By Chris M. Junior
When Robby Krieger joined The Doors, he immediately impressed singer Jim Morrison, keyboardist Ray Manzarek and drummer John Densmore with his slide-guitar technique.
Through the years, Krieger would selectively and tastefully play slide on The Doors’ albums, including 1971’s “L.A. Woman,” the band’s last studio album with Morrison.
Rhino has released a belated 40th-anniversary edition of “L.A. Woman,” and, like past Doors reissues, this one comes with bonus material. There’s a second disc with previously unreleased alternate versions of “Love Her Madly,” “Riders on the Storm” and other songs from the original “L.A. Woman” album, plus two recordings recently discovered by engineer and co-producer Bruce Botnick: the original song “She Smells So Nice” and a cover of the Muddy Waters-penned “Rock Me.”
In conjunction with the two-disc reissue, Eagle Rock Entertainment released the documentary “Mr. Mojo Risin’: The Story of L.A. Woman” on DVD and Blu-ray.
With a busy 2012 ahead — including plans to tour Europe and Mexico with Manzarek — Krieger found time to reflect on the late 1970-early 1971 sessions that resulted in “L.A. Woman” and provide an update on his autobiography.
GM: The blues surfaced from time to time throughout the history of The Doors, and it culminated with the “L.A. Woman” album. Growing up, what was your interest and exposure to the blues as a music fan and then as a guitarist?
Robby Krieger: Well, when I was a teenager, some of my buddies were into blues, and this is when I first started playing guitar. I really got into it quite heavily — Blind Willie McTell, Robert Johnson, a lot of slide players and guys like Blind Lemon Jefferson. I just loved all that stuff, and I continued to be enamored with it in The Doors.
GM: Guest bass players were nothing new to Doors albums, and “L.A. Woman” was no exception. For that one, Jerry Scheff rounded out the band and played on every song. What did he bring to the music in terms of his feel and his personality?
RK: He brought a lot. We loved what he did with Elvis [Presley], so we knew Jerry was a pro. We had no idea what he would play like [with us]. Bruce Botnick is the one who got him. He said, “How about Jerry Scheff?” And we said, “Yeah, let’s try him,” and he turned out to be perfect.
GM: Was he given the freedom to just play what he felt was right?
RK: Yeah, he sure was. There were a couple of songs [where we gave him direction]. For instance, “Riders on the Storm” — he just played basically what Ray was playing with his left hand. But like on “Love Her Madly,” I thought he did a great bass part on that with no coaching — the same with “L.A. Woman.” So for the most part, yeah, he just played what he felt and was usually right.
GM: “L.A. Woman” was also notable for having a second guitarist — Marc Benno, who plays on a handful of songs. How did his presence change or free up your playing and your approach to the guitar?
RK: That was the idea — to have me be able to just concentrate on playing my lead parts, without having to overdub them, by having [another] guy play rhythm, and I thought it worked great.
GM: Talk about recording “L.A. Woman” in The Doors’ rehearsal space and having Bruce Botnick co-produce with the band, and how all of that helped influence the end result.
RK: Well, because [producer] Paul Rothchild didn’t want to be involved, we ended up saying, “Hey, let’s just do this ourselves.” And I think it was Bruce who had the idea of doing it at our rehearsal space rather than having to be under the gun of a big-money recording studio. So that sounded like a good idea. Bruce wanted to make it as natural and comfortable as possible for us, and that really worked. We knew the sound of that place from rehearsing in it all the time, and Jim loved the sound he got in the bathroom, singing-wise.
GM: Had you forgotten about “She Smells So Nice” and “Rock Me” until Botnick rediscovered them by going through the “L.A. Woman” tapes?
RK: Yeah, definitely. I had remembered that we had done a “blues day,” basically for Jim. Jim was always saying, “We gotta do more blues.” So finally we said, “All right, look: Let’s just do a blues day, where all we’ll do for the whole day is blues — you know, get that out of your system” (laughs). And he said, “Great, man — that’s going to be great.” So we all went down to do the blues day, and Jim doesn’t show up (laughs). Who knows what he was doing, and he was, of course, totally embarrassed, so we did it the next day. It was cool — what guitar player doesn’t like blues? And Jim, for some reason, really loved doing blues at that time. He was always after us to do more blues.
So basically, we thought of [those two songs] as demos, just for ideas. We never thought they would be released, but people want to hear anything you’ve done. What’s really interesting about “She Smells So Nice” is he does the Mojo Risin’ thing at the end of it, so it’s obvious that’s where it came from.
GM: What is your favorite Jim Morrison memory from the “L.A. Woman” sessions?
RK: Just the fact that he was really having a good time, which was very unusual in the recording process. As time went on and we were able to spend more time and money in the studio, we got into the syndrome — at least Paul Rothchild did — of spending a lot of time getting the drum sound. So he’d spend all day getting the snare drum sound or something, and by that time, Jim was either drunk or he had left. The vocal was always the last thing to be done, so it was always a little painful for Jim, I think, to record. But this time, it was totally different. Vocals were part of the [song’s instrumental tracks] and done at the same time, mostly, and he was having the time of his life. We did maybe eight to 10 takes of a song, whereas normally we’d do 50 to 100.
GM: The reissue of the “L.A. Woman” album and the companion DVD documentary are part of what’s been dubbed “The Year of The Doors” campaign. Why do you think the music of The Doors remains so much a part of popular culture, 45 years after the band broke nationally?
RK: I don’t know. It seems like every generation, kids seem to get into it, whether they’re turned on to it by their parents or their friends. I think the music is just going to come through one way or the other. I think people like to think that they’ve discovered The Doors. We’re not huge like The Beatles or something like that. We’re more of an underground kind of thing, and I think people love to say, “Hey, have you heard this?”
GM: In the summer of 2010, you talked about your in-progress autobiography. Is the book finished? And do you have a publisher and a release date?
RK: I do have a publisher; I haven’t finished the book yet, so it’s still a work in progress. It may take a while longer, because I’ve been reading other autobiographies, like Sugar Ray Leonard’s. I have to give him kudos for being so honest, but I don’t know if I can be that honest. I mean, I can, but I don’t know what good it does. I might have to wait until I’m on my deathbed or something (laughs).
GM: A lot of people probably feel, “Well, Ray did his book, and John did his — now Robby needs to do his.”
RK: Right, I know. Yeah, I’ll get it done.