Put simply, because of The Doors, I chose music as my life path. I was actually drawn by the instrumentation primarily, as well as by Jim Morrison of course. As musicians I found them to be unique and masterful. Their songs, as well as the atmosphere and intensity they created, had a tremendous impact on me growing up.
Complex asked if I was interested in doing a back and forth interview between me and Doors members Robby Krieger (guitar) & Ray Manzarek (organist/keys) for their upcoming documentary Mojo Risin': The Making Of "L.A. Woman" [which will premiere tonight at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, and is also available on DVD/Blu-Ray] but really I was just happy and excited to interview them in a straightforward way.
If I had to describe my interview style I'd say it's Chris Farley-like—basically over-excited to hear them talk about anything. I was very nervous before getting on the phone and sincerely hoped they would like me as an interviewer. When it started out a bit rocky (there were audio issues with the phone) I was quietly mortified for a minute, but in the end it was thrilling to get to speak directly with such legends.
We all clicked into a conference call with a pretty bad connection, so Ray (as in Ray Manzarek of The Doors), though he was extremely loud in my ear, couldn't really hear me at all...
Julian Casablancas: I just wanna thank you guys, your band is pretty much the reason why I play music today, so I'm honored to get to interview you, or just talk to you really.
Robby Krieger: All right.
JC: I guess I'll start with random questions if that's cool, and at any point free to say to 'no comment' or...
Ray Manzarek: Who's talking right now?
RM: Is that Julian talking?
RM: Loud and slow Julian, because the connection is awful. Julian, can you hear Ray Manzarek speaking to you now?
JC: Oh yes. Hey Ray. How's it going? Honored to meet you... I know you probably can't understand me but I will try to enunciate clearly.
RM: Yes, and loud too, like this. SPEAK LIKE THIS JULIAN [speaking loudly] 'RAY, WHEN WAS THE FIRST TIME...' You know, like that.
JC: I don't know if I can do that.
RM: Oh, you can do it... it's all acting.
JC: I've always loved the song “Universal Mind.” Did you guys ever record an album version of that song or is that just something you did live?
RK: I think we (originally) did it as part of “Celebration of Lizard,” is that right Ray?
RM: Fuck, I don’t know man! I don’t remember that stuff. How obscure...
RK: No, we recorded it for an album but it never made it on an album. Why, does it sound like a live cut rather than an album cut?
JC: Yeah, it’s live. I just always thought it was a really wonderful song.
RK: It really wasn’t a finished song so we [tried to] put it into a larger piece, “Celebration of a Lizard.” But I agree, it’s a good song, coulda been a hit single...
RM: Noooo! [Laughs.] You can’t say “Universal Mind” on American Radio! That would be blasphemy. That would be like some sort of ancient Greek religion. Although I must say my mother, a good Catholic girl, loved that song. That was like one of her favorite Doors songs.
RK: Really? Wow.
RM: She'd sing it to me on the phone when she was still here. She'd like to sing it. Here's what she would do: “I was doing time in the Universal Mind, I was feeling... all right!” that was her little twist...
Nobody was just blasting; we were always listening to each other. Perhaps that’s one of the secrets of The Doors, I don’t know. We always knew what everyone else was doing.
JC: I thought you couldn’t remember! That's awesome.
RM: I remember the words…. I can remember all the words as a kind of memory test?
JC: I don’t even know the words to my songs.
RM: In The Doors, we knew all the words. This is a band that wasn’t just playing chord changes, we were listening to Jim. I was listening to Robbie, and feeling John, and then listening to Jim’s words. We all knew when it was an improvisation and when it wasn’t. Nobody was just blasting; we were always listening to each other. Perhaps that’s one of the secrets of The Doors, I don’t know. We always knew what everyone else was doing.
JC: I know you played the bass with your left hand, but did you ever have a bassist live? I feel like I hear a bass sometimes on the live recordings, some secret man in the shadows perhaps...
