would be "The Making Of People Are Strange", you know, it looked like the complete thing, with all takes.
Robby: Really? Well, I remember that. Where did she get hold of that?
Rainer: I don't know. But it looked funny!
Robby: Where were we standing? On a fountain or something?
Rainer: Yeah, on a fountain.
Robby: (laughs) Well, I don't really remember.
Rainer: Where was that filmed?
Robby: In New York down by the bowery.
Rainer: Do you like the video Ray filmed for the song "L.A. Woman" on the "Dance On Fire" video?
Robby: Yeah, it's not bad!
Rainer: The songline "Mr Mojo Risin'" - did Jim get that from the song "I got my Mojo workin'"?
Robby: I'm sure that had something to do with it, yeah, we used to do that song sometimes, but you know that's the anagram of his name. Yeah, I think he got it more from the "Mojo"-song, and he figured out later that it was an anagram of his name.
Rainer: Remember the Super-8 film of the New Haven-bust featured in your "Roadhouse Blues" video ... where did you get that from?
Robby: I forget who came up with that one. Somebody that was there.
Linda: You guys bought it from the guy who was there in the audience.
Robby: And you know there were "Life Magazine" reporters and they caught a lot of it.
Rainer: The "Unknown Soldier" promotion-film .. . who's concept was that? And who did the camera-work?
Robby: Jim figured that one out. Peter Abrahamson, the guy who did the first "Break On Through" one, you know, the first Doors-promotion-film, well, the same guy did that. Oh, Mark Abrahamson, that's him.
Rainer: What about the Jubilee-scenes celebrating the end of World War II and the Vietnam-clips?
Robby: Who's idea was that? Oh, I forgot.
Rainer: Did The Doors plan to record the Hollywood Bowl concert for a later release on film or for a live-album?
Robby: Yeah, we did. You know we had that shoot, that three-camera shoot plus 8-track sound, yeah, we did intend to do that. We didn't know exactly what to do with it for the future. You know we were making a movie at that time called "Feast Of Friends", so I think we wanted to use it in that. We finally added "The End" to the movie, but then we later forgot about the films.
Rainer: Do you remember where "Crystal Ship" was filmed for "American Bandstand"? It looks like a very early clip.
Robby: Yeah, early 67, I remember. We were meeting Dick Clark. It's funny cos Dick Clark was .. , ah, you know he had that "goody-two-shoes"-image. (laughs) and in order to get over that image he came to our dressing-room and he started talking like "Hey guys, let's fuck some chicks" (laughs) , trying to be a real tough guy, you know "How's fucking junks" (laughs). Hey, let's get this dog out! (Robby jumps up and tries to decoy his dog Teddy out of the room) Teddy, come on!
Rainer: (after a little break) Do you know that I found for The Doors the lost "Hello I Love You" video from Frankfurt, West Germany?
Robby: Oh yeah, you did? From the show in Frankfurt? That's great! Oh yes, we'll have a screening of that in a few days to see if we can use it.
Rainer: And now I'm on the track of two indoor-concerts that were shot in the hall.
Robby: Were those from ... ah... Amsterdam?
Rainer: No, Frankfurt as well.
Robby: The indoor shot was the "Soldier"-show?
Rainer: Yeah. You did that song there, too.
Robby: It was pretty dark in there.
Rainer: Well, I hope you can use it. But back to "Dance On Fire": The "Adagio" - when was that recorded? And did you actually use a string quartet during the recording?
Robby: Well, not a quartet, but a whole string section, about 20 guys I think, and that was at the same time as the "Soft Parade", when we had all these strings and horns and stuff, so we recorded this one as well with them. I forgot whose idea it was, We all liked that song for a long time, you know. I like this piece of music, too, you know. Especially Jim liked this "European schmalz", as he used to talk about this kind of music.
Rainer: You used it in "Feast Of Friends" as well...
Robby: Yeah. It's a good song. It's pretty popular in Europe, isn't it?
Rainer: Yes, sure. And it became one of the rare Doors' instrumentals, and it's also on one of the bootlegs, "Rock Is Dead". I remember another instrumental you did at the Matrix, Gershwin's "Summertime".
Robby: Yeah, that's right.
Rainer: By the way - what do you think about bootlegs, I mailed you a few, I think, with rare Matrix' songs.
Robby: Yeah, hmmm...
