The Doors began when Ray Manzarek met Jim Morrison on Venice Beach in Los Angeles in 1965.
Jim Morrison died after the sixth album ‘LA Woman’ on 3 July, 1971. Ray Manzarek passed away on 20 May, 2013.
In 2016 the surviving members of The Doors Robby Krieger and John Densmore paid tribute to Ray and honoured Jim in what is now the film ‘The Doors: Break on Thru – A Celebration of Ray Manzarek’ screening worldwide on 12 February 2020.
The film captures the concert with additional interview footage from Robby and John. The film also has additional footage from historic interviews by Ben Fong-Torres with Jim and Ray.
Robby Krieger spoke with Noise11’s Paul Cashmere ahead of the movie release.
Paul Cashmere: Ray Manzarek left us in 2013. You performed the ‘Break On Thru: A Celebration of Ray Manzarek’ in 2016 and now in 2020, we get to see the documentary about the event.
Robby Krieger: We only had two or three weeks to prepare. We wanted to do something on Ray’s birthday. I tried to get it going and it never got going. His next birthday came around. By the third birthday, we had to do something. It was already January and I said ‘let’s just do something’. They wanted to do the Hollywood Bowl and get Bono and all these people. I just said ‘I’ll do it myself and get whoever I can’. I didn’t want Ray’s birthday to pass again without doing something. John (Densmore) agreed so we made a quick ditch effort to get whoever was around and luckily we got a good line-up of people who were interested.
Paul Cashmere: Why did you do the show at The Forum in LA and not the Whiskey A Go Go where The Doors used to play?
Robby Krieger: The Whiskey wasn’t big enough. It only holds 200-300 people.
Paul Cashmere: There’s a line in the movie about hearing ‘Alabama Song’ for the first time “our keyboard player is as nuts as our singer”.
Robby Krieger: “Ray had a lot of records before we even started The Doors. We’d listen to all these crazy records he had. He had this one from a German Kurt Weill with Lotte Lenya. They did ‘Mack The Knife’ and ‘The Whiskey Bar’ on it. We’d never heard it. I bet not many people in Australia would have heard that version. Not many people realize where we got that from. We just loved that song and listened to it over and over. At first we didn’t think about doing it but after listening to it a bunch of times we thought ‘yeah we could do that’. That’s how it happens.
Paul Cashmere: tell me about the first time you heard the words “day destroys the night, night divides the day”.
Robby Krieger: “Jim just had this way of coming up with lyrics that no-one else was even thinking. That was one of the early ones that he wrote. It became our first single. It was a little esoteric to catch on. It got to no 40 on Billboard which wasn’t bad for a new band. We knew ‘Light My Fire’ was the single but it was too long to get on the radio. They finally cut it down to three minutes. In those days AM radio was where it was at. You had to get on AM radio or you would not have a hit record.
Paul Cashmere: What did you think of Jose Feliciano’s version of ‘Light My Fire’?
Robby Krieger: I hated it the first time I heard it. I said ‘what the hell did you do to our song’, my song actually because I wrote that one. The more I listened to it I started to like it, especially the guitar playing on it. Once he did it, it seemed like everyone was doing it. Jazz artists like Buddy Rich and Woody Herman band. A lot of people you’d think would never do a rock song and the reason they did it was because of his version. It was different to out version. He didn’t have the famous Bach intro at all. He did it more, instead of rock, M.O.R. style. More commercial. Because of him a lot of people started doing it. I don’t think they ever would if he hadn’t. It turned out to become one of our most covered songs.
Paul Cashmere: And you include a piece from The Sound of Music ‘My Favourite Things’ when you do it live now.
Robby: Yeah (laughs). We love Coltrane and I still play that piece of ‘My Favourite Things’ today with my band. I have a jazz group. When we did our instrumental part in the middle of ‘Light My Fire’, which started off to be just the short four bars solo thing. When we played it every night it became longer and longer. Finally, we each did a three minute solo in the middle of a rock and roll song. It was pretty unheard of in those days. It was the same chords that Coltrane used in ‘My Favourite Things’. That’s why I would stick it into the middle of ‘Light My Fire’.
