We’ve Got A File On You: Robby Krieger

Jill Jarrett

We’ve Got A File On You: Robby Krieger

Jill Jarrett

We’ve Got A File On You features interviews in which artists share the stories behind the extracurricular activities that dot their careers: acting gigs, guest appearances, random internet ephemera, etc.

Fifty years ago, the Doors as everyone knew them ceased to exist. Jim Morrison died in Paris and soon became mythologized as one of the great lost icons of the counterculture. In the decades since, the remaining Doors embarked on all sorts of other endeavors — keeping the band going for a time, launching new projects, and revisiting the legacy of the Doors. Robby Krieger was one of the members who always popped up from time to time, playing with new people or releasing solo music or maybe even making a random TV cameo.

On Oct. 12, Krieger is releasing a new memoir called Set The Night On Fire. It’s his side of the Doors’ story, going back through their ’60s glory days, but also trying to push back against some of the sensationalized and/or fictionalized ways in which the band’s story has been told. On the occasion of his new book, we called Krieger to talk about odds and ends and plot twists from across the decades.

The Doors Albums After Jim Morrison Died (1971, 1972, 1978)

The Doors made two albums in the early ‘70s, Other Voices and Full Circle. When I got into the Doors, these were almost written out of history. I didn’t even know they existed for a few years.

ROBBY KRIEGER: You’re not alone.

It was before they were reissued, all that. How do you feel about that era now?

KRIEGER: That’s a good question. I think what we should’ve done is just become a jazz trio. Instead of still trying to do rock with no lead singer. But, on the other hand, there were some cool songs on those albums. We actually went out and toured and all that stuff, and we did pretty well. People seemed to still be into it. We played Europe, we did these big halls and stuff. And in the States. The main problem is, obviously, we didn’t have Jim. The three of us couldn’t — we didn’t really get along as well as we did when Jim was around. There was such a great balance there with all four of us. When Jim was gone, it was tough. The egos started coming out, you know what I mean?

Over classic rock history, pop history, there’s all kinds of instances where bands carry on after losing their singer, guitarist, focal points of the band that would theoretically be impossible to replace. Other Voices didn’t come out all that long after Jim died. Do you remember what your mindset was? Was it about giving it a shot or like, we need to keep this going no matter what?

KRIEGER: It was a tough time, of course. When Jim was gone… we had kept going. The three of us were practicing all the time, writing new stuff. When Jim passed, we said, “Jeez, what’re we going to do?” We could just give it up, or, you know, we have all these songs. Let’s go in and record and see what happens. We probably shouldn’t have put it out that quick after Jim’s passing. We just felt like that was all we could do. We could’ve sat around and be depressed. Which we were. But, I don’t know. The record company, Elektra, they were wanting us to continue. It wasn’t that hard of a decision.

So you do these two albums, the Doors end, you and John Densmore do Butts Band for a bit, then you reconvene with Ray Manzarek in 1978 to put music to Jim’s poetry for An American Prayer. Can you tell me what was different from Other Voices and Full Circle?

KRIEGER: We’d forgotten Jim had gone in and recorded his poetry before he left for Paris. His idea was to have music to it, but classical music. That never happened. I was talking to John Haney, the guy who recorded the poetry, and I said could I get a copy. I got it and I was checking it out. It seemed to me like we could put music to it and make it really great. Really that’s kind of what we did anyway. A lot of Jim’s poetry ended up as songs, like “Peace Frog” and “Texas Radio.” We decided to give it a try. Really, it’s one of my favorite albums. I really love how it came out.

The Doors Movie (1991)

You have a sneaky cameo backstage in one scene. This movie has been divisive over the years, and it seemed those of you who remained from the Doors also felt differently about it. How do you feel about that depiction?

