STORY WRITTEN BY FERN BRODKIN
For Digital First Media
It was January 4, 1967. That was the day that The Doors released their eponymous debut album on Elektra Records. And The Doors became one of the most successful and memorable bands of the late ’60s.
Of course a great deal of The Doors’ success was due to their captivating lead singer/lyricist Jim Morrison. And then there was Ray Manzarek’s distinctive keyboard sound that was so prominent in many of their songs.
But don’t forget about guitarist Robby Krieger. He not only brought a unique guitar sound to the band, he is responsible for penning many of the band’s most memorable songs, including the band’s first hit “Light My Fire” from that debut album.
Krieger will bring his band to Ardmore Music Hall to celebrate the 50th anniversary of ‘The Doors.’ I had the opportunity to talk to him in a telephone interview from his home in Los Angeles about some of his experiences with The Doors and what it’s like to play that music today.
Krieger developed a love of music as a young teen who listened to not only his father’s LPs and 78s, but the music of his friends.
“I developed an interest in flamenco music, so that’s really the first type of guitar that I wanted to play,” said Krieger. “So I got a Mexican flamenco guitar when I was about 16, 15 maybe.”
He added: “As far as the blues and stuff, my buddies were more into it than I was but pretty soon I developed a taste for that, too.”
Krieger befriended drummer John Densmore in high school and they played in different groups together. Krieger then attended UCLA, where Morrison and Manzarek were also studying.
“John actually joined the band before I did and then he recommended me after Ray’s brother (Rick) quit,” recalled Krieger.
“The first song I wrote was ‘Light My Fire’ and I brought it in to the band and we all worked it up together.”
Krieger recalled other methods in which the band composed songs.
“At one point Jim and I stayed together for about a month. My parents had left town, so we stayed at my house. And we got a lot of songs written. And then later I would come up with a piece of music and Jim would try to put words to it, and if he couldn’t think of anything he would look in his poetry book and he would come up with something that worked. He did that a lot. For instance ‘Peace Frog,’ ‘L’America’ and stuff on the later albums especially.
“Sometimes we would all just write songs together, we’d just start playing. On the ‘L.A. Woman’ (Elektra, 1971) album that’s how (the song) ‘L.A. Woman’ happened. Jim had a couple of words and we started playing. For instance, (with) ‘Riders on the Storm’ we started playing ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’ just for fun. And then all of a sudden Jim came up with ‘Riders on the Storm.’”
Then came July 3, 1971. Jim Morrison died in Paris and everything changed.
“It wasn’t easy, but we said ‘we can either quit, or we could get a new singer, or just continue as the three of us,’” said Krieger. “And we decided that it would be kind of stupid to try to replace Jim. But we didn’t want to quit playing music. And we had a contract with Elektra Records so we decided to go ahead and see what we could come up with.”
The band recorded two more albums: ‘Other Voices’ (Elektra, 1971) and ‘Full Circle’ (Elektra, 1972) before finally disbanding.
“And there’s actually some good stuff on those records,” said Krieger, who added that the fans were “great” when the band toured to support those albums. “I think they understood our problem and we had good crowds, especially in Europe. They didn’t say ‘hey, where’s Jim?’”
Over the years Krieger has continued to perform The Doors’ music, including at times with Manzarek before his death in 2013. The current touring band includes Krieger on guitar, Phil Chen on bass, Nathan Wilmarth on keyboards, Ty Dennis on drums and Krieger’s son Waylon Krieger on vocals.
Krieger said that fans can expect to hear their “favorite Doors songs as well as some of the deeper tracks that they may not have heard so much.”
He added: “It’s really a tribute to Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek, who are not with us anymore.”
Krieger also said he enjoys playing smaller venues such as Ardmore Music Hall.
“I kind of like playing the smaller places because you know in those big rooms it’s so hard to communicate with the people that are so far back in the audience. This way you get to see who’s there and get the reaction from the crowd.”