Robby Krieger talks film, fashion, TV and new Doors Blu-ray, R-Evolution

2nd Jan 2014 | 19:20

Robby Krieger talks film, fashion, TV and new Doors Blu-ray, R-Evolution
Robby Krieger talks film, fashion, TV and new Doors Blu-ray, R-Evolution
The Doors, circa 1968: (from left) John Densmore, Robby Krieger, Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek

On June 22, 1967, The Doors made their US television debut on American Bandstand, performing the bewitching fan favorite Crystal Ship along with a song that would hit the No. 1 spot a month later, the meditative classic Light My Fire.

Guitarist Robby Krieger remembers thinking that the Bandstand booking was a clear signal that the LA-based band was on its way to the big time, but he also recalls having mixed feelings about the show. "We were saying, ‘God, are we selling out here?’" he says with a chuckle. "It was such a teeny-bopper show, you know? But it was also one of the only shows, and that was a problem. When there’s just three channels, you gotta do your best to get on there. There wasn’t too much to pick from back then."

In hindsight, he admits that "it went OK, all things considered. And it was fun to hang out with Dick Clark and to see how he ran everything.”

Both Bandstand performances are featured on the new Blu-ray and DVD collection, R-Evolution (due out on January 21st and available for pre-order at this link), which also includes early TV appearances on shows such as Malibu U, Shebang, Murray The K in New York and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, among others, along with previously unreleased and rare footage. In addition, there is a 45-minute documentary called The Doors – Breaking Through The Lens, in which bandmates Krieger, John Densmore and the late Ray Manzarek reflect on the group's TV and celluloid efforts. A particularly interesting curio is Love Thy Neighbor, a never-before-seen Ford training film for which The Doors supplied the music in 1966.

Krieger sat down with MusicRadar recently to talk about the band's cinematic journey, cool clothes and bad haircuts, and the first time he heard Jimi Hendrix.

Let’s be honest: Bands in the ‘60s not only wore the best clothes, they took the best photos. Don’t you agree?

[Laughs] “Well, I think so. Yeah, I wish I still had some of those clothes. I don’t know what happened to them all. It was pretty cool stuff. We kind of liked the way the English bands looked – Them, The Animals. We weren’t so much into the whole ‘flower power’ thing. I didn’t like the San Francisco look, although I guess we did dabble in it. We did what we wanted; we didn’t have anybody at the label telling us what to wear.

“Ray was very fashion conscious. He was getting stuff at Armani and places like that, especially once we got some money. I remember Jim [Morrison] had a leather welder’s jacket he liked to wear – that was his favorite. He sewed a lizard on the back of it. I wish I had some pictures of that.”

Outside of The Beatles and the Stones, not many bands were making promotional films for their songs in 1967. Did you take any aesthetic cues from what they were doing?

“I don’t know if we were really looking at what other people were doing, really; we just kind of did our own thing. The first film we did was for Break On Through. It was very simple, just a few lights. I liked making that one, even though I wasn’t in it until the very last second.

“Break On Through was actually Elektra’s idea. They had a guy there, Peter Abramson, who was a film guy. Even though Jim and Ray had gone to film school, they were too into the music to think about videos.”

Robby Krieger talks film, fashion, TV and new Doors Blu-ray, R-Evolution
Robby Krieger talks film, fashion, TV and new Doors Blu-ray, R-Evolution
The Doors perform outside the Frankfurt town hall for German television, 1968.

[Elektra Records founder] Jac Holzman pushed for the band to make films. In the documentary, he talks about seeing “soundies” as a kid, which were really early music videos.

“That’s right, yeah. Jac was a really smart guy, and he had some great people working for him. He’s a real music guy. He started out in New York delivering records on his motorcycle, and things grew from there. He did folk music, working with Peter, Paul and Mary, Judy Collins. His first rock ‘n’ roll band was Love – Arthur Lee and Love – and we were next.”

On TV, The Doors had to mime to the edit of Light My Fire, which always sounded like it was done with a karate chop –

[Laughs] “That’s true. I know what you’re saying.”

Did you ever get comfortable with the edit?

“No, it never felt right. I never quite got the feel of it. It always sort of came in at a weird place. I’d be going along and thinking, ‘Now, when’s it gonna come in?’”

What was up with the group's appearance on that show Malibu U? You’re playing in front of a fire truck, and your brother had to pretend to be Jim. [Krieger laughs] Were you just rolling your eyes the entire time?

“Pretty much. That was crazy. And they had the house burning down because the song is Light My Fire – we didn’t know about until later. That might have been the first show we ever did. We couldn’t find Jim, so we were like, ‘Shit, what are we gonna do?’ My brother happened to be there, so we just said, ‘OK, you stand with your back to the camera and pretend to be Jim. We’ll cut Jim in later.’” [Laughs]

Robby Krieger talks film, fashion, TV and new Doors Blu-ray, R-Evolution
Robby Krieger talks film, fashion, TV and new Doors Blu-ray, R-Evolution
"We did what we wanted," Krieger says. "We didn't have anybody at the label telling us what to wear."

The band promoted People Are Strange on the Murray the K show, but you didn’t actually play – you sort of walked around outside.

“Yeah, they said, ‘We don’t want you to play because we want it to be weird – you know, People Are Strange?’ So we just stood there, which was pretty uncomfortable. It was cold, almost wintertime in New York. It was downtown on the docks, right there the Twin Towers were; a nice area, but we weren’t enjoying the whole thing.