Rainer: Do you remember those concerts?
Robby: Oh yeah, I remember the Matrix.
Rainer: Just one guy sitting there clapping...
Robby: (laughs) I think that was a soundcheck, because the place was packed when we played there, so it couldn't have been one play, one guy clapping, it must have been a soundcheck.
Rainer: "Rock Is Dead" - do you like this one?
Robby: (laughs) No, I never liked that one, that was pretty much out of nowhere, you know I mean we were just kinda drunken, you know just fishing around for something, I wish it wouldn't have come out on a bootleg, even.
Rainer: I heard the tape was stolen from Rothchild...
Robby: Yeah, that's the story. It disappeared from his desk.
Rainer: When was the recording -- was it after or before the Miami trial?
Robby: That must ... ah ...before.
Rainer: Before? That's kinda interesting.
Robby: Why? Why do you ask?
Rainer: Well, before ... the lyrics sound like a comment on the Miami trial.
Robby: Hmm, well, could have been.. . well, let's see: That was during the "Soft Parade" also, as I remember, or it could have been "Morrison Hotel", gee, Miami was. . . was "Morrison Hotel" after Miami? I forgot.
Rainer: Yeah, it was.
Robby: Okay, then it might have been after Miami.
Rainer: Would you like to do the soundtrack for the forthcoming Doors' movie?
Robby: Sure! Well...
Rainer: Ray is talking about the Doors' movie for years...
Robby: (laughs) Yeah, I know. It might happen now. They have to come up with some money pretty soon to keep the whole thing going, you know. The people who have the rights, Bill Graham and this other guy, you know, they were supposed to get a writer who's gonna write the script and all that. So far we had about three scripts and they had been terrible (laughs), so I'm afraid that'd never happen, you know. But you never know. I have seen the fourth script, and I think this could be a good movie.
Rainer: Dave Brock of"Wild Child" could be a good actor for Jim's part, I think.
Robby: Yeah, he could be great, he would be very good ...
Rainer: ...for the "early" Morrison...
Robby: Yeah! (laughs) There are plenty of guys around who could play the "later" Morrison (laughs)...
Rainer: Let's go back to the early days... your first band was called "The Psychedelic Rangers". What was this band all about?
Robby: (laughs) Just some friends of mine.
Rainer: Any recordings left?
Robby: No, I'm afraid not. Actually John was in that band, too. Our one and only demo was called "Paranoia". (sings) "Paranoo-i-a". Was kinda like "Love", like the old "Love" days, kinda like "Hey Joe" chords. That's good, actually. We had this great piano-player, a friend of mine named Grant Johnson, who lives up north now, and he could play jazz at that age, you know, and me and John and this other guitarplayer, a friend of mine named David Wolfe, who was my guitar teacher, he still lives in Los Angeles and plays jazz in a band named "Citizen", we did a movie-soundtrack, ah - I forgot the name of it unfortunately, for the Psychedelic Rangers. But, you know, David and I, we both copied a terrible Flamenco record called "Dos Flamencos", it had these two guys playing flamenco together, and he taught me how to play the guitar. We were locked into a room at our school for three hours a day, in order to practice our guitars, you know. That's why I always had my guitar with me. I also started to read a Mickey Baker book, but did not even finish the second page. When I saw a terrific Chuck Berry concert at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, I turned into Rock'n'Roll and bought my first electric guitar, a Gibson SG, the one that got stolen. Before I just played acoustic guitars, and I had a holder for my harp. Before The Doors I used to play at coffee-houses and I played Bob Dylan-songs. I also played with a strange band called "The Back Bay Chamberpot Terriers". When I got interested in Indian Sitar music I met John Densmore in a Maharishi Meditation seminar, who was already playing with The Doors at that time. A few weeks later he came over to my house with Jim Morrison and we played and sang for a couple of hours. That was the kick for me. They needed a guitar player and they asked me to join them. I was a bit skeptic at the beginning but after a few sessions and gigs I knew The Doors would make it.
Rainer: Did you ever play with "Rick and the Ravens"?
Robby: No, I never did. I sat in sometimes. John played with them.
Rainer: The first demo record of The Doors ... you didn't play on this, right?
Robby: No, I didn't. I didn't play on the first Doors demo. I wasn't in the group then.
Rainer: Which songs were the first ones that you recorded for the first Doors album?
