The Doors' Robby Krieger on playing with the Roadhouse Rebels and his new album
Robby Krieger and Steve Molitz
When the Roadhouse Rebels come to the Oriental Theater this Sunday night, the act, which features Robby Krieger of the Doors and Particle keyboardist Steve Molitz, they'll be joined by an all-star cast of players, including Oingo Boingo/Mutaytor bassist John Avila, the Black Crowes' Rich Robinson and drummer Joe Magistro. The group will play fresh takes on Doors songs and cuts from Robinson's Through a Crooked Sun, as well as classic soul and rock tunes from the '60s and '70s. We spoke with Krieger about the new jazz album he's working on with two alumni of Frank Zappa's band, playing flamenco guitar, golfing and his time with the Doors.
Westword: What have you been up to lately?
Robby Krieger: I just came off the Experience Jimi Hendrix tour, which was very cool. I have a jazz group that I play with once in a while, and we've been recording lately. We had an album out last year called Singularity. Then Ray [Manzarek] and I are going out to Europe again in June.
You've been into jazz for quite some time, right?
Yeah, exactly. Probably since the '80s, when jazz fusion got going. I always loved jazz, but I never really thought about playing it until I met some jazz players. I guess that was around the late '70s. I was actually [the only] white person to have an album on Blue Note Records back in the '80s. It was called Robby Krieger & Friends.
I know there's that instrumental part in "Light My Fire" that was inspired by Coltrane's "My Favorite Things."
Right. Good. You know all about that. I usually have to tell people about that.
I hear this version of Roadhouse Rebels hasn't played together as a five-piece yet, right?
Some of us have. Steve [Molitz] and John Avila and I have played a couple of times together, but I don't know Rich Robinson. I've never met him, nor have I met the drummer. So it should be fun.
I guess you guys are getting together to rehearse next week.
Right. We've got some rehearsals. We want to keep it loose, kind of like a jam thing. But we're going to do some Doors songs and who knows what else we're going to do. But it's always better to have some rehearsal.
I'd guess you guys are going stretching out a bit and doing some improvising.
Yeah. That's the whole idea of it.
You're just doing a few dates with this band, and then you and Ray are going to tour, right?
You and Steve go back about ten years or so?
Yeah. When he first had Particle, I would jam with those guys. They were one of the first jam bands, I guess. They're great. When they would come into town we used to get to together and play, and I had a lot of fun with them. So this is kind of an offshoot of that, I guess you could say. I guess Steve still does the Particle thing once in a while. But he's really stretched out with them, and also playing with Phil Lesh.
You started off playing flamenco guitar, and I know you've got somewhat of a unique fingerpicking style on electric. Did the flamenco stuff influence your fingerpicking on electric?
Yeah, definitely. Like you said, I started out playing flamenco, and I never had played electric guitar. I guess I was sixteen or seventeen when I first tried it. So I never used a pick for the whole Doors days. I always used the fingers and flamenco style. Maybe it did give me a different sound or a different something, because people always say I don't sound like anybody else.
It definitely affects the tone.
Yeah. On my album that came out recently, Singularity, I do some flamenco for the first time since "Spanish Caravan" with the Doors. I just kind of let it slide for a long time. I'd pick it up every once in a while, but I finally decided to go ahead and do some on that record. It really took me about six months before it felt like something was good enough to put on a record. It's something you have to keep up. It's not quite like riding a bike.
There's the whole thing you have to do with your fingernails on your right hand.
Yeah. My nails are getting a little bit brittle with age, I guess. They break easier than they used to, that's for sure. Right now, they're perfect for flamenco.
A friend of mine who plays classical guitar actually cuts up ping-pong balls and glues them on his fingertips.
You're kidding. A ping-pong ball?
I guess just the way that they're curved when you cut them up, it's pretty similar to how the fingernails are curved.
How big a piece does he glue on?
I'm not sure. I haven't actually seen him do it. He just told me about it.
He probably glues on a whole piece on the fingernail. That's a good idea. The only thing with glue, which I've tried, believe me, is that it screws up your nail underneath. It takes twice as long to grow back. But I guess you have to do something like that because guys that play every night, they've got to be breaking nails all the time. I know a lot of them go to those nail places and have them professionally done, too.
Going back to the days of the Doors, it seems like you guys were really a whole bunch of different stuff, from classical to blues to jazz to folk and Indian.
We took from everything. We liked all kinds of music. I think, today, kids don't know enough about music, or they don't care enough to really dig into the older stuff and see what they can get from it, which is too bad. They don't teach it in school anymore because of budget cuts or whatever, so it's too bad. I bet you it will start coming around again.
