Robby Krieger: 'To Me Jimi Was The More Innovative One'

artist: Robby Krieger date: 01/21/2009 category: interviews
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Robby Krieger: 'To Me Jimi Was The More Innovative One'
As guitarist for The Doors, Robby Krieger had been there and seen it all. With Jim Morrison guiding the ship, the Los Angeles quartet went from local favorites to international stars. Robby had played hundreds of shows and seen all the great players of the day. But none of them touched him the way Jimi Hendrix had. Though The Doors and the Jimi Hendrix Experience only played together for one performance - the historic Isle of Wight concert - Krieger forever holds a fond place in his heart for the American guitarist. A show called Experience Hendrix was created to honor the great musician. It brought together guest artists who were deeply affected by Jimi in some way or another and teamed them with various singers and rhythm sections. Robby has been part of this tribute concert for a couple years now. A couple days after this interview he will play "Manic Depression" with Mitch Mitchell on drums and Billy Cox on bass. Other musicians present will include Eric Johnson, Johnny Lang, and Doyle Bramhall. Here, he reveals some of his memories about the great and departed left-hander. UG: Do you remember the first time you heard Jimi Hendrix? Robby Krieger: Yeah, I remember exactly. What was that moment like? Well, there was a guy named Murray the K. You know who he is? Sure. We were doing a video shoot with him in New York and he said, Hey man, if you've got a minute come up to the studio, I wanna play you something. This has just come over from England and its called Jimi Hendrix Experience, you know? I'd never heard of Jimi Hendrix, and he played me, I think it was Purple Haze, and I said, Wow! That's different. [laughs] I couldn't believe it. I'd never heard anything like that. You just knew it was way different from anything else, right? Oh yeah. It was, you know, especially me being a guitar player. How long had you been in the Doors when you heard this? A couple of years. A couple of years already? Yeah. So the Doors really predated Hendrix by a ways then? Well, not by much. I mean, we started a couple years before that time. I guess Jimi Hendrix made it around '68, didn't he? That's right. Yeah, whereas we came upon the scene the year before. But it was pretty close to the same time. Robby, do you remember the first time you actually got the Are You Experienced? album in your hands? Well, I remember having the album. I don't remember the first time I actually played it. I remember more the second album, Axis: Bold As Love. Oh really? Yeah, 'cause at that time I was getting more into blues and stuff, you know? That album really knocked my socks off. That was pretty amazing. In some ways I think it might be his best record. It's pretty incredible. Yeah, I think so too. Well, you know, first one is amazing, too.
"Rock 'n roll guitar to me was more of a means than an end."
Robby, you said you were getting into blues and stuff. Was Jimi any kind of an influence on you? Well, I'd been into blues before. But, you know, when I heard that he would sit down and pick apart Albert King licks and stuff like that, you know, that kind of was a lightbulb on my brain because I'd never really done that. Before that, rock 'n roll guitar to me was more of a means than an end, you know what I mean? I didn't really consider rock 'n roll guitar as being that big of a deal until he came out. Before that playing guitar for me was more of a way to meet girls and stuff, you know? [laughs] I got more serious about it, let me put it that way, after he came around. So like you said he was the first one who really made you realize maybe how creative you could be with the instrument or how important guitar really was or how far you could take it, that kind of thing? Yeah, exactly. Robby, did you listen to any of those other guys who were sort of contemporaries? The Jeff Becks, Page, the Zeppelin thing. Did they do anything for you? Yeah, sure, I listened to all those guys. But to me Jimi was the more innovative one, you know? Those guys were great but they just kind of stole stuff from the old blues songs. Jimi did too, but Jimi had a way of making it his own a little bit more, you know? Did you ultimately have a chance to meet Jimi, Robby? Yeah, I did, even though he lived in New York most of the time and we never really got to jam or anything. We played the Isle of Wight show together and I sat next to him on the plane going over to England for about eight hours. Do you remember at all what the conversation might've been about? Uhhhmostly drugs. As a sort of tangent on that line, Robby, did you have any sense that maybe Jimi was maybe a little too fragile for this world? Did you have any sense he wasn't going to be here for much longer? I didn't get that feeling, not at all. Not as much as Jim Morrison. We always had that feeling about him, even from the beginning. Jimi seemed a little more together. I didn't really know him that well, so I couldn't really make that decision. So the Isle of Wight show was the only show you guys ever played together? I believe so, yeah. Do you remember that at all, Robby? His performance, your performance? Hanging out or anything at all? 'Cause that was one of hiswell, that wasn't one of his last shows. That was still pretty early. That was one of our last shows. What year was that, Robby? That was '70, I think. Yeah, and he was gone in '71 so I think that was one of his last shows; one of your last shows, too. Wow. Yeah, I remember I actually did a show after that, at the Forum, and he did seem kind of tired or something. I couldn't put my finger on it. That was with Band of Gypsys, I think. And he was just kind of admonishing the audience just to listen, don't go crazy and stuff. Whereas before I'd seen him at the Whisky [A Go-Go] a couple of times and he was just amazing. Oh, you did see some of those early shows then? Yeah, I think by that time at the Forum he was getting a little bit bugged with the whole kind of being like Morrison was, too. So when you saw him at the Whisky, you were already coming in the door, so you already had your thing together. Must've been a really interesting moment in time seeing Jimi and you being in a major band like the Doors. Must've been pretty cool? Yeah, it was. He had just