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Robby Krieger Talks Doors and Getting Back With John Densmore

Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Legendary Doors guitarist Robby Krieger has been keeping busy in the wake of the passing of his former bandmate Ray Manzarek earlier this year. He recently wrapped up a series of tour dates with his latest endeavor, Robby Krieger’s Jam Kitchen, and according to Krieger, he’s in the process of cooking up some new tunes with that project that we might hear as soon as the end of this year.

Krieger has also patched things up with former Doors drummer John Densmore, and they’re planning a tribute to their late bandmate that tentatively will happen on Manzarek’s birthday in 2014. But first, Krieger will hit the links for his annual celebrity golf tournament benefiting St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, which will happen on Sept. 16 in Moorhead, Calif., featuring an all-star concert with Krieger and several of his musician friends.

During a conversation with Ultimate Classic Rock, Krieger gave us some insight into his golf skills, while sharing the latest update on his planned activities with Densmore and some of his favorite memories from his work and friendship with Manzarek over the years.

It’s quite a diverse lineup of talent that has been assembled for your golf and concert classic. Did you have a lot to do with putting the actual musical lineup together? It’s an interesting bunch, going from folks like members of Little Feat to Lita Ford and Sebastian Bach.

Yeah, I know all these people and have asked them to do it and a lot of them are golfers, so that makes it easy. But a guy like Sebastian Bach, he doesn’t play golf — I just happened to run into him at another fundraiser last year, and he said he would like to do it, so that was cool.

Golf tournaments and rock ‘n’ roll seem to go hand in hand these days. How did you get wrapped up with this one?

I have a buddy named Scott Medlock, and he’s an artist. He paints golfers and other sports figures. We just started doing this about eight years ago with the Pat Tillman Foundation. I guess he knew some of the people from the foundation, and they asked if we would do something, and that’s pretty much how it got started.

How’s your golf game?

Oh, it’s OK. It’s pretty good lately.

This certainly gives you a chance to work it out.

Yeah, and I actually played some golf on this last tour. We put the clubs on the bus, and on the off-days, we’d get a chance to play sometimes if you’re in the right place at the right time.

Let’s talk about some musical stuff: When the Doors broke up, I could see that it might have been a bit hard to figure out what was next. Where do you begin when you’re trying to follow up a huge project like the Doors?

Yeah, it’s not easy. I mean, how do you follow an act like that? You know, John Densmore and I, we had a group called the Butts Band. We were over in England and actually, Ray was there too. We were over there to try to get a singer. Because you know, we did a couple of albums after Jim passed, and Ray and I did the singing. We weren’t great singers, let’s face it. [But] we said, “Well, you can’t replace Jim Morrison, so we’ll just sing ourselves.” After a couple of albums, we said, “Well, maybe we can find a singer, so we’ll go over to England.” We started interviewing guys and pretty soon the three of us started fighting and Ray went back to L.A., and John and I stayed there and we formed this band, the Butts Band, which was a really good band, actually.

Where did the name come from?

One of the guys lived in a place called the Butts. So that’s where the Butts Band came from. It was like a park area in England.

That seems to be the way a lot of those band names happened back then, inspired by the environment or things that were going on at the time.

Yeah, exactly. But he was a good singer. Jess Roden, he sang with Robert Palmer and some other bands. And then our bass player was Phil Chen and he played on [Jeff Beck’s] ‘Blow by Blow’ [and also] with Rod Stewart and stuff. He’s the guy that’s been playing with Ray and I the last 10 years or so. He’s a great guy.

It’s not too far of a walk from the stuff that you were doing with the Doors up to the jazz/fusion stuff you got into after the Butts Band.

Right. The Doors were always into jazz anyway, and I started to meet some guys around L.A. who were into the fusion thing. That’s when Chick Corea came out, and George Duke and [Frank] Zappa started doing stuff like that. I’ve always been interested in that.

You’ve dabbled in a lot of musical styles over the years, including reggae-influenced stuff that you were doing with the Butts Band and also that jazz fusion stuff we talked about. Do you have a favorite genre that you like to work in?

