"Soul kitchen: how Robbie Krieger cooked up the Doors classics."

01 Feb "Soul kitchen: how Robbie Krieger cooked up the Doors classics."

Guitar Player Magazine
February 1, 1998
by Dan Epstein

Ask most people about the Doors, and chances are you’ll get an earful about the exploits of the mad, doomed, and beautiful Jim Morrison. Since his lonely and still-mysterious death in Paris in 1971, numerous books, films, and magazine articles have fueled the singer’s legend–which rivals the James Dean mythos of the sexy, rebellious, tormented artist in both longevity and pop appeal. (Reportedly, the Doors catalog continues to sell one million records per year) Unfortunately, the elevation of Morrison to cultural icon may have promoted the view that his band was simply a bunch of anonymous musicians lucky enough to back up a charismatic frontperson. The recent release of The Doors Box Se, [Elektra] should challenge that perception. An eye-opening roundup of old favorites and previously unreleased outtakes, demos, and live performances, the four-CD collection calls attention to the contributions of the other Doors: keyboardist Ray Manzarek, drummer John Densmore, and guitarist Robbie Krieger. A relative novice to the electric guitar when he joined the band, Krieger helped shape the Doors’ distinctive sound with a raw style that echoed Hubert Sumlin, Carlos Montoya, and Ravi Shankar.

“I had only been playing electric guitar for maybe six months before the Doors,” he remembers. “I had been playing flamenco and folk music, but I really hadn’t played electric until I saw Chuck Berry. I hate was when he was still good, you know? [Laughs.] The next day, man, I got a red Gibson Melody Maker. I noticed that he had a red guitar–I didn’t realize that it was a 335 or something–so I thought mine was the same as his! Also, the Doors didn’t have a bass player or rhythm guitarist, so I usually had to cover three things at once. I’d use my thumb to do some bass notes and play chords and melodies with my fingers at the same time. Having to play that way really developed my style.”

Though Krieger is most often associated with the Gibson SG, he says that he actually played a Melody Maker on the first two Doors records. “I kept that Melody Maker for quite a while, until it got stolen. It wasn’t until the third album that I got the SG.”

These days, Krieger, 52, performs in the band Bloodline that includes his son, Waylon, on guitar, and his godson, Berry Oakley, Jr., on bass. Gibson recently made Krieger a special SG with a graphite neck, gold hardware, and curly maple body (“They were gonna put it out as a Krieger Model,” he says, “but they decided it would be too expensive”), although he prefers to use his old 355 onstage.

Immensely proud of the Doors’ recorded legacy, Krieger happily talked about some of his finer Doors moments.


When I began to write “Light My Fire,” I knew that the song would have to be pretty together to compete with what Jim was writing. He wrote about such heavy-duty subjects, so I figured, “What could be heavier than air, earth, fire, and water?” I always liked that song “Play with Fire,” by the Stones, so I figured I’d write about fire.

Although we didn’t presume to be jazz musicians, what I really-wanted to do in the Doors was play jazz, but with rock and roll sounds. I consider “Light My Fire” the quintessential Doors jazz song. In fact, it uses the same chords under the solo that Coltrane used on “My Favorite Things.”

By the time we recorded the song, we had been playing it in the clubs for quite a while. I would pretty much start playing the solo the same way every night, but then I’d go off about midway and from there things were rarely the same twice. However, I tracked the recorded version in two takes. I got the tone simply by plugging my Melody Maker into a Fender Twin Reverb and cranking the amp up to 10.1 used the Melody Maker’s bass pick-up because I found that it produced more sustain. Actually, I never used the treble pickup. I always hated trebly sounds!


The ominous drone of the guitar on that song is due to tuning both E strings to D, while the other strings were left alone, and the fact that I used my fingers instead of a pick. Actually, I never learned to use a pick until after the Doors. I’d been playing flamenco and stuff like that before I joined the band.


The wry first time I played with the Doors, the first song we rehearsed was “Moonlight Drive.” I played the slide, and they all loved it; that’s probably why I ended up being in the band. John had brought Jim over to my house one day and I played some slide for them. Then we all got together the next day at this guy named Hank’s house. I had this old Magnatone amp which was really cool. It was like a Twin, but really funky, and it had a great growl to it. I think one of the speakers was blown. It was kind of like having built-in distortion.