Paul Cashmere: In the Oliver Stone ‘The Doors’ movie all those years ago, and in this movie, we learn about Jim experiencing an accident on a highway as a kid and the souls of the Indians going into him. Did Jim really believe that?
Robby Krieger: Yeah, he definitely believed that. Whether it really happened or not, who knows? I don’t think he just made it up.
Paul Cashmere: Your movie talks about Ray in a spiritual way as well looking down and enjoying your tribute. You talk about “the mystery of the afterlife that he is now exploring”. Ray would be smiling and enjoying it.
Robby: I hope so. We had some really cool keyboard players who would do his parts. One guy, Nathan Willmarth who plays with my band now, he was like a Ray clone. He knows every note that Ray ever played and he collected all the keyboards that Ray used to use. We did a video about 20 years ago for a TV show. We had various artists. These guys used Nathan’s keyboards. Nathan had all of Ray’s old keyboards. Nathan brought ever one. Nathan became a friend and ended up playing in my band.
Paul Cashmere: You say Ray could split his mind into two musicians. The bass player and the keyboard player. In the number of times I interviewed him he would refer to his left hand in the third person as “Leftie”.
Robby: Right, yeah. He would split his mind into the bass and the organ. I think that was really part of the basis of our sound. Because he had to play on automatic pilot with his left hand it made the bass very repetitive and not usual. A bass player would never think of playing those lines. They were very keyboard orientated. The one of ‘Light My Fire’, when we did that in the studio we had a guy copy that exact line on a real bass. If you listen really closely you can hear two basses in ‘Light My Fire’.
Paul Cashmere: Do you have to use a bass player to play these songs live these days?
Robby: Back in the day we never used a bass player on stage. It was always Ray with that left hand. But in reality, it does sound a lot better with a real bass. Ever since then we have used a real bass. We tried to make sure that the bass player plays exactly what Ray played on his left hand.
Paul Cashmere: Is Waylon (Krieger) your son?
Robby: Yeah. He has been singing with us the last five years. He does a pretty good job.
Paul Cashmere: That’s him on ‘Break On Through’ in the movie.
Robby: Yeah, he was first up. He plays in my band. Another guy I use is Dan Rothchild, the son of Paul Rothchild. He is a great bass player and singer as well. Sometimes when Waylon is unavailable I used Dan.
Paul Cashmere: And Bruce Botnick, another familiar name in The Doors story came back to work on the sound for this movie.
Robby: Right, right. He sure did. Bruce has been doing all of our reissues for all of these years.
Paul Cashmere: I was surprised to learn that The Maharishi was also part of The Doors history as well as The Beatles.
Robby: We were the first ones in the United States to follow the Maharishi. My friend Peter Wallace went to India back in the early 60s looking for a Guru. He was very much into the Indian religious thing. We went to India when he was 18-years old. He talked to a lot of different Gurus but liked The Maharishi the best and talked him into coming to LA to start a movement. At that first meeting a Peter Wallace’s house, maybe there were 15 people interested in meeting The Maharishi and three of them were in The Doors, Ray, John and I. We met him before The Beatles did.
Paul Cashmere: There is a mention in the movie of the time John Densmore sued you and Ray over the use of The Doors name. John says he now regrets what he did.
Robby: I regret it too. It was pretty much a waste of time. For some reason John didn’t want to play so we got Stewart Copeland (The Police) and Ian Astbury (The Cult). I asked him a couple of times why he didn’t want to do it and what was wrong. I guess Ray and John hadn’t been seeing eye to eye for quite a few years at that time and John didn’t want to do it and he didn’t want us to use the name The Doors. But to have a lawsuit about it? That was pretty silly. We had a guy Jak Holzman, the head of Elektra Records. He said, ‘let me be the mediator here’. He said he’d settle it. But John had to stay in court.
Paul Cashmere: What are the future plans for The Doors over the next couple of years?
Robby: That’s a good question. There is nothing concrete. We are talking about the possibility of doing something with an orchestra. Ray and I did that a couple of times and it was fun. There is nothing concrete yet.
The Doors: Break on Thru – A Celebration of Ray Manzarek will be released in cinemas worldwide on February 12 for one night only. Find your local screening at thedoorsfilm.com.