“But what did happen was, between takes, Murray the K asked me if I wanted to hear something that was coming out, a new guitar player. I said OK, and we went over to his place, which was right next door. He played me Jimi Hendrix, a copy of Purple Haze. I’d never heard it before, and I was blown away. It was remarkable. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I wanna see this guy.’” [Laughs]

The Unknown Soldier is very provocative clip, which I imagine was the intention. You definitely wanted to make a point to the pro-war contingent.

“Oh, yeah. That was the idea. That was a film idea we cooked up ourselves. We went down to the beach with our sitars and stuff. Jim was tied to a pole and got shot. We wanted the song to be a single, but of course, it never made it. It was too controversial, I guess. Nobody played it. [Laughs] In those days, it was really hard to get anything on TV. There was no MTV or anything like that. Our little film just kind of languished.”

Talk to me about that very bizarre Ford training film. How did the band come to do the music for it?

[Laughs] “That is a funny one. I’d kind of forgotten about it myself. We had met this guy who hired us for a few gigs. He knew the people at Ford, and they were making a training film. We ended up doing the music for it. It was kind of fun. I think we did it before we got our record deal.”

It’s all instrumental, so we don’t hear Jim on it. One can definitely tell that it’s you playing guitar. Did they give you any direction as to what they wanted?

“Not really; they didn’t say anything. They just put the film on a screen and said, ‘OK, play along to this.’ I think the pay was pretty good, maybe union scale – at the time, that might have been 90 dollars each. That was more than we were making playing the clubs back then.”

Robby Krieger talks film, fashion, TV and new Doors Blu-ray, R-Evolution
Robby Krieger talks film, fashion, TV and new Doors Blu-ray, R-Evolution
Performing in Germany, 1968

You have a very noticeable black eye in the clip from the Smothers Brothers show, when the band played Touch Me. What’s the story there?

“Jim and I got in a tussle… and he won. [Laughs] They wanted to put makeup on me, but I said, ‘Nah. Maybe in 40 years somebody’ll ask me why I have a black eye.’ And I do get asked that all the time, so it worked.”

Ray is seen directing the horns and strings during that segment. Was he really conducting them, or was he just being dramatic?

“Wow, I don’t really know. I don’t remember if they were actually playing or not; they might have just been miming. They still had to know when the parts were coming up, though. Of course, Jim forgot to come in with the ‘C’mon, c’mon, c’mon’ part. He was definitely singing it. It was kind of a train wreck, but hey, it was live TV.”

The footage of the band doing Crawling King Snake – is that from an actual rehearsal?

“Yeah, we were recording LA Woman, and there were these Australian TV guys hanging around. They wanted to film something, so we said, ‘Well, we’re workin’ up this song. You can shoot that if you want.’ We were in our own place on La Cienega, where we recorded LA Woman. We might have been recording the song right then. The place was bigger than it looked in the video. With all the TV stuff, it was kind of tight.”

I love the performance of Break On Through from the 1970 Isle Of Wight Festival; it’s tough but a little art-rocky. What are your recollections of that gig?

“It was kind of weird, you know? The Isle Of Wight was cold and rainy. It was a big audience – I think it was 100,000, maybe 200,000 people – but there were a lot of problems going on. I remember Joni Mitchell was in tears because some people had broken down the fence and were getting in for free. The cops were called in, and they started beating people – it was a mess.

“Unfortunately, Jim wasn’t at his best at that point. It was right in the middle of the Miami trial, so he was preoccupied to say the least. It was really cold on stage, and so he didn’t really move; he was just standing at the mic. It wasn’t one of our best performances, but it still sounded good.”

Robby Krieger talks film, fashion, TV and new Doors Blu-ray, R-Evolution
Robby Krieger talks film, fashion, TV and new Doors Blu-ray, R-Evolution
Morrison on stage, 1968

Because of Jim’s legal troubles, the band was having a hard time playing in the States. Were you looking to tour more in Europe until things cooled down?

“Actually, the Isle Of Wight show was the only European thing we did at that point; we’d done some things over there earlier. I think Jim couldn’t even leave the country – he had to get special permission to do that one gig.”

In the documentary, you talk about the fact that Europe was a little slow to embrace the band.

“Yeah, that was funny: They were almost a year behind America, so we were somewhat unknown pretty much when we first went over there. It was nice, actually, because they didn’t have so many preconceived ideas about us. England was always up on everything, but in France and the Netherlands, Sweden, things took a little longer to happen.”

Did anything surprise you in any of the clips for R-Evolution?

“One thing I wished was that we had some even earlier stuff, before Jim got those horrible haircuts. [Laughs] Somebody made him go to Jay Sebring for a haircut, and he came back with the sideburns and stuff. I thought it made him look stupid.

“My favorite video is Wild Child, the one that’s just us playing in the studio. It was pretty cool to see how a record is recorded, with the false stops and starts. I like that kind of stuff.”

You mentioned that Jim and Ray didn’t think about videos too much initially, but because they had gone to film school, were they tougher on directors than, say, you and John?

“Not really. Making the films and videos back then, you couldn’t tell those people anything. It was all unions and stuff – they’d say, ‘Do this, do that,’ and you either did it or you’re gone. But one other thing in the film I did like was LA Woman, which Ray directed. That was pretty cool, I think. Maybe there’s a little too much cutting, but overall it’s pretty hip. You know, if things had turned out differently, if Jim came back from Paris, I’m sure that we would’ve gotten way into video. But things just happened the way they did.”

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