Robby: Aehm, for the first Doors LP? Well, the first song we ever recorded was "Indian Summer".
Rainer: Surprise, surprise! "Indian Summer"?
Robby: Yeah. "Indian Summer" was the song that came out on the fifth album "Morrison Hotel". But that was actually the first song we ever recorded.
Rainer: You used the same recording for "Morrison Hotel"? I always wondered why this song sounded so different from the other material on "Morrison Hotel".
Robby: Yes, it's the same one. You know, we pepped it up a little bit. And then the second thing we did was "Moonlight Drive". You know, not the version you hear on the "Strange Days" album. But in fact it got lost, stupidly, that was a good version which I wish we could put out, but somebody lost it!
Rainer: "Light My Fire" was your song ...
Robby: Yeah!
Rainer: ... but I also read that Jim helped you with some lyrics.
Robby: Right.
Rainer: Which ones?
Robby: (smiles) The one about the "funeral pyre". (laughs)
Rainer: Oh, that one,..
Robby: Yeah, that verse is Jim's.
Rainer: But it is definitely your song?
Robby: That's right.
Rainer: Which other songs did you write for the album? The credits always say "The Doors".
Robby: The songs for the first album were written by all four of us. Ray wrote the introduction to "Light My Fire", but the lyrics for most songs were Jim's. The music was developed by all of us. For the lyrics Jim was a phenomena. He came to our sessions with a piece of paper he had scribbled some lyrics on. He was humming the music to it, and we all started work on the melodies. Especially the rhythm and the solo parts.
Rainer: I remember an early version of "Light My Fire" from the Matrix. Ray did not play the intro which was recorded on record before ...
Robby: We play a lot of gigs at that time and we had to improvise a lot. I mean, many songs developed on stage or we worked them out during our concerts.
Rainer: What's the Blue Bus in "The End"? Could it simply be the real busline from Santa Monica to the UCLA as written in one of the Quarterlies?
Robby: Possible. I have read the article in the Quarterly, too. Yes, there is a blue bus there -- oh, one funny thing : my wife Lynn was hanging out with Jim and some other people, and they were just hitch-hiking somewhere, and all of the sudden this big blue bus comes up and picks them up, and this weird hippie was driving it with a weird dog, and he drove them all over town, everywhere they wanted to go, never said a word, and then they got off and never saw him again. And they were freaking out, cos Jim had written about the Blue Bus earlier.
Rainer: You started using synthesizers on the second LP, changing the sound of Jim's voice. Did you also change the sound of your guitar with a synthesizer?
Robby: No, not really. Not the guitar. At the time all they had was the Moog, you know, and they could use it on the keyboards and on voices and acoustic guitars ...
Rainer: Do you remember which instrument Ray Manzarek plays on "Love Me Two Times"? Was it a harpsichord?
Robby: Yeah, it was a real harpsichord.
Rainer: And "Unhappy Girl" had a backwards piano...
Robby: Yeah, it was actually organ and piano played backwards.
Rainer: There's this line in "I Can't See Your Face In My Mind" from "Strange Days" saying - "carnival dogs consume the line" - what's the meaning of this?
Robby: Maybe you could say the line being the linearity of the world, you know, with the image of the dogs it means, you know, everything is not as we see it.
Rainer: Do you remember the recording of "When The Music's Over"?
Robby: Sure!
Rainer: Someone said it was recorded like first the music and then Jim's voice. Is that true? It sounds so perfect...
Robby: (laughs) Yeah, I know. When we used to do it, we knew sort of what he was gonna sing, so: Let's kinda do it that way. The day it was supposed to be recorded he was on an acid trip somewhere and he never showed up to the studio. So we recorded the music before, and when he finally came we needed only one vocal recording, then it was perfect.
Rainer: By the way - is there any Doors song on record you don't like?
Robby: A Doors song I don't like? Aehm, I think "My Wild Love" is one of my least favorites.
Rainer: A weird song. It's an unusual Doors song, without any instruments.
Robby: Yeah, yeah (mumbles).
Rainer: How did you guys record that?
Robby: We sort of needed an extra song or something (laughs)... And everybody who happened to be in the studio joined in. We were looking through Jim's poetry books and, you know, here's one, let's make a song out of it. Jim was humming the melody like a simple children's song, and we all just followed him.