broken out, probably the first or second album. The Whisky was just insane. People were standing on the tables. I'd never seen the Whisky so excited. Wow, hard to imagine him in a small place like that? He had the double Marshall stack. It was loud [laughs]. Did you guys ever share any bills, like any of the Fillmore Shows? Only gig we ever did together was the Isle of Wight. Was there anything specific about his playing that you loved? Was it the chord Thing? The tonality, the songwriting? Anything that really kind of jumped out at you? Everything! I mean, I loved his vocals, you know? I thought he was probably the best I'd ever seen at singing and playing guitar at the same time. It's like he could divide his mind into two places at once. He didn't even have to think about what his guitar hands where doing while he was singing. That really amazed me. That was more during the live shows, you know? I just love the naturalness, the way he was able to bring his songs on to the record, you know? Did you ever talk to Jim Morrison or any of the other guys in the band about Jimi? Oh, I'm sure we talked about him. Only thing I remember is Jim Morrison saying, Well, Jimi's gone and Janis is gone and I'm next. Wow, he really said that? Yeah.
"It's pretty hard to believe a guy at that age playing guitar like that."
I don't mean to be morbid, but they were all gone within months of each other, right? Within a year and all at the age of twenty-seven, apparently. What a freakin' waste. Yeah. Somebody told me that Jimi was actually a lot older, that he just said he was twenty seven. I don't know Yeah, I mean, I don't believe that. It was pretty well documented when he was born. I dunno man. It's pretty hard to believe a guy at that age playing guitar like that. I know, I know. But then you think of people like Clapton and those guys were like seventeen and eighteen in the Bluesbreakers. And Stevie Winwoodthere's not a lot of them. I mean, you were a young guy doing that amazing guitar stuff. Well, then there's, like, Stanley Jordan. He was pretty young. That's true. I mean, Yngwie, if you like that kind of stuff. He was, like, eighteen and nineteen doing the Steeler and Alcatrazz stuff, his first solo record. I know. That age of twenty-seven is a tough one to get past. Seriously, a lot of people die at that age. James Dean was twenty-seven. I know. I think Brian Jones, too? Yeah, Brian Jones. Another weird thing, they all had J in their names? You know, Jimi, Janis, Jim, Brian Jonesand I had this weird song title or something about They all died with J's in their hand or their name or some weird thing, anyway. I never thought about that. So Robby, how did you get involved in the Experience Hendrix tribute show? I guess our managers and the Hendrix management had been doing some stuff together, because we're both kind of in the situation. As far as, you know, having dead guys The guys left behind, huh? Yeah. I suppose they were talking and they knew I was playing with Ray and stuff. That's how it worked out. I did the tour last year. Oh you did? Yeah. I'm actually just doing the West Coast dates this year. I see. What songs do you play on, Robby? Manic Depression, one of my favorites. Probably gonna do Killing Floor. I don't even really know what I'm gonna do yet. I haven't done my first show with them. All Along the Watchtower. Oh, really? Yeah. I would like to do, um, what do you call it? [sings] Da-dada, da-dada, da-dada Spanish Castle Magic? Yeah, exactly! [laughs] I did that one last year. Oh you did? Yeah. Robby, did you know all these songs beforehand? I knew some of them, not all of them. I've certainly heard all of 'em, you know? The only weird thing is that everybody's playing in E flat, which I'd never done. Oh, because of the tune down thing? Yeah. So, you know, it's a little bit different playing stuff in E flat. So you're staying tuned normally then? No, no, no I tune down. Oh you do tune down? Yeah. It'd be impossible to be playing those E flats and stuff. Yeah, tuned down like that And then there was the inevitable problems with some guys forgetting about tuning down a half a step [laughs]. I remember last year Buddy Guy did that one night. We started playing What the hell's wrong? What's going on here? [laughs] Well he's only a half a step off, right? Yeah, which is the worst thing you can do. Exactly! A whole step would've been better. Yeah, right? That's funny. Yeah, Manic Depression, that riff kind of got you, huh? Yeah, I actually used to do that song with my band. Did you really? Yeah. One of your solo bands? Yeah, we did an instrumental version of it. Interesting. It's such an amazing song, his writing. A lot of it sounds pretty simple on the surface but the timing, some of the riffs in there. You know what I mean? Oh, yeah. None of Hendrix's songs are that simple when it comes right down to it. A lot of them have really weird intros, you know? Like Manic Depression, where he goes [sings] Da-da-da, da-da-da, dom One time he does it five times, the next time he does it six times, you know? [laughs]. You know, the Doors, we were kind of like that, too. We just played stuff how we felt it and a lot of times the bars would be off. You know, there'd be a bar three/four where it wasn't expected. And then Jim would come in early sometimes and that's how it went down on the record. So when people learn that stuff it's always kind of weird, you know? Some people just do it in four, other people do it just like the record. Robby, are you one of those guys who plays Jimi's solos or do you just go off and do your own little thing during solo sections? Yeah, I try to do some of the solo like he did it and then I'll go off and do my own thing. 'Cause I don't think anybody wants to hear the solo exactly how Jimi did it because nobody could do it that good {laughs}. Exactly. Robby, some of these other guys you're playing with. Buddy's doing this tour as well? Yeah. And Johnny Lang, I mean, you recognize these guys as sort of contemporaries; guys who are obviously capable of holding up the Hendrix legend and standard. That kind of thing? Yeah, sure. I guess they try to get guys that have some kind of connection with Hendrix. Certainly Buddy Guy and Mitch Mitchell and the older guys. The younger guys, Kenny Wayne Shepherd is known for doing Hendrix stuff. I guess Johnny Lang, too, huh? I guess so. That was a little surprising to me but It's cool.