Well, as a guitar player, pretty much any kind of music is fun, but I like to challenge myself, and jazz is probably the most challenging type of music guitar-wise, so I’ve always been into that. But I like to play any kind of music pretty much.

I spoke with Kevin Eubanks earlier this year, and we were talking about how you really do bite off a lot when you decide to go into that jazz world.

Yeah, that’s for sure. There’s always going to be somebody better than you, and you have to accept that and just try to do your own style and hope that people will like it.

It’s been 20 years now since members of the band got back together at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies with Eddie Vedder on vocals. What are your memories of that time?

Oh, that was pretty neat. We were going to be inducted, and we were wondering who would be good [to fill in on vocals], and somebody mentioned that Eddie Vedder was into the Doors, and I said, “Yeah man, that would work.” He was going to come down from Seattle and do some rehearsing with us for the show, and that was the year that there was this huge storm and he decided to drive down from Seattle, so he was kind of late. But we did get a rehearsal in, and we had Don Was on bass. It was really fun.

I think people were blown away at how well Vedder fit in with the band.

Yeah, and he was really into Jim Morrison, and he grilled me for hours about Jim. That’s all he wanted to talk about.

I think that was a little bit before the wave of reunion tours that are now happening everywhere. After jamming at those ceremonies, what sort of thoughts were there, if any between the three former members, as far as possibly continuing on and playing more shows or at the very least, doing some recording?

Well, we did do some stuff after the Hall of Fame. We did an album [around Jim’s poetry], and that was pretty amazing, trying to put some music to poetry that Jim had put down on tape and make it sound interesting, and it really turned out to be one of my favorite albums. After that, we did a VH1 show, ‘Storytellers,’ and John and Ray and I got together with about 10 different singers, and each guy did a song. That’s where Ray and I met Ian Astbury who sang with us — in the year 2000, we started with Ian. [We also got to work with folks like] Scott Weiland and a guy named Travis Meeks [from Days of the New]. He did a great job of ‘The End.’

You ultimately had the chance to get back and play quite a few shows with Ray, revisiting the Doors catalog. Ray added a unique thing to the sound of the Doors’ music. What did you enjoy so much about playing with Ray, and did you see him grow as a player over the years?

Oh yeah, for sure. He was amazing. I don’t know how much he’d played during the previous 10 years, but we started doing Doors songs and I always loved to hear him doing ‘Riders on the Storm’ and ‘Light My Fire,’ where he could do those long solos. He had gotten better, definitely, more musical than ever. Even towards the end there, he blew me away.

It had to be really interesting for you getting back and revisiting those songs after so many years away from them.

Yeah, you know, you never quite get away from them. I always did a few Doors songs, even when I was doing my jazz stuff. Just like I did the past couple of weeks, I’ve been back east with my band, which is called Robby Krieger’s Jam Kitchen. [The band features] some of the guys from Frank Zappa’s band, Tommy Mars and Arthur Barrow play with me, and the great drummer Joel Taylor, who played with Allan Holdsworth and Robben Ford. And we had this guy, Vince Denham, playing horns, who actually played with Elvis back in the day. So we do our jazz stuff, and then we’d intersperse it with Doors songs.

And that band is also working on some new music, right?

Yeah, we’re working on some stuff right now.

When do you think that will come out?

Probably the end of the year. There’s about half an album done right now, and we might put out just an EP. Or it might be a whole album, I don’t know.

What about the tribute that you and John Densmore have been talking about for Ray? What’s the latest word on that?

Well, it’s going to be February 12th. I’m not sure where yet, but probably somewhere in L.A. February 12th is Ray’s birthday, so that’s what we’re shooting for. We’re talking with Live Nation, and we want to get some great guys to play. I want to get some great keyboard guys, some people that Ray looked up to. Keith Jarrett maybe or Herbie Hancock — some guys like that. So hopefully we’ll be successful in getting something like that together, and that would be the first time that John and I would have played [together] for a long time.

Next: Top 10 Doors Songs

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