Rainer: There's a little interesting thing I noticed listening to your records. On the live recordings you always played your solo in A minor or B minor. But the studio version is half a tone lower.
Robby: Which song?
Rainer: "Light My Fire".
Robby: On "Light My Fire" it's half a tone lower?
Rainer: Yes it is!
Robby: That's hard! Maybe... hmmm...
Rainer: Well, the first LP version is half a tone lower, same as the live versions, but on the 7" version it's A minor as well.
Robby: Wait. On the original LP it is in A flat or something?
Rainer: Yeah.
Robby: It's weird. We must ... ah... I think they slowed it down. I always thought it sounded pretty slow (laughs). Impossible! Are you sure about that?
Rainer: Yeah (laughs).
Robby: That's weird. I have to check that out (laughs).
Rainer: Why didn't you use the studio version of "The Celebration Of The Lizard"? Is it so different from the "Absolutely Live"-version.
Robby: Aehm, so, it's not that much different, but ...
Rainer: In "No One Here Gets Out Alive" I read it was 25 minutes long ...
Robby: Well, parts of it were used, yeah, but parts of the live version were improvised, you know, so it's not the same.
Rainer: I hope it will be published some day.
Robby: I really don't remember why we didn't use it, you know, I guess we used the good part of it, you know, the other parts we thought were not good.
Rainer: Is the original tape is still in your archives?
Robby: I really don't know. I haven't checked on that.
Rainer: Is "Not To Touch The Earth" from the "Waiting For The Sun" album an outtake from the studio version or was it an extra recording?
Robby: Well, that was recorded separately. But it was meant to go in there. But it was recorded in one piece.
Rainer: "Wintertime Love", "Spanish Caravan" and "Yes, The River Knows" were written by you?
Robby: Yeah.
Rainer: One of my favorite Doors songs is "Yes, The River Knows", such a moody song.
Robby: Yeah, thanks!
Rainer: Where did you get the inspiration from?
Robby: Aah... at that time I was ... oh, it was one of the first songs I've ever written. I was trying to keep my ... you know ... I was trying to learn from Jim, you know, keeping the subjects on a broadening scale; so "Light My Fire": Fire, air, earth and water; so water: "Yes, The River Knows".
Rainer: The sessions for "Waiting For The Sun" took very long for the album, but when was the song with the same name recorded?
Robby: Oh, that was recorded earlier - or later? Either later or earlier. That came out on "Morrison Hotel", actually. Of course it was planned to be on the third album, but I don't know why we didn't put it on.
Rainer: It is always surprising for Doors fans that you guys used to play without a real bass guitarist at concerts.
Rainer: We got along pretty well without a bass guitarist on stage, that's all. This was Ray's business, he liked to have control about everything. For our recording sessions we always used real bass guitars, but it was Ray who told the guys what they had to play.
Rainer: Who's idea was it to use strings and horns and stuff like that for "The Soft Parade"?
Robby: Rothchild. For that album he was a kinda George Martin for us. (laughs) It was kinda stupid I thought, cos The Beatles did it, and we had to do it, too. This album was our "Sergeant Pepper", but it was silly, because The Beatles had done it much better.
Rainer: Have you ever met The Beatles?
Robby: No, just George.
Rainer: I read in a book that Jim Morrison was in the studio with them when they recorded the "White Album", and he sang with them on "Happiness Is A Warm Gun".
Robby: Hmm, that's possible, but... ah, he met some of them in London I know, when I wasn't around or something. But I only met George.
Rainer: It's you who sings the chorus on "Running Blue". Does the beginning of the song come from a Leadbelly song named "Poor Howard"?
Robby: That's right, Oh, you know, Jim made that part up, so I can't take credit for that. But Leadbelly didn't write that either, that's a traditional thing, an old cowboy refrain or an old slaves' song. You know, "My Wild Love" is the same thing, you know (sings the first line of the song), it's one of those old chain gang songs...
Rainer: How was it working with Paul Rothchild in the studio?
Robby: He worked a lot on our songs, especially on "Soft Parade" and "Strange Days". He was the one who developed The Doors' sound. Most other songs we recorded the way we used to play them live. Some time ago we listened to the master tapes of "The Soft Parade" and I wish we'd put out the album again without all the horns and strings and stuff. That would be an easy thing to do.