KRIEGER: That’s one reason why I wrote this book. To set the record straight. I think I do. I actually thought it was a really great movie for a rock ’n’ roll movie. I thought it really worked. But of course, it wasn’t all the truth. He took some liberties. Quite a few. [Laughs] It’s too bad Ray wasn’t involved, I think he could’ve helped in that regard. But you know, Oliver’s going to do what he’s gonna do. In the very beginning, Ray went to his office to meet with him. I wasn’t there, but the story goes Ray showed up totally drunk and got into a big fight with Oliver and was then on banned from the movie set. That was too bad. I know what Ray was thinking. His dream was to direct a movie about the Doors, and he was not going to be happy with whoever they got besides him. Like I said, for a rock ’n’ roll movie it’s really great. And I think Val Kilmer should’ve gotten a fucking Academy Award for it. But as far as being a truthful depiction of the Doors, it just wasn’t.

Fifty years is a long time since the final days with Jim. You’re talking about wanting to set the record straight — at various points through the years has it felt like sort of a burden, how much this all got mythologized in pop culture in different ways?

KRIEGER: On the one hand, it’s great that people still care one way or another about how it was. All these books come out, and the movie, and [former Doors manager] Danny Sugerman’s book, which wasn’t very truthful either. It does get annoying. But I think the main thing is that people still dig the music. That’s what’s going to matter 50 years from now.

The Remaining Doors Collaborating With Skrillex (2012), Jay-Z Sampling “Five To One” (2001)

I know you’ve played with various people over the years, but on paper the Doors and Skrillex is a pretty unexpected pairing.

KRIEGER: After Danny Sugerman, died, we got his friend Jeff Jampol involved [in managing the Doors]. Jeff was up on a lot of the new stuff that was happening at the time. Stuff like Skrillex. He was into that, he knew their people. That was pretty much how it happened. I had never heard of Skrillex at that point, but I thought it came out pretty cool.

The Doors’ music has also been sampled in rap music pretty frequently — and a big one on my mind recently was Jay-Z’s “Takeover” with the “Five To One” sample, since The Blueprint just turned 20.

KRIEGER: I remember that. It wasn’t a surprise, because we had to sign off on that type of stuff.

It’s one thing to have bands cover your songs over the years, but what did you think about hearing it recontextualized like this?

KRIEGER: It was kind of weird, but I think we were pretty flattered that they would think of using our stuff. I wasn’t against it at all. I think Ray and John had the same feeling.

You’ve played with artists who might not be all that rooted in the ’60s, but how did you feel about interacting with these other genres?

KRIEGER: I was never that big of a fan of that type of stuff, honestly. Not to say I wasn’t open to new stuff, but it just wasn’t my thing. I suppose it would’ve been fun to go play concerts with some of those guys, but it never happened. Actually, I did play with Skrillex a couple times.

Playing With Eddie Vedder At The Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall Of Fame Induction (1993)

Eddie inducted you guys and then also performed with you.

KRIEGER: I didn’t realize, but Eddie was totally into Jim. He cornered me in this hotel room for about two hours, he just had to know everything. That was kinda cool. I didn’t realize he was such a fan. It was kind of weird that night. He was supposed to come down for rehearsal the day before, and they had a huge storm that year. He was driving down from Seattle, and it took him like 48 hours or something. We only had like 20 minutes to rehearse the damn thing. But he did pretty well, I thought.

Was that a particularly important honor for you at that juncture?

KRIEGER: That was kind of early on with the Hall Of Fame thing. We didn’t realize what an honor it was, at the time. It was fun. I think had it been maybe three or four years later, we would’ve realized how cool it was.

Performing “Roadhouse Blues” With Creed At Woodstock ’99 (1999)

The Doors didn’t play the original Woodstock, but the ’99 one is sort of infamously disastrous. What was your experience there vs. having been around in the ’60s?

KRIEGER: When we played, the bad stuff hadn’t really started happening. People were complaining about eight dollar bottles of water, stuff like that. But it didn’t get nasty until much later that day. It was actually pretty cool, as far as I was concerned. Everybody was singing along with “Roadhouse.” We didn’t rehearse it, and they started off like, twice as fast as it should’ve been. [Laughs] Slow down, slow down.

