Robby Krieger started out playing flamenco and fingerstyle
folk guitar, and when he took up electric and joined the Doors
a few months later he continued playing with his fingers. His
first guitar was a Gibson SG Special with P-90s, which he played
on The Doors in 1967, followed by a ’67 SG Standard, and a
3-pickup ’54 Les Paul Custom that he used for slide. Because
of his musical background and pick-less technique, Krieger’s
electric sound was unique, as was his slide playing, which
eschewed the blues-based approach adopted by most of his contemporaries.
Krieger was also heavily influenced by the
cutting-edge jazz musicians of the day—particularly John
Coltrane—which can be heard clearly in his modal approach
to soloing on pieces such as “When the Music’s Over” and his
songwriting on “Light My Fire.” In addition to penning the latter,
Krieger also wrote several other Doors classics, including
“Love Me Two Times,” “Love Her Madly,” and “Touch Me.”
Krieger’s latest release, Singularity
[Oglio], is an ambitious album comprising
solo flamenco guitar pieces,
brass- fueled ensemble works, funk and
surf-tinged slide excursions, and fusion-y
jazz shuffles—all featuring Krieger’s
ever-inventive fretwork and spectacular
old-school tones. Those wishing to
hear Krieger and the Doors playing at
their peak in 1970 should consider the
six-disc The Doors Live in New York
[Rhino], and longtime fans and the
newly curious alike should see When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors, an
insightful documentary that spotlights
Krieger’s occasionally overlooked contributions
to one of rock’s deepest and most
Was there any sort of concept behind Singularity?
The original idea for this record came
about around ten years ago when Miles Davis
died. My friend Arthur Barrow and I decided
to do a tribute to Miles, something like
Sketches Of Spain. We started off with a flamenco
guitar and then built “Russian
Caravan” off of some of the flamenco licks.
But after that we let it sit for years and just
forgot about it until recently, when we were
talking about Miles and said, “God, what
happened to that piece we did years ago?”
So we resurrected it and developed it into a
Spanish-flavored jazz sort of thing.
You get some fat classic rock tones on the new
album, as opposed to the more processed fusion
tones on the previous one. What guitars and amps
did you use?
I mostly used my ’67 SG Standard, an ES-
335, an ES-355 wired mono without the Varitone
switch, and my ’54 Les Paul Black
Beauty for slide, though I also used some
Stratocasters for a few rhythm parts. My amp
was an old Fender Twin that’s been goosed
up and sounds really good. For the acoustic
flamenco parts I played the 1963 Rivera that
my dad bought for $200 when I was a kid
Specifically, how did you get the ultra-fat lead
tone on “Russian Caravan”?
I’m pretty sure that was an ES-355 with
the Twin cranked all the way up, and probably
a Pro Tools echo plug-in. I like to track
using the sound that I’m going to end up
with as much as possible, because that always
gives me different ideas on how to play. But
you generally add stuff afterwards, too, so I
also record a dry track that can be treated
There’s a tune called “Trane Running Late.” I
assume that’s a reference to Coltrane.
Yeah. The bridge is actually based on his
solo on “Giant Steps.” I’ve listened to
Coltrane since the early ’60s, and he was a
big influence. Back then, ou could see him,
Miles, Roland Kirk, and all the greats playing
in little clubs here in L.A. Coltrane was
the first one to break free from the bonds of
bebop. He’d just play over a couple of chords,
like we did on “Light My Fire,” though he
mostly did it in 3/4 and we did it in 4/4.
You’d think it would be simple, but in reality
it’s more difficult to come up with something
interesting playing over one or two
chords than it is playing over a bunch of
bebop chords. It has always been my goal to
try to free myself in that way. I think the
closest I ever came was on “When the
Speaking of “When the Music’s Over,” how
did you get the monstrous distortion sound on
I wanted to get kind of a violin sound that
just sustained forever but was still ballsy.
They didn’t have pedals that could do that
so I told Paul Rothchild, the producer, what
I wanted and he said, “No problem.” He
pulled this little resister out of his briefcase
and soldered it into a channel on the tube
board at Sunset Sound. I forget what he said or how it worked, but it made this incredible
sound where it just wouldn’t stop sustaining.
That combined with the Sunset Sound
acoustic echo chamber is what made that
sound. I wish I could put it in a pedal. [Note:
Engineer Bruce Botnik has said that the distortion
sound was produced by cascading the outputs
of several channels on the board into one another
so that each tube microphone preamp overdrove
the next, increasing the distortion.]
Were you playing through a miked-up amp or
just plugged directly into the console?