Rainer: At the end of "Touch Me" you hear the sentence "Stronger than dirt". Was this from the Ajax ad?
Robby: (laughs) Yeah! I don't know who's idea was that but there was the chorus (sings) "da da da dap", and somebody said Hey, that sounds like Ajax', and we started saying that, you know.
Rainer: Why wasn't "Who Scared You" on the "Soft Parade" album?
Robby: I think Rothchild didn't like it.
Rainer: Is It true that Jim didn't want to record "Tell All The People"?
Robby: Yeah, he was afraid of a political classification.
Rainer: He didn't want people to follow him?
Robby: No, it's just the fact that he thought it was kinda political, and if he'd sang it people would think he wrote it. I don't know.
Rainer: And why did you write those lines?
Robby: Actually that song was of a - remember the frame "follow me down" - that was from a Leadbelly song called "Fanton Street Blues", so that was more a blues idea than political.
Rainer: Leadbelly was one of your favorites, right?
Robby: Yes, like Robert Johnson.
Rainer: Do you remember the studio where "Morrison Hotel" was recorded?
Robby: Yeah, it was in the Elektra studio, not in Sunset, which was for the first and second album, and the fourth and fifth at Elektra. The facilities at Elektra were much better. The echo chamber at Sunset was pretty good, but not the latest thing. Paul wanted to create all effects electronically.
Rainer: Can you tell me who's the "Ashen Lady" in "Roadhouse Blues"?
Robby: Who's the "Ashen Lady"? Well, I don't know who he meant by that. Probably not a real person.
Rainer: What is a "Peace Frog"?
Robby: Well, what's a "Peace Frog" ...?
Rainer: Was it a military button or something?
Robby: Well, that's possible. I never really asked Jim about it. I think it was because of the guitar sound (sings) de-de-dep ..., which sounded like a croaking frog's "quak-quak". I never asked Jim about his meanings or his stuff, you know, because he never answered, you know.
Rainer: I always thought you and Jim were closest friends, right?
Robby: I think so, yeah. We wrote a lot of stuff when he stayed at my house, you know, together. He was not that crazy one when I first met him, you know, but the first time we played together he seemed a little out there, you know, cos after the session I remember he and this other guy got into this big fight, you know, over nothing! I think it was about a drug deal actually (laughs), a drug deal gone sour (laughs).
Rainer: Did you take any care of the production of the "Absolutely Live" album? It was cut together from so many bits and pieces of songs and concerts.
Robby: Yeah, we all sat there for weeks and weeks and we listened to every little thing, so: this verse from this concert, this version of ... Rothchild is famous for that, you know (laughs). Like the Paul Butterfield album, the first one. It sounds like it's a live album, but the whole studio was filled with pieces of tapes hanging up on hooks (laughs), one piece after another.
Rainer: Are there many live recordings left you could use?
Robby: Not many, not much!
Rainer: Did you always play your Gibson SG in concerts?
Robby: Yeah, the red one. The black one was for slide, and it was a Les Paul.
Rainer with Robby's Les Paul guitar
Rainer in front of Robby's homestudio holding Robby's famous black Les Paul guitar. Watch the video "The Soft Parade" to see the guitar in action.
Photo © Linda Kyriazi.
Rainer: Are those the same guitars you used in the studio?
Robby: Ah, yes.
Rainer: What kind of strings did you use?
Robby: In those days I used "Super Slinkies", 9 to 36, and then I moved to 10's. But in The Doors I always used the 9's, the lighter ones, cos I never used a pick in those days.
Rainer: You are designing your own Gibson guitar right now?
Robby: Yeah, they're making a Gibson now, it's a sort of an SG-shape, but it's got a sunburst finish, you know, nice wood, a nice piece of wood, now they don't use good wood anymore, but for this they're using a good one. And it's got a very special neck, they'll have a graphite neck, cos the SG's neck was too humbling, you know, cos there's this long neck just stuck on, it wasn't very strong, so they have this graphite neck and, well, you know, I've been waiting for this for two years to be finished, it should be this year.
Robby with his Gibson guitar
Robby with his Gibson guitar.
Photo © Linda Kyriazi.
Rainer: Did they ask you to do a thing like this or did you offer your help?
Robby: Well, they have a new guy called Bob Gibson, the president, and he was a Doors fan, comes from Harvard and I forgot who called who, but I've always used Gibson anyway, so...
