The Doors’ most famous hit is arguably “Light My Fire,” and the man largely responsible for writing that song is Doors guitarist Robby Krieger. (The band willingly shared writing credits on most of its songs, including “My Light Fire.”) How “Light My Fire” was composed is one of the many stories told in the documentary “When You’re Strange: A Film About the Doors,” written and directed by Tom DiCillo. The entire film, which is narrated by Johnny Depp, consists of footage that was shot from 1966 to 1971, the year that lead singer Jim Morrison died at age 27 in Paris.
For the last several years, Krieger and Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek have continued the Doors’ legacy by performing the band’s songs on tour under various band names and with different lead singers. (Due to a legal settlement with original Doors drummer John Densmore, any act billed as the Doors must consist of founding members Densmore, Manzarek and Krieger.)
I recently caught up with Krieger, and in this exclusive interview, he revealed that more behind-the-scenes Doors stories will be told, since he is working on his autobiography. Krieger also opened up about what he thinks of “When You’re Strange”; which Doors album is his favorite; and what he thinks really killed Morrison.
What do you think about the fact that everything in “When You’re Strange” was shot from 1966 to 1971? Most documentaries would have new interviews with people giving hindsight commentary.
I love that part of it. I was pleasantly surprised that they let the footage tell the story. I was blown away by how good the footage looked. They were able to digitally do something to it. It looked really good.
The Doors, pictured clockwise from left to right: Jim Morrison, John Densmore, Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek
The movie opens with footage of Jim Morrison driving in a car. The quality of the film looks so good that people may be fooled into thinking that it’s a Jim Morison look-alike in new footage. Can you talk about that?
That part of the film, where you see Jim driving in the car, that was a film project that Jim was doing on his own called “HWY: [An American Pastoral].” He never finished it, obviously. He took a bunch of footage of him driving around the desert, jumping off of cliffs and stuff. They used real 35mm cameras and stuff, and that’s why it looks that good.
Was there anything in “When You’re Strange” that stood out for you emotionally, that really took you back to those days when Jim Morrison was in the Doors?
There were certain shots of me and my wife, there were a couple I hadn’t seen. There were a couple [of scenes] backstage that I’d never seen before. And there was one shot of a girl in a doorway — and it was about Jim and groupies or something — and she was a girl who was best friends with my wife. And [the friend] passed away a couple of years ago.
Robby Krieger on the Experience Hendrix Tour in New York City, October 2007
How would you describe the fans who come out to your concerts these days?
We get all types. We get people from the ‘60s and a lot of young kids, 18-year-olds on up. It seems like we pretty much hit every generation pretty well. They’re all there.
After Jim Morrison died, you’ve gone through the experience several times of looking for a lead singer for your band. What has that been like and what goes through your mind when you have to find a singer who will sing the songs that Jim originally sang?
It’s really tough, because each person expects something different. Some people want to see the guy who looks like Jim. Other people want to see someone who sounds like Jim. And other people are really mad when you get a guy who looks like Jim. They say, “Oh, you’re trying to replace Jim Morrison or copy Jim Morrison.” So you never win. But basically, we want a guy who can get the music over and connect with the audience. He doesn’t have to sound or look like Jim. He has to be able to get the music across.
Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah
Is there anything from the Doors’ archives that hasn’t been released yet that you think might be released?
We’ve pretty much scraped the vault clean. There’s not a whole lot left, but you never know. Somebody might come up with something. Some fans have tapes, so you never know.
What was your favorite Doors album to record?
Probably the most fun one was “L.A. Woman,” because we produced that one ourselves. We just brought a bunch of equipment to our rehearsal place over in Hollywood, and we just took our time and recorded anytime we wanted without worrying about paying $100 an hour for a [recording] studio. To me, that was one of the most fun albums that we did. They were all fun, but sometimes when you’re trying to make a perfect song, you go over and over it, and you take the life out of it.
The Doors’ 1971 album “L.A. Woman.” Pictured from left to right: Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Robby Krieger and Jim Morrison.
It’s been widely reported that when Jim Morrison died in 1971 in Paris, he had quit the Doors because he wanted to focus on being a poet. Do you really think that Jim Morrison had quit the Doors for good?
No. He would’ve come back. The Doors were his whole life. He wanted to take a break, but he was definitely planning to come back and do another album, because “L.A. Woman” was so good. When he was over in Paris he had called up and talked to John [Densmore]. John told him, “I’m good if the rest of us will do it.” Who knows how long [the Doors with Jim Morrison] would have gone on [if he were alive today], if we would still be playing? I don’t know.
Can you talk about any of your new music that will be released?
I actually have an album coming out in June . It’s an instrumental thing, with some flamenco guitar in it and stuff like that. It’s called “Singularity,” and it will be out on Oglio Records. But as far as Doors music, Ray [Manzarek] and I, we’re always working on new ideas musically. And if we can get the right singer and the right situation, it’s got to be good enough … and that’s not easy.
Robby Krieger at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah
Do you have any singers that are at the top of our wish list?
That’s one of the things we have to figure out. I don’t know if you heard that Doors tribute album [2000’s “Stoned Immaculate: The Music of the Doors”], but I can see doing something like that, where we have a different singer for each song, but instead of Doors songs, maybe new songs.
John Densmore and Ray Manzarek have done their memoirs about their time with Jim Morrison and the Doors. Do you plan to do your own autobiography?
I’m actually in the process of doing my own book.
Do you have a working title yet?
No. I haven’t decided yet.
The Doors’ 1968 album “Waiting for the Sun.” Pictured from left to right: John Densmore, Ray Manzarek, Jim Morrison and Robby Krieger.
What will you have in the book that John Densmore and Ray Manzarek didn’t have in their memoirs?
It’ll be everything from my perspective. I think they covered pretty much everything that happened in the Doors, but I’ll find some stuff they didn’t talk about, like my life before the Doors and how I became part of the band.
There have been so many rumors and stories about Jim Morrison’s death, but what do you honestly think killed Jim?
Himself. He had devils. I think he was fascinated with what happens after you die, and he wanted to find out — not on purpose, but that was his personality.
For more info: “When You’re Strange” website
RELATED LINKS ON beepwire.com:
Interview with Ray Manzarek
Interview with John Densmore
“When You’re Strange” news and reviews
Photo credits: Photos #2, 5, 7: Elektra Records. All other photos: Getty Images.