When you're playing, especially improvising, do you think about modes and that sort of thing?
I try not to. You start sounding like you're doing scales and stuff. I think it's good to know all those scales and stuff, and that's what Coltrane was all about. All he did was learn all these different scales. I guess being a horn player, that would come more natural. But I think music education is great and everything, but I think it can mess you up, too, because if you know too much about music, then nothing really is new to you.
When I wrote a lot of those songs, I think it was because I didn't know very much about music. Any kind of normal chord or passage sounded really cool to me because I never heard it before. So it makes you, I don't know, more innocent, I guess.
Were you primarily self-taught early on?
Well, other than the flamenco. I took a lot of flamenco lessons, which was good. I think it's good to take lessons and stuff to learn proper fingering, technique and all that stuff. But I think it's possible to overdo the technical aspect of music. I think today it's underdone, but I probably shouldn't be saying that.
It seems like sometimes it can really get in the way.
Yeah, of being creative, because you're learning what other people have taught. You're just learning what everybody else knows. At some point it's good, but you have to start doing your own thing. I mean, you don't have to, but if you want to get somewhere in music you have to.
You said at the beginning of the interview that you're working on a new record now, right?
It's with most of the same guys who were on my last record, Singularity. We've got two guys from Frank Zappa's old band -- Tommy Mars and Arthur Barrow. Tommy's a Hammond player and he's amazing. Arthur Barrow was Zappa's bandleader for a while. A really talented guy and bass player. Arthur and I go back thirty years or so. I met him when he came out here from Texas to try out for Frank Zappa. He was a kid from Texas A&M and came all the way out to L.A. with the express purpose of trying to get into Frank Zappa's band, which he did and became the bandleader like a year later. He always amazed me. The drummer is Tom Brechtlein. He's played with Robben Ford and Chick Corea and guys like that. Larry Klimus is the horn player. and he plays with War and really cool groups like that, and he plays with Neil Diamond.
I was recently talking to Ian Astbury from the Cult, and he was talking about how you and Ray and John sort of created this space so that Morrison could go into a deep, almost trance-like state. Did you guys ever get into a trance state when you were performing?
Like when you get into the zone.
Yeah. Ray was great for that, because he did the bass with his left hand and organ with his right hand. He kind of had to put the bass on automatic pilot. You know what I'm saying, how a keyboard player will do?
And because of that, his bass lines were really hypnotic. So John kind of went off of that, and I think it was very hypnotic a lot of the time, especially on the longer pieces. Sure, Jim could just freak out from that point, you know? That was very cool.
Steve was saying that you guys golf together.
Yeah, we're golfers. The day after the tour we're playing this gig with the guys from Little Feat and Jonny Lang. We're all playing at this place called the Moorpark Country Club. We do a show for their members there, and they give us each a free membership there for a year. So we get to go out there and play golf.
This might sound like a strange question, but is there anything you borrow from golf that maybe you use in music or vice versa?
Well, vice versa, for sure. Golf is very similar to music in that you have to get out of your own way in order to do the good thing, you know what I mean? It's very technical, but if you think of the technical shit while you're doing it, it just gets in your way. So you have to practice doing it and stuff, just like on an instrument. When you're playing your best, you're just not thinking at all. You just have to believe in yourself. It's kind of the same with music. When you're doing your best stuff, it's always very spontaneous and not thinking. It's the same kind of feeling. I think that's why a lot of musicians are getting into golf nowadays.
I was reading about how you used to play golf with Alice Cooper.
Yeah. I still do every once in a while. We just did a tournament about a month ago called the Kraft Nabisco. It's the ladies' big tournament that they have out in Palm Springs every year. We do a concert the night before and then each one of us plays with one of the lady pros. It's pretty cool.
In fact, I should mention, golf-wise, that we're having a tournament for St. Jude's Children's Hospital out at Moorpark Country Club here in L.A. I'm going to try to get Alice to come and Jonny Lang and the Little Feat guys. I'm trying to get all kinds of people to come out, and we're going to do a show afterwards. It's going to be pretty cool. You can look up "Robby Krieger St. Jude's event" or something like that.
When was the last time you played in Colorado?
A couple of years ago. Ray and I played out there. In fact, we did a thing at Red Rocks with Ian, I think. That was maybe five or six years ago. That was really cool. It was great. The weather was pretty good, but then right in the middle of the set it started raining, so we did "Riders on the Storm." And the thunder came up just in the right places. It was great.
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