Rainer: Yeah, I've seen a few Gibsons up there in your studio. I come to the "L.A. Woman" album. It was a kind of live-thing in the studio. Were all the songs recorded live?
Robby: "L.A. Woman"? Most of them were, uh, Jim did a few overdubs but we wanted to get a live feeling. Above all the album was not produced by Paul Rothchild anymore, and we felt free to do what we liked. We did it in our rehearsal room. Did you ever go there?
Rainer: Sure, it's just opposite the Alta Cienega Motel.
Robby: Right! (laughter)
Rainer: The place changed a lot...
Robby: I haven't seen it for a long time. I wonder what they did.
Rainer: It's painted gray and it is an Anti-Aids-center right now.
Robby: You got inside?
Rainer: No. It was closed. Back to "L.A. Woman". On "Cars Hiss By My Window" there's Jim imitating a guitar. Wasn't there any guitar around?
Robby: (laughs) No, a harp, a harmonica sound, that was what he was doing. He couldn't really play a harp very good. Some people think it's a real harp.
Rainer: On some bootleg material Jim plays a horrible harp!
Robby: Don't say that when Jim is around (laughs).
Rainer: What can you tell me about those mysterious lines in "Hyacinth House"? You know, "... I see the bathroom is clear, I think that somebody's near ...", like that.
Robby: The "Hyacinth House" was my house. We were writing some songs, and I had hyacinths in the backyard. So it wasn't the Hyatt Hotel, as some people might think, which we used to call the "Riot Hotel". But you know in the same song there are the lines about the bathroom, see, we were just sitting and writing that song and Jim had to go to the bathroom (laughs), he was waiting for somebody to get out of the bathroom. So it has got no deep meaning. Remember the "lions" in that song? They were my cats among the hyacinths, and in fact I had a lion, a bobcat, a big cat, you know, which was in the backyard when we were writing that song.
Rainer: Let's switch over to the "Other Voices" album. I always thought it was a very good album, but it didn't sound like the Doors anymore, especially the music, and you and Ray decided to sing ...
Robby: (laughs) I never considered myself a singer, but Jim wasn't there, so...
Rainer: Ray was mocking about you as being "Golden Throat Krieger" on your '72 tour. He always made this joke when he announced "The Mosquito" about your highschool Spanish.
Robby Krieger live
Robby live!
Photo © Linda Kyriazi.
Robby: I know, it was his standard intro for "The Mosquito".
Rainer: Did you write that song?
Robby: Yeah, I got the idea from a Mexican band doing traditional songs, and I wrote an equivalent.
Rainer: Someone said that it was a traditional song...
Robby: Yeah, pretty much. Do you know that this one was one of our biggest songs aside from the stuff with Jim?
Rainer: Many people covered it ...
Robby: Yeah, a lot. I also heard a German version of it, pretty weird.
Rainer: It was a guy named Gary Wynn who sang a German version. On "Ships With Sails", a song that John wrote, Ray Neopolitan played bass; was this one of the songs that you planned for Jim to do the vocals for after his return from Paris or was this a left-over from "Morrison Hotel", cos Ray also played bass on this album?
Robby: No, no, we wrote that song after Jim had died. "Tightrope Ride" is one of them that was done for Jim, you know, Jim was in Paris a long time before he died, and we had worked out a lot of stuff that we planned to do with Jim as a six-piece band for the road, and he never came back. In fact Jim had never quit The Doors, what else could he do, he would have been dead-bored after a couple of months. I think he always would have come back to the group.
Rainer: Was "Other Voices" successful in the States? Did you get a golden record for it?
Robby: I don't remember. I don't think so, it just sold a quarter of a million or so. How was it doing in Europe? Did it better there?
Rainer: Yeah, it is still in print ... The bass guitarists who played with you I like this instrument because I play bass myself. Were they always told how to play the basslines or were they allowed to put their own ideas into a song?
Robby: Usually they had to play pretty much of what Ray played on the piano bass (sings the bass from "Light My Fire"), like the instance in "Light My Fire" there is a bass on there but it was overdubbed later, just the same thing that Ray did.
Rainer: It wasn't the keyboard bass on that song? A real bass-player?
Robby: Yes, it was a real bass. A Fender bass. And some of the songs Doug Lubahn would come up with something of his own, for instance in the song "Waiting For The Sun" he came up with some stuff, and on "Love Me Two Times" I told him how to play that.