RK: No, not on the live recordings. Y’know, we had a bass player a couple of times after we did the Touch Me album, we had Harvey Brooks playing with us at The Forum.
RM: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s when we had—what did we call it? The La Cienega Symphony. We had horns and strings playing with us at the Forum in Los Angeles. But that was the only time, the other times I would play the bass with the Fender Keyboard Bass which would sit on top of the Vox Continental or the Gibson Kalamazoo.
JC: For all you gear-heads out there.
RM: And I always thought of it as the portable kazoo.
JC: Did you always play songs live before you recorded them? Or once you guys got a record deal, did you just write songs and record them in the studio?
After the third album you get the 'third album syndrome' where you have to start writing because you’ve run out of stuff you’ve been doing in the clubs. And then you have to start writing in the studio.
RK: That’s best way to do it, you play the stuff in the clubs first live for as long as you can before you record it. But then after the third album you get the "third album syndrome" where you have to start writing because you’ve run out of stuff you’ve been doing in the clubs. And then you have to start writing in the studio. For example "Five to One," we wrote that in the studio and some of the songs on L.A. Woman, for instance, along with “Riders On The Storm.”
JC: Heard the new song by the way. I loved the line about “I'm going home, laying down—I'm gonna switch on the television, I'm gonna drown...”
RM: It comes from the L.A. Woman sessions. I didn’t even know it existed. Robbie, you probably didn’t know it existed either?
RK: No, I’d forgot all about it.
RM: It was a surprise to all of us. Our producer/engineer Bruce Botnick was digging through all the outtakes and was like, “Hey, there’s a new song here: “Smells So Nice.”
JC: I've also heard rehearsals of Jim singing “Love Me Tender.” You could always release that.
RK: Yeah, he was into Elvis. All of us were.
RM: who wasn't man, everyone—the entire nation. I mean, Elvis is an icon. He's a “rock god.”
RK: So what if he made stupid movies?
JC: What did you guys think of movie icons of the time? This is perhaps random, but did you ever talk about people like James Dean?
RK: Oh yeah. Ray and Jim were both film students.
RM: We went to the film school at UCLA so we knew the art of the cinema.
RK: Jim loved Brando.
Jim said, “I want to get a pair of leather pants,” and I said, “You want to wear leather on your thighs? You want to wear animal skin on your body?" He said, “Yeah... I want to be like Marlon Brando in The Fugitive Kind."
RM: Sure, he loved Brando. He saw the snakeskin pants from Marlon Brando in the movie The Fugitive Kind, based on the Tennessee Williams play Orpheus Descending—but of course you couldn't call a movie Orpheus Descending. Had to be The Fugitive Kind. In The Fugitive Kind, Brando wears a snakeskin jacket. So at one point before Jim had got his leather pants or anything, he said, “I want to get a pair of leather pants.” And I said, “You want to wear leather on your thighs? You want to wear animal skin on your body?" He said, “Yeah!"
I asked "Won’t that be kind of hot?” He said "I don't know man, but I want to be like Marlon Brando in The Fugitive Kind.” I thought “Ah, yes. Got it. I understand. Good choice. If you're gonna copy somebody what a great choice.
We had a class at UCLA, not that this will go into the article, but FYI we had a class at UCLA with Josef Von Sternberg [the acclaimed silent and sound film director, 1894-1969] who directed Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel, and all the Marlene Dietrich movies. We actually had a class with the guy! And he brought his decadent, Germany-in-the-1930s sensibility into the classroom. Showed us how he lit Marlene Dietrich, and talked about philosophy, and the darkness.
RK: How did he light her?
RM: How did he light her? Nicely. You want me to explain his lighting? He put a butterfly light over her head, he put the light directly overhead, shining down…
RK: Is that what a butterfly light is?
RM: Well, it's the butterfly shadow underneath the nose.
RK: Ahhh... See, they never do shit like that today.
