Backstage with Ron Onesti :
The Doors’ Robby Krieger lit our fire!
So many legends, icons and Rock and Roll Hall of Famers appear live at The Arcada, even I can hardly keep track! When we hosted the Doors’ guitarist, songwriter and founding member Robby Krieger in an “all-Doors Hits” show, it was absolutely incredible.
Surrounded be a literal “pedigree” of musicians, the hits just kept coming. Nathan Wilmarth, a young protégé and close friend of original keyboardist Ray Manzarek, who Doors’ fans lost to cancer, just nailed the difficult and sometimes haunting harpsichord melodies.
Adding to that, Krieger’s own son, Waylon, belted out the Jim Morrison parts as if he was possessed by the singer himself. Phil Chen (bassist for Rod Stewart) and excitingly seasoned drummer Owen Goldman rounded out the experience to a standing ovation after almost every song.
As a young rock ‘n’ roller in this era, I’ll be honest, this music scared the heck out of me! From some of the dark phrasing to the harpsichord (that I only really heard at funerals and during certain Lurch vignettes on the old black-and-white television show “The Addams Family”) to his lyrical “Back Door Man” screaming, I really didn’t get it.
Ironically, it was my little sister Vickie who “latched” on to the Doors and helped me see how the band’s music was a cool thing (she tried doing that for me with the Osmond Brothers too, but I didn’t really “latch” on to that!).
Back to Robby … he wound up being this incredibly humble and approachable guy. I am not sure what I expected, but we aren’t talking about the guitarist for Sha Na Na here! I was able to hang out with him after the show, and he really opened up. This guy is one of the greatest guitarists in history and on Rolling Stone Magazine’s List of 100 Greatest Guitarists of all time. And let me tell you, at 70 years young, his guitar solos did not miss a step.
The stories began flowing. Robby and I sat in our green room and he really shared some quality rock history time. Legendary singer/poet Morrison was a “Door” from the bands’ inception in 1965 until his untimely death in 1971. The remaining three members continued to tour for another two years after his passing. It began OK, but the shows ultimately just weren’t the same. Morrison’s deep lyrics live on, though. With more than 100 million albums sold worldwide, the Doors continue to be one of the most popular rock bands in history.
I could only imagine what it was like hanging with Morrison. “We were all very close those years, and I remained very close to Ray until we lost him,” Krieger said. “Ray was like our older brother. Jim was like the mischievous younger brother. He could be nice, but when he was intoxicated, or otherwise, he could be as uncontrollable as everyone thinks he would have been.
“Jim was writing most of the songs in the beginning, but then he became a bit tired of doing it all the time, so he asked us other guys to begin writing,” Robby said. Krieger either wrote or cowrote “Light My Fire,” “Love Me Two Times” and “Love Her Madly,” among others.
“I asked him what I should write about. He said to do it on something familiar. So I picked the elements of the universe — fire, air, water or the Earth. I chose ‘Fire’ and ‘Light My Fire’ was born!”
One of my favorite albums is “The Morrison Hotel,” not as much as for the music, but because the album cover is so cool! It is a photo of the band standing in the window of the Morrison Hotel in Los Angeles, taken by legendary rock-tographer Henry Diltz (look him up — amazing!). Robby described the day.
“Ray and his wife were driving around scoping out locations for the photo shoot and came up upon this hotel with Jim’s name on it. So on the day of the shoot, Henry, our photographer, asked the hotel manager (it was a very rundown place for transients) if we could shoot inside, the manager denied us. So we hung around outside taking pictures until we noticed the manager leave the front desk. We all ran into the hotel and Henry snapped away. The manager never saw us in there!
“So we decided to celebrate and grab a beer down the street at a local pub, another sort of rundown place. We wound up taking some shots there and that became the backside of the album. The name of the pub was the Hard Rock Cafe. A few years later we got a call from a guy putting a restaurant chain together and asked us if they could use the name. We said, ‘Sure.’ I don’t even get free burgers in there today!”
John Densmore, original drummer of the Doors, is quoted as saying: “People lost their virginity to this music, got high for the first time to this music. I’ve had people say kids died in Vietnam listening to this music. Other people say they know someone who didn’t commit suicide because of this music … On stage, when we played these songs, they felt mysterious and magic.”
That is pretty powerful stuff, and still holds true today. In 1993, the trio played together at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder on vocals.
Although they stopped performing as a group some 44 years ago, rock fans still open their hearts and open their minds when they open the Doors. And ironically, Robby Krieger, from one of the darkest bands of the Sixties, is one of the kindest rockers I have become acquainted with. Thank you, Robby … you re-lit our fire!