Rainer: Do you play the harmonica on "Down On The Farm"?
Robby: Yeah, I did (laughs).
Rainer: There's this nice song you played with Jim at a Norman Mailer-benefit called "Far Arden Blues" or something - was this the only song you played there or did you do more stuff?
Robby: Yeah, there was some other stuff, but it was kinda pretty ragged, you know.
Rainer: What's "Far Arden" in your opinion? People say Jim means the Garden Of Eden with it...
Robby: "Far Arden" is a place in England called Arden, which was mentioned by English poets.
Rainer: I love the guitar on that track but unfortunately it was overdubbed with a poem. Wish I could hear that without the poem.
Robby: (laughs)
Rainer: When did you start recording "Full Circle"? After the 1972 tour?
Robby: Yeah, that's right.
Rainer: Were you aware that this would be the last Doors album?
Robby: No, that's funny, we just called it like that. When went to Europe to try to get a singer - so we were still playing as The Doors after "Full Circle".
Rainer: You were auditioning a few singers, I think: Jess Roden, Howard Werth - who else? Iggy Pop?
Robby: No, we actually never did...
Rainer: He always was interested, is that true?
Robby: Yeah, but we never got together enough for some reason. We actually never rehearsed with Howard Werth actually, just talked to him one day. Oh, here comes my son Waylon. You know he's named after a German wine, Whelener Sonnenberg, it's a Mosel wine, and it's one of the best from the Saar river, I guess, a real sweet wine. I used to be really into German wine.
Rainer: Jim had the same taste, I think. I read he ordered 100 bottles of German wine named Goldener Oktober.
Robby: That's funny, I didn't know that.
Rainer: "The Peking King And The New York Queen" was one of Ray's songs, I guess. There's this East/West dialogue in it. The West part is Ray, who's doing the East part? You?
Robby: I think Ray did both.
Rainer: John told me yesterday that a "Verdilac" was a vampire. Do you agree?
Robby: Yeah, you didn't know that? I guess it's an Austrian expression for vampire, from an old movie.
Rainer: About the "An American Prayer" album - wasn't it a kind of weird job to do the album with the voice of Jim from a tape?
Robby: Yeah, but it was fun, too. And it was hard. We had to use sentences and words, cut them here and there, but it was worth doing that.
Rainer: Do you only play guitar on this album, I mean just guitar?
Robby: No, I also played some other instruments, but most of it was guitar.
Rainer: Who did the "Gloria" chorus on "Alive She Cried"?
Robby: Oh, we all did.
Rainer: But it was overdubbed later I bet.
Robby: Yeah, but don't tell...
Rainer: Well, it's one secret everybody knows.
Robby: Shock! Shock!
Rainer: Was "Gloria" on "Alive She Cried" the complete take?
Robby: No, it wasn't. The uncut take is more dirty, definitely, and it's much longer. Somebody still has the original, it might come out one day.
Rainer: The guitar was kinda sterile - was it also overdubbed?
Robby: No, it wasn't overdubbed. That's why it sounds sterile! (laughs) No, the reason for that was - it was a soundcheck, and there was no audience there, so maybe I wasn't really into that.
Rainer: Was it a soundcheck for the recording of "Absolutely Live"?
Robby: Yeah, well, for the Aquarius concerts, which was a lot of"Absolutely Live".
Rainer: You overdubbed "Texas Radio And The Big Beat" as well, but it is without dubs on "Dance On Fire" and it's still gorgeous.
Robby: Yeah, yeah, well, I did the overdubs. But you're right: It was good without dubs.
Rainer: Danish TV had the complete show on recently. I love the song without the overdubs on "Alive She Cried". Do you remember the recording of "Little Red Rooster" with John Sebastian on harp?
Robby: That was from a show in Detroit, I believe, and he played on a couple of things.
Rainer: Why wasn't there any live recording of the Doors after Jim's death, of The Butts Band or something?
Robby: Oh, you know, we did a live recording with the Butts Band in Boston, but I don't know whatever happened with it.
Rainer: Who's idea was the Butts Band?
Robby: Well, you know, we were in England looking for a singer for The Doors and John and I decided, well, what are we gonna do? Let's just stay there and see what we can get going, so we got this group together with Jess Roden, Phil Chen and Roy Davies and we called it The Butts Band, it was Jess Roden's name for the group he had before, which was also called the Butts Band, and we liked It. It was a good band.