RM: Well... they do. It's not so much that. I mean, things look good. They just don’t have any ideas. There's no philosophy allowed. You can’t make movies for adults. The audience is 17-year-olds on a date, or a bunch of guys out together. That's the movies that make money. Or kid movies. Kid movies make a lot of money. It's a business. It always was in Hollywood... We talked about Eisenstein's idea of montage, you know, esoteric film stuff. That's what we talked about. We also talked about the ’50s—hell, Jim and I were there. We grew up in the ’50s. Robbie’s the young pup…
RK: I grew up in the ’50s too!
We were there with the first generation of rock & rollers: Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry—holy Christ, Robby can play like Chuck Berry. I love that about him.
RM: You were there too! We grew up with Rock & Roll. We were there with the first generation of rock & rollers: Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry—holy Christ, Robby can play like Chuck Berry. I love that about him.
JC: Random, but do you guys happen to know the Doors tribute band The Soft Parade?
RK: Yeah I heard of them... In fact, I played with them once.
JC: I was wondering, just for fun, if you’d ever do a show with a singer who looks and sounds just like Jim Morrison?
RK: Well [Laughs] Ray and I have a band we play Doors songs with. We use a Doors tribute guy named David Brock. He has a group named Wild Child, the best of the tribute bands. At first we had a couple of different guys and then finally we heard about the guy from Journey, the guy who joined them who was a karaoke singer from the Phillipines and people loved it, man. They said, “This guy sounds like Steve Perry except better.” So we said, well hell, we could use a Doors tribute guy and now we have David Brock—and he’s really great.
RM: Yeah, he’s a great singer.
JC: Cool. I was worried to insult you with that question. When Jim spoke, did he speak any differently off camera? Or was it always that super-slow, insightful-sounding way of talking?
RK: That’s how he spoke... yeah, that's how he spoke most of the time. Like he was thinking about what he was saying. A lot of people don’t think about what they’re saying. I think it works better the other way.
JC: Robby, I know you wrote a lot of the songs/music, but did Jim have ideas for chords ever, or was it just melodies?
RK: Well, he didn’t play an instrument but on some of the songs he definitely had the melodies in mind; he could sing the songs [beforehand].
RM: Exactly, Jim knew nothing about chord structure, which was great. Otherwise we’d be playing E, A and B all the time. So Robbie and I would determine the key he was singing in, then we would construct the chords to the melodies that he would sing. He had the melody line, which was great. He played some piano, he took piano lessons, so he had a great melodic sense. He just didn’t know chord structure, which was perfect. I think that's what allowed Robbie and I to stretch out and play different things behind him while he was singing the melody line that he’d figured out for himself.
On the first album, [Jim] would actually smoke this great pot that he had when he was living up on the roof at Denis Jacobs' house and he would say it was just like a concert. He could hear it in his head.
RK: On those first songs, on the first album, a lot of those, he would actually smoke this great pot that he had when he was living up on the roof at Denis Jacobs' house and he would say it was just like a concert. He could hear it in his head, somebody singing this song to him. And so he heard the song but he didn’t know how to make the music to it. That was Ray’s job, and my job.
JC: Would there ever be times when, with chords underneath, you'd suggest a certain note for him to sing here and there?
RK: It was pretty hard to tell Jim what to sing, man. He knew what he wanted to sing. Our job was to make the music fit what he sang—which wasn’t always that easy.
RM: He had a great sense of measure, you know, how many measures to allow to go by before he would come back in singing again. Allowing space for music to be played, for a little line to be played on the guitar or on the keyboard, then he would come back in where he was supposed to come back in.
RK: And on some of the songs that I wrote I would sing it to him and tell him how to sing it. And he would never do it how I told him, but it would always come out better.
JC: That’s nice of you to say.
RK: Do you play guitar or what?
JC: Yeah, and I play piano probably as good as Jim Morrison did.
RK: How old were you when you heard The Doors?
My stepdad gave me a tape of The Best of The Doors, back when there were still cassette tapes happening, and that was the first music that I heard where I felt like I could decipher all the intertwining parts clearly. And that’s when I wanted to play music.