In Ray’s speech from the Rock Hall induction, he was talking about turning the corner into the ’90s, the kids looking back to the Summer Of Love. A new hope getting out of the Reagan years, a new era of rock artists with a social conscience. Did you feel that in the air too?

KRIEGER: I was hoping so. The whole Seattle scene, grunge and all that. Unfortunately it never really went as far as I hoped it would. But it was a breath of fresh air, definitely.

The Doors Of The 21st Century With Ian Astbury (2003-2007)

What was it like revisiting the music with Ian?

KRIEGER: It was pretty cool, I just wish John had wanted to do it. Getting together with Ray again after so long, it was really cool. I hadn’t played the Doors stuff for so long. I had these various Robby Krieger bands and we’d always do a couple Doors songs, but never a whole show. Ian was a big Doors fan. I thought he was a great fit, even though he didn’t really sing the stuff exactly correct sometimes. It was cool he put his own personality into it.

Had you met him before?

KRIEGER: He was buddies with Danny Sugerman. We had met him a number of times before. I think what clinched it for him was when we did Storytellers. He was one of the guys who sang on that with us, and he was really good. I think that’s how we picked him.

When you were back onstage with Ray and going back through the catalog, was there anything that surprised you in revisiting the material?

KRIEGER: Surprised me? Not really. Ray seemed like he hadn’t missed a beat in all that time. I don’t know how many Doors songs he had played, but he hadn’t lost a thing. That was a fun time.

Playing Guitar On X’s “All The Time In The World” And “Strange Life” (2020/2021)

There’s some old Doors connection here, with Ray having produced their first few albums. How’d you link up with them all these years later?

KRIEGER: Yeah, that was kind of weird. I had sort of been in touch with John Doe over the years. We did a Ray Manzarek tribute after he’d passed away, and John came and sang. To tell you the truth, I think he would’ve been great to have as a singer for the Doors. He knows that mood. Anyway, we’d been in touch over the years and he called and said they were doing an album and asked if I wanted to be on a couple things. We went over to this little studio, it was like this guy’s house.

We’ve already talked about grunge and rap, were you paying attention to bands like X in the late ’70s?

KRIEGER: Not as much as Ray. But yeah I like bands like X. Those little points of light here and there in the late ’70s and ’80s.

Married… With Children “Rock Of Ages” Episode (1992)

There’s this commercial with you and Spencer Davis and Richie Havens doing this “We Are The World” spoof asking for help as the elders. It’s kinda funny to me how perceptions change — you were only like, 45 when this happened.

KRIEGER: Yeah, we’re not that old! [Laughs] I didn’t realize about the “old” thing. They kinda sprung that on us, singing that stupid song. But you know, it was fun. I did like that show. You get to meet all the cast and stuff, hang around with John Sebastian again. Richie Havens. We did a lot of shows with him.

So all they did was ask if you want to be on the show, they didn’t explain the concept until you got there?

KRIEGER: [Laughs] They didn’t explain it very well. It was a little weird. I mean, people always bring that show up. What they told me was they were gonna have us older guys, rockers from the last decade or two, and we were going to get on this plane and go to Hawaii and Ed O’Neill was going to pretend to be one of us. He was very funny.

Unofficial Tesla Commercial (2016)

There’s this commercial where you save three young people stranded in the desert with a normal car.

KRIEGER: [Laughs] What happened was, my son Waylon, he lived next door to this guy Doug Quill, who was a filmmaker. He had this idea to do a Tesla commercial, and he knew I had a Tesla. I kept telling him, “Tesla doesn’t do commercials.” That’s one of their things. He said, “But if we do it really good, maybe they’ll pick it up.” So they talked me into it.

Did they? Did it become official?

KRIEGER: Nah, nah. It’s just on YouTube.

Performing “Roadhouse Blues” With Miley Cyrus For Morrison Hotel’s 50th Anniversary (2020)

Now decades removed from playing this with Creed, or with Eddie Vedder, do you still see the Doors’ influence trickling down to younger musicians?