There are two versions of “Moonlight Drive” on The Doors Box Set. One is the original demo, which I didn’t even play on, and the other version is the very first recording we ever did as the Doors. That version was supposed to be on our debut album, but we ended up not using it, and a different arrangement was recorded for the second album. I always Liked that first version! The funny thing is, we lost track of it for years. We finally found it when we were compiling material for the box set.


A lot of guitarists have come up to me and said that they really like to play “My Eyes Have Seen You.” I’ve often referred to that song as a real guitar player’s song–probably because it’s in E and it’s kind of simple! I used a Gibson Maestro fuzz pedal for the solo, which was about the only effect we had in those days.


The double-tracked lead on “When the Music’s Over” could very well be my favorite solo. It was definitely the closest I ever got in the Doors to a Coltrane type of thing. I think we recorded about four or five takes, and we picked the best two [for the final mix]. I do remember that I had a little help from some good cannabis. I also had some help from this little resistor that [Doors producer] Paul Rothschild kept in his briefcase at all times. I don’t know how it worked, but when he modified my amp with it, the solos would really sing. I wish I had that thing today!

Of course, it was a little bit frustrating trying to duplicate that solo onstage–without the resistor–but at least I was always able to just freak out and play the weirdest thing I could Up until a couple of years ago, I really wasn’t a good enough musician to copy that solo. I’d try, but it was just like, “What the hell did I do there?” It took me years of practicing to be able to play my own solo.


That solo was probably the first time that I used tape delay. It was kind of fun, but it took a while to get that solo down. Sometimes Paul Rothschild could be like Mr. Hitler in the studio–you know, punching in forever. “Take 562!”

You might think that the rhythm guitar on the verses is played through a wah-wah, but the tone is actuary the result of an incompetent repair job. You see, I sent my SG in to have some work done, and it came back with the pickups wired wrong; they were completely out of phase. I just happened to put the pickup switch in the center position for that song, and the resulting sound was pretty cool.


Paul Rothschild was real good at getting vocals out of Jim, getting solos out of me, and stuff like that. You know, he was good at playing mind games [laughs]. Sometimes I’d do just one take and that was it. For example, when I recorded the solo on “You’re Lost, Little Girl,” he turned off all the lights in the studio, got everybody out of there, and lit a couple of candles. I got the solo in one take–it just kind of came out of nowhere, and it was totally different from what I was trying to do beforehand. But that’s one of my favorite solos. In fact, I still play that song today, and I still do that solo exactly the same.


To tell you the truth, when we were starting to put that song together, we happened to be playing “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” just for fun. Now, many groups, when they play a cover song, will end up at a faster tempo. But the Doors were one of the few groups that played stuff slower. So the song just kept changing and slowing dawn, and then, instead of singing “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” Jim started singing “Riders on the Storm.”


I was usually the loudest onstage, and they were always telling me to turn down. We had these amps that our equipment guy made. They looked like Acoustic amps, but they were homemade things with JBLs and 200-watt heads. I used two cabinets: one had six 12″ speakers, and the other had two 15″ speakers and six 8″ speakers. The problem was the amps were so powerful that it was very hard to get them to break up. They really didn’t sound all that good, but they were loud! We did use actual Acoustic amps for a while, and they had distortion, reverb, and tremolo built in. They also had a built-in tuning tone that you could vary the pitch of. However, I used the tone like a siren–that’s the sound you hear in the film of our London concert during “The Unknown Soldier.” I don’t remember using it on any other song. It was so weird that I don’t think we wanted to use it too much [laughs). Most of the time, though, my live sound was just a guitar and an amp, and every once in a while I’d have some kind of fuzztone or an Echoplex.


I never felt as if I was playing in Jim’ shadow. Not at all. I mean, the music was always right there, you know? It was always so easy to play together, and there was never the sort of ego problems that you have with a lot of groups. I don’t know why. Maybe the four of us just had the perfect magic circle.