"I'd been into blues before."
Is it cool playing with Mitch Mitchell and Billy Cox? I mean, I guess if anybody understands the Hendrix rhythm section it's those guys? Oh yeah, it's great to talk to those guys about how the sessions went down back in the day and stuff. There really nice guys. Wow, cool. Robby, did you know Randy California at all? Oh yeah. I always thought if Randy was still around that would've been a perfect guy for the tribute. Oh yeah. In fact, I did some tours with him in a thing called The Night of the Guitar. Oh, I remember that. Yeah, about maybe ten or fifteen years ago. It was a very similar thing to this in that we had about twelve guitar players and everybody would do a couple of songs. I always remember Randy always did All Along the Watchtower. That was his favorite song to do. He'd put his Jimi Hendrix headband on [laughs]. He was definitely taken with Jimi. Yeah, I love Randy. He had that little fuzz he used to plug into his Mustang, you know. The Spirit stuffwhat a great writer. Last question Robby. You came from, in my mind, the golden era of rock and guitar players. To have been involved in that West Coast thing with all those great players around. I mean, that was a long time ago but are there any moments or players that stand out for you? Any of those early Whisky shows or seeing any of the English guys? Anything that jolted you that maybe you wanted to bring into the Doors or big memorable moments? We played with a lot of groups at the Whisky and the most exciting one, I think, was Them. They were always our favorite, anyway. Really? Interesting. How come? Getting to play with Them at the Whiskey was amazing. The last night we played, we all jammed together on Gloria and that was amazing. Purely amazing. Then, I saw not only Jimi Hendrix at the Whisky but Cream, too. They'd just come out. Cream was amazing. And the Allman Brothers, they played there. The Whiskey was just great back then. Did you see Zeppelin there? Never did see Zeppelin there. I remember Zeppelin played with Alice Cooper. That was the billing. At the Whisky? Yeah, Alice Cooper opened for Zeppelin. Zeppelin and Alice Cooper? [laughs] Yeah. Wow. So Robby, Eric Clapton and that thing was big for you? Oh yeah, I love Cream. You know, I always listened to Clapton with the Bluesbreakers. To me, yeah, he was just great. Was Duane Allman an influence on your slide playing? Or did you already have that together? Not really. We were kind of out before them, but I did love what he did. We used to hang around with those guys quite a bit because John Densmore's ex-wife used to hang out with Berry Oakley. His wife was best friends with my wife, so we used to hang around with the Allman guys all the time. I used to take him out fishing on my boat. We used to have a great time. Wow. Very last question. Obviously Light My Fire remains one of the great classics of all time. Do you respond to it at all? Or have you heard it so many times it becomes a second nature thing? I just wonder what it must feel like to hear yourself on the radio every freakin' hour? Well, it was great the first thousand times [laughs]. You know, I love to hear the Doors songs on the radio. Not just Light My Fire, but any Doors song. There was some great stuff. It's a real kick in the ass, you know? And you got to keep all your publishing from those songs, right? Yeah, we did. We were lucky. Great, 'cause I hate those horror storiesyou know, like, Jimi got ripped off. You know what I mean? We actually did sell it to Elektra Records for five thousand dollars back when we first signed up. Luckily they were really cool guys and they gave it back to us when we re-signed with them. So we were very lucky. Wow, five thousand dollars? I think so. That was actually very normal back then. When a group signed with a record company they sold the publishing to them because, you know, a group always needs money. Five grand was a lot of money back then. Who knew it would be worth fifty million at one point? Unbelievable. So you're looking forward to the show? Yeah, man, it's gonna be great. We'll see you out there. Interview by Steven Rosen Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2009
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