KRIEGER: I don’t really know if it was her idea or not. Her producer, Andrew Watt, he got himself into the Ray tribute and he sang “L.A. Woman.” During the Mojo Risin’ part he fucking got on the floor and was like, fucking the floor. I thought that was pretty funny, so I got behind him and pretended to fuck him in the ass with my guitar. He was a big Doors fan. I’m sure that’s how Miley came to be at that show. You know who’s a big Doors fan? Pink. She inducted us when we got a Grammy for something a couple years ago.

When you cross paths with someone like that, or when you perform with someone like Miley, are there certain people that stick out as having the, I guess, “it factor” the old legends had?

KRIEGER: I did play with Eric Burdon for a while, I think he had some of that. Did a couple years’ worth of tours together. Have you heard that band Greta Van Fleet? They’re big Doors fans. I’ve met them a couple of times. I like them a lot. The kid has a great voice. They’re all good. They’re very ’60s-influenced, of course, so that helps.

“Hello, I Love You” In The Mad Men Series Finale (2015)

There have been a million Doors syncs over the years, but this one came to mind for a specific reason: My generation grew up with the ’60s as a solidified set of iconography and ideas. You get to something like Mad Men, people were talking about it as a more nuanced, complex depiction of that decade. Do you have thoughts on how those years have been portrayed over the decades?

KRIEGER: I hate to admit it, but I’ve never seen that show. The main thing in the ’60s, we really thought it was going to change stuff. That was disappointing. The bad guys win, you know? I can see how people who grew up after that would not even want to try that spirit anymore. But I still have hope that type of thing could happen again. You see these young kids who are into the environment and all that stuff, to me that’s pretty cool.

Obviously there’s steps forward and back over the years, and we’ve had some pretty big backsteps in recent times. But you do kind of see that in the generation below me, there seems to be a different timbre. Do you feel more or less optimistic than you have at various points?

KRIEGER: Definitely, definitely. I can almost feel similar to the ’60s. It wasn’t easy, but it never will be. I still think things could change for the better. Just like we thought then. We shouldn’t have given up so easily.

You think people did?

KRIEGER: I think so. Maybe it’s just people got older, I don’t know. The ’60s was just the right place at the right time. I don’t see why that couldn’t happen again.

“Light My Fire” (1967)

The Doors have a lot of famous songs, but sometimes I feel this is the most iconic one. Do you remember the day you wrote it?

KRIEGER: I was still living at my parents’ house. The day before, we had a band meeting. At that point, Jim had written all the songs. Which were great. But he said, “Hey, we don’t have enough original songs.” We were doing quite a few covers when we would do gigs. We had maybe, at the most, 10 originals. He said, “Why don’t you guys try and write something, why do I have to do all the work here?” I said, “OK, what should I write about?” He said, “Don’t write about something that will go out of fashion in a year or two, try to write something more universal.” In my head I said, “OK, earth, wind, fire, and water.” That’s the four elements, right? I thought about fire because I really dug that song by the Stones, “Play With Fire.” It probably took a day or two before it came together. I explain it pretty good in the book.

You write this thing and it becomes a #1 hit.

KRIEGER: I was 19, maybe 20 by the time it had gotten to #1. Yup. It’s been downhill ever since. [Laughs]

Do you remember what was going through your head having one of the ones you wrote hitting #1?

KRIEGER: I didn’t consider it all my doing. I wrote the song. I had these weird chords that were actually a way to get out of the solos at first, which later — after Ray put his Bach thing on top of it, that was a cool part of the song, and our producer Paul Rothchild, he’s the one who had the idea to put that at the front to start the song. Have to thank Ray for that. Then John had the idea for the Latin beat. I heard it more as a folk-rock thing. Jim came up with the second verse, the one about the funeral pyre. He also had the idea at the very at the end of the song to say, instead of just “Light my fire,” “Try to set the night on fire.” I later found out that was in one of his early poems when he was in high school. There was a lot that went into it. After it was a #1 hit for us, it really made our whole career.

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