Rainer: Yeah, definitely. You also played with Blue Öyster Cult live..
Robby: "Roadhouse Blues", yeah. It was out there at the Country Club in the valley. They called me up one day and said that they're gonna be playing, if I could come down. I played on a lot on their stuff and the producers sometimes used it, sometimes they didn't. Sometimes they couldn't use it because of some legal thing or something, played some real good stuff on their new album in fact, the album they just released but recorded years ago. Yeah, I did a lot of guitar, and people thought it must have been a real Öyster guy who plays the guitar.
Rainer: I always wondered why there's this nice little song "Treetrunk" not on the "Full Circle" album.
Robby: Well, I think it sounded too commercial for the album. Somebody else should sing it, you know, but that's funny that you remember that one!
Rainer: John is thinking about The Doors doing the soundtrack for the Morrison movie. . .
Robby: Yeah, we'll probably do that. I mean, who else could do that?
Rainer: But you are not gonna act in the movie?
Robby: Oh no, I don't think so.
Rainer: Are there any unpublished Doors songs?
Robby: Unpublished Doors songs? Not many good ones. There's a version of "Whiskey, Mystics And Men" that is pretty good. They swept the bottom of the files anything of use would be used.
Rainer: Ray once talked about a song called "Happy For A Night And A Day"...
Robby: Did he? Well, I don't remember that.
Rainer: Why didn't you take care of how they reproduced the lyrics in all official songbooks? For example in "Unknown Soldier" the songbooks say "... practice where the news is read ..." instead of the correct "breakfast".
Robby: I think we were just too lazy to read those (laughs). It's funny: Practice!
Rainer: Do you remember July 3, 1981 , when Père Lachaise was packed with fans?
Robby: Yeah, that was good, I thought, you know, amazing how many people were there, but I thought it was bad painting all the other monuments and stuff. We arranged the bust over there, well, but before that bust was there we gave Pamela the duty of doing that, gave her a lot of money, but she never did anything. Her parents were going to put her in the same grave, I don't know if they actually did that. Her parents were really committed to Jim, you know. Businesswise there's still contact. They're very unreasonable. The poetry should be published, and they don't do it, and the movie, you know, a sort of legal mess. Sue us, sue this, sue that. It's so stupid, you know, because Jim would never have wanted his estate to go to those people.
Rainer: I was always wondering what he would say it he knew that some other people than Pamela have control over his poetry and other stuff. Did you ever read Jim's unpublished poetry from his "127 Fascination Box"?
Robby: Yeah, some of it. It wasn't that good. You know it was Jim's stuff that he didn't want to put out. Most of it was written before he went to Paris. There is some stuff that he wrote there, and that's pretty good. They should put that out. There is some more stuff that's pretty good, but in Jim's mind he didn't think it was good enough to use. That's why we never used it. So I don't think it'll be right to use it right now, you know. Anyway, that's a big legal mess, too. The lawyers that have possession of it think it's theirs, Corky thinks it's his, and blah, blah, blah!
Rainer: Do you guys ever think about releasing "HWY"?
Robby: Yeah, we'd like to. Well, it's not really a movie, but much of shots, and it's unfinished, you know. The estate owns it, and they haven't done anything with it. I wish they would do something with it, cos it's interesting stuff. I wish they'd put it together with "Feast Of Friends" maybe, and some other things. It would make a good video.
Rainer: What are your plans for the future?
Robby: Music, what else?
Robby with one of his awards
Robby showing one of his platinum awards.
Photo © Rainer Moddemann.
  During the last part of the interview Robby acted slightly fidgety, because during our interview he had received a telephone call, and he still wanted to go to the studio to supervise the mixing of a new song. At the end he gave me one of his platinum records as a thank you for small favors I had done him over the past years. As happy as a king about this present, Linda and I drove off. Following this interview I did not only meet Robby on his European tour and did the press for him, but also visited him again at his house in Los Angeles a few more times. Parts of the conversations that we had during these meetings have been woven into the above interview. Some things we talked about have - of course - come true, others not, but I wanted you to read this interview as it happened.

© 1999 Rainer Moddemann, The Doors Quarterly Magazine. This interview may not be distributed in any other context or media.