JC: I was fourteen. My stepdad gave me a tape of The Best of The Doors, back when there were still cassette tapes happening, and that was the first music that I heard where I felt like I could decipher all the intertwining parts clearly. And that’s when I wanted to play music. I read a book about The Doors, and knew every song and all that—I don’t want to bore you with my fandom.
RK: that's cool.
RM: What’s great is that in music each new generation comes along and draws from the past. Robbie was listening to a lot of country blues and I grew up in Chicago so I was influenced by Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reid and John Lee Hooker. I heard the Bo Diddley beat on the radio in Chicago and I thought Holy Christ, what tribe is this?! Right here in Chicago playing that incredible beat. That's all I wanted to do. I heard that and I was hooked.
RK: All those guys came up from Texas and Mississippi and places like that.
JC: I agree, though I do also love how you guys jazz it up, so to speak.
RK: In The Doors we were a mish-mash of stuff. I played flamenco before I was in The Doors. John was into jazz quite heavily, and with the blues. That’s what’s great about having a group. You get all those different influences.
RM: And everybody was free in our band to throw their ideas in—“Let’s try this!”—in the construction of songs and of the beat and the structure. We would experiment with anything, and try anything, anything we were capable of doing. We had a great time. The Sixties were fabulous…
JC: Now you’re showing off! (Kidding.) I have a weird question, and feel free to use your “No-Comment” card. Bob Marley had a lot of kids and there’s been talk of paternity suits. Are there any kids that you know of, or claims you believe?
RK: You mean as far as Morrison’s kids?
My theory is Jim was sterile. Look, think of all the girls he was with and you know a lot of them were trying to have his kid and it never happened. Hundreds of them. What are the odds?
RK: There is a kid called Cliff Morrisson who claims to be Jim’s kid, but I told the guy, "Do the DNA and then we’ll know.” He never did it. My theory is Jim was sterile. Look, think of all the girls he was with and you know a lot of them were trying to have his kid and it never happened. Hundreds of them. What are the odds?
RM: Yeah, never happened. Nobody came around and said “I’m Jim Morrison’s son” until after the Oliver Stone movie came out. Then they came out of the woodwork. 'I'm his son!' 'I'm his son!' There was one kid called Allen Los Angeles, guy was 6’2”, Jim Morrison as a blond. Boy was he handsome, he looked great.
JC: You should have got his number.
RM: I told him, "You don’t have to do the 'I'm Jim Morrison's son' schtick, man. That’s good for five minutes!" Who cares? Should have got his own band together. Make your own music. He insisted on being Jim Morrison’s son. “My mommy told me. I’m not the son of a roadie. I’m the son of Jim Morrison…”
JC: That's funny... Do you guys still fight? Do you argue like you used to?
RK: Fight? Oh yeah.
JC: What were the conversations like when you’d write set lists? Did one of you just write them?
RK: Usually we’d have a get together right before the set and figure out the first three songs. After that it was any man’s game.
RK: A lot of times we’d stop on stage and have a huddle.
RM: Right around the drums. we'd all come together. We’d all step back. I’d stand up, Jim would come over, Robbie would come over we’d all stand around in front of the drums.
RK: What do you wanna do, Larry?
RM: I don’t know, whaddya wanna do? It was fun, man. It was all spontaneous. It was all an improvisation based on what the audience was responding to. We’d give them three songs. What did we usually start with?
RK: Oh, God… “Break On Through”? Sometimes “Music’s Over”... I remember starting with that. That’s what we started with at The Filmore.
RM: Yeah, usually “Break On Through,” and “Roadhouse,” and then we’d do “When The Music’s Over,” and that’s a long song so after that we’d stop and talk to each other.
JC: I was wondering about politics, then and now. Was the rhetoric the same back then, from both sides?
