We chat to The Doors guitarist and songwriter about his time in one of the most influential bands on earth
Of all the bands who brought rock music to the masses in the 1960s, The Doors were perhaps the most unique. With their blues backbone, loose jams and hazy poetry, their records still stand out as something genuinely original. Just as much as Jim Morrison’s counterculture persona and Ray Manzarek’s pioneering organ work were a key part of their appeal, the guitar playing of Robby Krieger helped to define their sound. Yet it’s still not common knowledge that Krieger also wrote, or co-wrote, many of the band’s most famous songs, including Light My Fire, Love Me Two Times and The End.
We recently interviewed Krieger to hear the full story of how Light My Fire was written, which you can read about in our new book. Catching him in chatty mood we had a few minutes left at the end to talk a little bit more about writing for The Doors. It was an opportunity too good to miss…
It was fascinating to learn the story behind Light My Fire, we’d love to hear a little about another of your favourite songs?
“Well, we could talk about Love Me Two Times. I think that was the next song I wrote after Light My Fire and I kind of got the idea from an old blues song that I heard, oddly enough on a record that Paul Rothchild produced called The Blues Project. I came on to this song that was by Danny Kalb. The Love Me Two Times thing was about some of my friends that got drafted and had to leave for Vietnam and they were going to see their girlfriends for the last time, or not for a long time, and so that’s where it came from.
“We all loved blues songs but when The Doors did the blues we changed it around. Love Me Two Times was sort of like the blues but then it goes to kind of a circle where it goes D, C ,B, B-flat, A, which is unusual and then it had that kind of bouncy beat.”
How would a song become fully formed after you had the initial idea?
“There were all different ways that it happened. Usually, Jim or I would come up with the original idea and then we would all work it out together. That’s what a real band does. We all worked very well together as far as that goes, there were no egos involved. We were lucky that we had a good relationship.”
Was there a point when that relationship changed at all?
“Well if Jim was too drunk or something then obviously it wouldn’t work but I think the greatest example of it working was when we did L.A. Woman. We really worked well together on that record, probably because Paul Rothschild wasn’t involved and we all had to come together and make the record ourselves, it was a little scary. I thought we did great on that album. A lot of the songs just came together just from us jamming, like the song L.A. Woman where we just started playing. A song like Riders On The Storm; one day we were just playing the track (Ghost) Riders In The Sky and instead of ‘ghost riders in the sky’ Jim came up with ‘riders on the storm’. There’s a similar sound with the surf guitar and the chords.”
How do you think The Doors sound had evolved up to that point?
“I don’t know, I think you learn more about music and you want to go on to different styles and different chords and stuff but I think there’s something to be said that my first song was Light My Fire. Maybe it’s better to not know too much about music when you’re trying to be a songwriter and not to get too tricky. Simple is often better. Maybe it’s youthful energy, I don’t know. Songwriting is a funny thing. How does someone like Burt Bacharach do what he does? When I wrote Light My Fire I didn’t know a thing about music, a minor chord sounded really cool to me. I was 19.”
What would you say your strengths are as a songwriter?
“I don’t know. I always start with the music and then the words come later. Words have always been harder for me, for the last 20 or 30 years I’ve mostly written instrumentals. I think lyrics are a young man’s business because that’s when you’re learning about everything; life and love and everything and it’s all new to you.”
Do you think the different influences you all brought to The Doors was a key factor in your unique sound?
“I think so, definitely. I started playing flamenco and folk music and John was more into jazz. Ray grew up in Chicago so was used to seeing Muddy Waters and all those guys and then Jim really knew nothing about music, he was more into the words. He actually heard those first songs he wrote in his head, he said it was like listening to a concert. He smoked some Acapulco Gold and was sat on his friend’s roof, he used to sleep on this guy’s roof, and the songs just came to him – he could hear them in his head. Later that didn’t happen so much and that’s when Jim and I used to write a lot of stuff together. He would write a few words and I would do a few words and songs like The End for instance, we just wrote that together in about five minutes.”
What do you think The Doors would have done after L.A. Woman had Jim still been alive?
“That’s a good question, I have no idea. I’m pretty sure we might have gone into videos pretty heavily, because both Jim and Ray went to film school and I’m sure we would have made use of that more. We were going in more of a bluesy direction too at that point. Jim really loved the blues, as you can tell from L.A. Woman. There’s some pretty straight-ahead blues on there.”
What’s it like to still be playing those songs.
“They’re great songs to play, that’s why I still do it. A lot of musicians love to play The Doors stuff, when we ask people to come sit-in and play, they all want to do it.”
Interview: Duncan Haskell