For Part One of The Gibson Interview, click here.
2011 is a landmark year for Robby Krieger. The Doors’ guitar legend is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the group’s classic album, L.A. Woman, with a series of re-releases and concerts. In addition, Krieger is being honored by Gibson Guitar, in conjunction with the “50th Anniversary of the SG” celebration, with his own 50th Anniversary signature model.
With these milestones in mind, we sat down with the ever-amiable guitarist to take a look back on his legendary career and the guitars he played along the way.
By the time L.A. Woman was released, Jim Morrison had already left for Paris. At that time, what was the status of the group? Did you guys have any firm plans to be a band after that? To record again? To tour?
Well, I mean, we were still a band. It wasn’t as though Jim had left and that broke up the group.
No, I mean the four of you.
A lot of people do think that, you know?
I guess that’s true.
As far as we were concerned, we were working on some new songs: Ray [Manzarek] and John [Densmore] and I—and waiting for Jim to come back. And unfortunately, he never did.
As we discussed, it’s the 40th anniversary of the album. You’ve already released remixes for download with bonus tracks. Can you talk a bit about those? Or did you have much involvement?
Well, it’s mainly Bruce [Botnik, L.A. Woman co-producer] doing his thing, but we all helped. And this new album that’s coming out, the 40th Anniversary [Edition], it’s going to be pretty amazing. Because Bruce found a bunch of outtakes and in-between stuff, you know, talking back and forth in the studio that we never knew existed. So it’s going to be pretty amazing, I think.
What’s it like to hear something like that? To go back and put on the headphones and hear conversations you guys had 40 years ago?
It’s very cool. Very cool. I totally forgot about most of it. (laughs) You know, back in the day, unfortunately on our earlier albums, the record companies had a habit of taking your mastered two-inch tapes and taking the mixes off of them and erasing the rest of it and using the tape for another group. So, we lost a lot of stuff that way.
Do you have any further plans to celebrate the anniversary? Any special shows? I know you and Ray have some tour dates set for this summer, but are they tied into L.A. Woman at all?
Yeah. I think we’re playing at the Pacific Amphitheatre the fifth of August and we’re going to do the whole L.A. Woman album verbatim.
Will John be joining you for that?
Not that I know of. We put out the invitation for him, and hopefully he will. I kind of doubt it, but you never know.
Let me change gears to the topic of the SG…
It’s the year of the SG.
It is! What first drew you to that guitar?
Well, when I was younger I was playing flamenco guitar, folk music, stuff like that, and I never really had a desire to play electric guitar. Then one day, I went and saw Chuck Berry play. And this was back in the day when he was really good. And he was really into it, you know? Doing the duckwalk across the stage and all that stuff. And I loved it so much, the next day I went out and traded one of my flamenco guitars for an electric guitar. I didn’t know what kind of electric guitar it was; it turned out to be an SG. (laughs) But all I knew [was] it was red like Chuck Berry’s guitar. Of course, he had a 335, but this was a little cheaper.
So, it was just by chance that you got an SG?
Yeah, exactly. And I just loved that guitar, for some reason. Just the way there were so many frets you could get to compared to some other guitars, because of the way the neck is. Just really easy to play. I just really loved that guitar. Unfortunately, it got stolen.
What year was this?
Probably ’67, sometime.
During those years when you were recording with The Doors, how many different SGs did you have?
I replaced that one and I had maybe two or three other ones. And you know, I don’t even know what happened to those guitars. (laughs) In those days, a guitar was a guitar. If you broke one, you just got another one. You know, they were all the same. It wasn’t until years later that guitars got collectible. One day I met this guy. His name was Robert Johnson and he was a guitar collector, and he had this Les Paul that was unbelievable. It was the most curly maple Les Paul that you’ve ever seen. It was a ’61. And he wanted $3000 for it. And I said, “Are you kidding me? No guitar’s worth $3000.” (laughs) If I had that guitar today, it would be worth at least half a million. (laughs)
So, it was by chance that you first got an SG. But once you were in the band, how did that guitar fit in with what the group was trying to do sonically?
Well, it seemed to be perfect. Now, for slide, I did have a Les Paul. I had a Black Beauty, which I still have, and that seemed to work pretty good for slide. But for most everything else, I used that SG. You know, I’d use a 12-string here and there. I did have a Gibson semi-hollowbody 12-string.
You have a signature model SG coming out from Gibson USA this year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the line. What can you tell me about that guitar?
Well, they already came out with my signature model about a year ago, but they got sold out. And what it is, it’s a great guitar. The neck is from a ’61 Les Paul Jr. You know, it’s that kind of wide, flat neck, which I like. And then it has a push-pull switch where you can put the pickups out of phase to get that sound like I got on “Peace Frog.” It’s got a couple of tricks like that.
The one that’s coming out is not from the Custom Shop, it’s from the [Gibson USA] factory. On the back, it’s got one of my paintings on the little plastic cover on the back that covers up the pots and stuff. So that’s going to be pretty cool.
When you’re doing something like this with Gibson, coming up with a signature guitar, how collaborative is that process? How much do they reach out to you for feedback?
Well, they do quite a bit. You know, they want to make it right. We spent quite a bit of time on the one that was out before and this is going to be as close to that as possible. Even though it’s made in the factory, it’s still going to be a great guitar. In fact, I would defy anybody to tell the difference.
We’ve talked about the 40th anniversary of L.A. Woman, the 50th anniversary of the SG… there’s a great deal of cause to look back this year. When you think back to that period when it was the four of you guys playing together—what’s your absolute favorite memory?
Oh, god. There’s so many, it’s hard to pick one. But I would say playing at the Whiskey [a Go Go]. When we first got to play at the Whiskey, that was like a dream come true, because that was like the place to play in L.A. And there [weren’t] a whole lot of local groups that got to play there, because mostly the groups would be brought in from, you know, Motown or London. So we kind of became the house band there. And that was just so much fun, because we got to meet all these guys like Van Morrison and Neil Young and just on and on. It was like a dream come true.