RM: Yeah. Of course. Do the Republicans want to do organic agriculture? No. Do they want to save the environment? No. Are they pro-war? Yes. The whole point of the Sixties was to create a new society. The new age society. The 21st Century Aquarian Age and the Aquarian Age will be a time when we were going to do things organically. We were going to find another way to propel automobiles other than oil. Do the republicans want that? No. That's what the hippies wanted.
The whole point of the Sixties was to create a new society. The new age society. The 21st Century Aquarian Age... Do the Republicans want that? No. That's what the hippies wanted.
JC: You guys were thinking about that in the Sixties—not using oil for cars?
RK: Well less oil, we didn’t have all the alternatives back then. We liked saving oil, although it wasn’t a big deal back then, like it is now y’know? What happened was everything was going in that direction when Kennedy was in and then Bobby was going to take over after Jack got shot, but then Nixon got in and everything went to shit.
JC: What did you guys think of more extreme people like Malcolm X. Did you guys talk about that?
RK: did we talk about Malcolm X?
RM: Well we certainly talked about Black liberation and equality and the Black Panthers and Malcom X, and who was the guy with the hat with the moons and stars on it?
RM: Elijah Muhammed… It was all in the air and everyone was trying to create the new society. And that’s what we were talking about: the new society, the new age. We were trying be Christians, you know, love your neighbor as you love yourself. And trying to live up to the words “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.” Black people hadn’t become equals. They were just jumping onto the road to freedom, where they could actually drink out of a water fountain that a white man was allowed to drink out of. In the south you couldn't sit at the counter in the lunch room and have a hamburger. [With all the civil rights sit-ins and protests and Rosa Parks etc...] It was an amazing time. People weren’t just into LSD.
JC: What did you guys think of the Velvet Underground? Were they kind of like your East-Coast-rivals-type-band?
RM: They were terrific. They were great.
RK: We didn’t really consider them as East Coast adversaries. Our adversaries were in San Francisco. We had to beat The Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead.
JC: They’re not really competition for you guys though. Did you ever meet John Lennon or any of those dudes?
We didn’t really consider [The Velvet Underground] as East Coast adversaries. Our adversaries were in San Francisco. We had to beat The Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead.
RK: Briefly. Did they come to our session?
RM: George Harrison did. Very nice guy. Couldn’t be nicer. George Harrison was great.
RK: We went to a couple of Stones sessions when they were recording Gimme Shelter.
RM: I met Charlie Watts in Barneys on 61st and Madison, in New York. He was dressed all in gray, and he was gray. He’s a clothes horse. He made somebody’s best dressed list—guy loves his clothes. Mick and the guys came to the show at The Hollywood Bowl.
RK: That’s right, Mick came to dinner with us the night of The Hollywood Bowl.
JC: That's nice.
RM: We met Mick Jagger!
JC: I guess you guys could finally say you made it now; you had dinner with Mick Jagger.
[I'm not sure he realized I was being sarcastic —JC]
JC: You guys were serious musicians already when Jim started fresh with you guys. Did he sing in tune right away, or did it take a little practice?
RK: He was a great singer, man. He was barely out of tune, unless he was totally drunk. But he was an amazing singer considering he never took lessons or anything. He had an amazing range too. He could sing high and loud. So many singers I’ve played with have said, “Can we do ‘Roadhouse Blues’ in E-flat because I just can’t reach those notes?”
RM: He had a great sense of timing and a great sense of pitch.
RK: He was a natural.
JC: By the way, nice job too on "Severed Garden." You guys sounded reeeaally hip on that track.
RK: Thanks. That’s one of my favorite albums actually. That shows you how Jim phrased stuff, and enabled us to put music to that poetry and make it work.
RM: That was straight-ahead reading. There was no music, no idea of anything. But he had such an innate sense of timing and rhythm and space that we were able to just jump in and put music underneath it and leave space for the playing. Robbie, American Prayer is my son’s favorite album!
JC: So you’ve got your Mom who loves “Universal Mind” and your son loves An American Prayer… I dig it. Two extremes of non-standard releases…
RM: And my dad of course was into “Light My Fire.”