I was playing through a Twin Reverb
cranked all the way up. Most old Twins are
still pretty clean when you turn them up,
but that particular amp has an additional
Do you feel that you’ve received adequate
recognition for your contributions to the Doors,
particularly your songwriting?
No, probably not. I’m sure most people
think that Jim Morrison wrote everything.
My contributions are discussed in When You’re
Strange: A Film About The Doors, however, and
I think eventually people will find out.
Was “Light My Fire” the first song you ever
I had written a couple of songs before
that, but that was my first one for the Doors.
What happened was that up until then Jim
had written everything, but we didn’t have
enough songs, so he said we should try to
write something. Even then I knew that he
was a great writer, so I went home and said,
“S**t, if I’m going to write something that
compares to his stuff I’ve got to come up
with something pretty cool.” I decided I’d
write about earth, air, fire, or water, and I
Your slide playing with the Doors was seemingly
not based on the classic blues styles that so
many ’60s guitarists emulated. How did you come
up with that approach?
I liked Blind Willy Johnson and Robert
Johnson and all those guys, but I knew I wasn’t
ever going to be as good as them, so I
decided I’d use the slide as more as an effect.
For example, if you listen to something like
“Moonlight Drive,” I’m using it more as a
sound color than to play standard blues licks.
Maybe so, but you also had a very original voice
when playing slide solos.
I think that’s just from not knowing how
to do it correctly [laughs].
How did not having a bass in the Doors influence
that way that you played?
It affected all of our playing a lot. Ray had
to play the bass with his left hand, which
meant that he was forced to do really hypnotic
bass lines because he had to kind of
put it on automatic pilot. That was a big part
of our sound, and it made me play differently
because I had to play a lot of bass notes
to fill in for the sparse bass notes that he
was playing. The fact that I was playing with
my fingers enabled me to do that more easily.
Did not having to play bass parts after that
period factor into your transition from fingerpicking
to playing with a pick?
Yes, but the main reason I began using a
pick was I read an interview with Wes Montgomery
in which he was asked whether if he
had to do it over again he would learn to use
a pick and he said, “Yeah, definitely,” because he felt he was constrained by not using a
pick. Of course, he was too old to learn by
the time he figured that out. I took a crack
at it, and although it did take a while before
I was comfortable with it, I’m glad I did.
Nowadays I play about half and half, and
sometimes I play with a pick and my fingers
at the same time in a hybrid style.
What kind of picks and strings do you like?
Fender Medium picks and GHS .010 sets.
You told GP in 1973 that you never changed
or cleaned your strings because the dirtier they
were the better.
[Laughs]. That was a joke, but since then
people are like, “Oh yeah, you let you strings
get dirty.” I read that [legendary Motown
bassist] James Jamerson did that, which is
where I got the idea.
Do you have any effects pedals that are an
essential part of your sound?
Yes, an old Boss ME-10 Guitar Multiple
Effects. I actually have four of them in case
it breaks, because the Boss units that came
after that one are too digital for me. With
the Doors I had a wah pedal and a Maestro
fuzz box, which was pretty good, though it
was a little harsh sounding. In those days
I’d just crank up whatever amp I had as loud
as I could and try to get distortion that way.
At one point we were using Acoustic amps
because of an endorsement deal, and the
guitar amp had distortion built into it. But
they were really awful so eventurally we
made our own amps and stuffed them into
What went into designing the Gibson Inspired
By Robby Krieger SG?
It’s based on the 1967 SG Standard that
I’m playing now. The only thing that’s different
is the neck, which is modeled on a
neck from a 1961 Les Paul Jr. It’s also got a
switch that lets you put the pickups out of
phase, like on the SG that I used to get that
wah-wah-like sound on “Peace Frog.”
In the late ’60s and early ’70s people believed
that rock music could change the world. What went
wrong, and do you believe it is still possible for
that to happen?
Nixon happened, and then they killed
Kennedy. It’s too bad, because it seemed
like everything was going in the right direction
for a while and then evil took over
again. But music is the only hope because
all those Muslim kids over there love American
music, and if they realize that’s
something we have in common it still might
end the fighting. At the same time, I don’t
hear a lot of new music that really turns me
on—not like back in those days. For one
thing, I think guitar players today should
do their homework a little better and listen
to the guys who started everything
rather than just going back a couple years,
because everybody’s starting to sound the
same. I’m waiting for something to happen
that’s going to blow everyone away, and I’m
sure it will.
Is Jim Morrison really alive and living as a
cowboy in the Pacific Northwest?
[Laughs]. I heard that, but I don’t think
so. I think I would have heard from him by