When the first song you ever wrote is "Light My Fire," you're responsible for tunes like "Love Her Madly" and "Love Me Two Times," and you palled around with Jim Morrison in a band that's sold some 80 million albums, you've earned enough rock & roll cred to do whatever the hell you want.
Love it or hate it, what Robby Krieger wants to do now is play jazz. The rock & roll purists don't sweat this because they know that no matter how hard John Densmore tries to stop it, Krieger and Ray Manzerek will always play the old stuff together -- for as long as they can, and under whatever name doesn't get them sued.
It doesn't hurt that the jazz that Krieger likes to play takes him down roads paved by such greats as Django Reinhardt and Wes Montgomery, and is born from his deep respect for some of jazz's heaviest hitters. Not to mention that his latest solo record, Singularity, has been nominated for Best Pop Instrumental Album at the upcoming Grammys.
I recently spoke with the legendary Los Angeles guitarist about jazz, the Doors and the day he was "grilled" by Eddie Vedder.
Scott McDonald: Congratulations on Singularity. Seems like a pretty dense record to be tackled by a trio.
Robby Krieger: [Laughs] It's not a trio. I really don’t know why they got that idea. It's actually a quintet. But a jazz trio sounds pretty cool, so I guess thats all right.
SM: So it's the Robby Krieger Jazz Quintet?
RK: Yeah. All of the guys are world class. But I've worked on and off with Arthur Barrow for probably 30 years -- since he was with Frank Zappa. And our saxophone player, Chuck Manning, is an amazing guy. He works for JPL [NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory]. He's responsible for putting the rovers up on Mars, but he also happens to be a phenomenal horn player. He's incredible. But all of the guys this time are world class.
SM: I read somewhere that the genesis of Singularity came 15 years ago. What took so long to complete it?
RK: It's just one of those things. When Miles Davis died, Barrow and I decided we wanted to do some kind of tribute to him. We wanted to do something like Sketches of Spain -- something that started with flamenco guitar and then moved into something more orchestral. I was supposed to be Miles Davis and Arthur was supposed to be Gil Evans ... I guess we were shooting kind of high [laughs]. But one thing led to another, and it just fell by the wayside. But we recently decided to resurrect it, and all of that stuff is what became "Russian Caravan" -- the real centerpiece of this album.
SM: You also have a song called "Trane Running Late" on the record.
RK: I love John Coltrane. He had it in him. And it just had to come out [laughs]. But the reason we called it "Trane Running Late" is because of the bridge we have in it. I got the idea for it from one of his songs, from ... oh, what was it ... [sings a few bars], that crazy song he did -- "Giant Steps." But only a few people will probably get the reference. And we play it a lot differently live. It’s really lively. Everyone gets to stretch out on it.
SM: The cover of Singularity is one of your paintings. Is painting something you'll continue to pursue?
RK: Yes. As a matter of fact, I'm going to do something with one of the galleries down in Mexico City. That place has really become quite an art center. We’re going to do a showing of some of my stuff when I'm down there later this year.
SM: In addition to Singularity, Tom DiCillo's recent documentary about the Doors, When You're Strange, is also up for a Grammy. You have a double dip this year.
RK: Yup. When You're Strange is up for Best Long Form Music Video.
SM: You guys had mixed reactions to Oliver Stone's film. Were you pleased with the way this one turned out?
RK: Oh, yeah. For sure. I thought they did an amazing job. I thought the editing was fantastic, and I really liked having Johnny Depp do the voiceovers. It just captured things so well, you know? It reminds you that time is short. We were lucky to get six albums out of the little time that we had.
SM: How are the Doors doing? Or is it Riders on the Storm?
RK: We're great -- we're doing a bunch of dates coming up in Mexico, South America, Europe and one in Moscow. And I think we’ll be doing some House of Blues dates in the States as well. But we're not called Riders on the Storm anymore. Now we're going by Robby Krieger and Ray Manzerek of the Doors. The gist of it is that Densmore just doesn't want to play, and he thinks that because he's not playing that we shouldn’t call it the Doors.
SM: Why is that guy so crabby?
RK: [Laughs] That is a good question. But I guess it's a long story.
SM: It still had to feel great to be inducted into the Rock & Roll hall of Fame together.
RK: That was a good day. Eddie Vedder both played with us and inducted us. He's a big Doors fan. It was funny. The whole day, he was drilling me on Morrison. "What was he like?" "What did he do?" "Where did he go?" Stuff like that. All day long [laughs]. That guy is a real, real Doors fan.
SM: There are a lot of them out there. Does jazz help you with some separation from all of that?
RK: Yeah. It's tough to keep doing just one thing your whole life. And I realize a lot of people won't get it or they don't care to hear me do that stuff, but I need to keep myself interested, and that's the way I do it. There's just so much to do in music.