It’s been 50 years since Robby Krieger lost his pal Jim Morrison – and now he’s ready to set the record straight.
The Doors’ guitarist has a new memoir titled “Set the Night on Fire: Living, Dying, and Playing Guitar with The Doors” where he shares never-before-told stories about some of the most infamous moments of the group’s career.
Morrison propelled The Doors to several major hits between 1965 and 1971, including “Light My Fire,” “Hello I Love You,” “Touch Me” and “Riders on the Storm.” The frontman said that as a child, he witnessed a car accident on a Native American reservation, an event that loomed large in his lyrics and poetry.
Robby Krieger’s memoir was released on Oct. 12. (Courtesy of Robby Krieger)
Despite The Doors’ success, the band burned out quickly as the singer sank into alcoholism. He made his final album with The Doors, “L.A. Woman,” in 1971, and then moved to Paris. There, on July 3, 1971, he was found dead in a bathtub. No autopsy was performed and accounts of what caused his death are still disputed.
On the 20th anniversary of his death in 1991, the Oliver Stone-directed biopic “The Doors” was released, starring Val Kilmer as Morrison.
Krieger spoke to Fox News about his favorite memory of Morrison, what happened during their appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and how an intervention led to his sobriety.
Robby Krieger today. (Jill Jarrett)
Fox News: What inspired you to write your book now?
Robby Krieger: You know, I started it about 25 years ago, and just never got around to finishing it. When the pandemic came along, I had some time and it was a good time to do it.
Fox News: Looking back, what do you believe was the secret behind the lasting success of The Doors?
Krieger: Mostly the guitar playing, I would say. That’s a joke *laughs*. No, I think the real reason is that our songs are really good. You know, most albums, especially in those days, might’ve had one or two good songs on them. But we had kind of a rule that we would never put something out unless it was really good. And I think even our deep tracks are pretty good.
Fox News: When did you first realize that the band had become larger than life?
Krieger: Probably after “Light My Fire” came out on the radio and then made it to number one. That was like a turning point for all of us. Everything started to get crazy right after that.
Jim Morrison and keyboardist Ray Manzarek, a fellow UCLA film student, founded The Doors in 1965. At the time, Morrison was living in the Los Angeles’ bohemian neighborhood of Venice Beach and frequently taking LSD. Guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore joined soon after. (Courtesy of Robby Krieger)
Fox News: Where did the inspiration for “Light My Fire” come from?
Krieger: Well, up until then Jim was writing all the songs. Then [one day] he goes, “Why don’t you guys try and write some? Why do I have to do all the work?” So I said, “All right, well, what should I write about?” And he says, “Write about something universal. You know, something that won’t go out of style real quick.”
So I figured OK – earth, air, fire and water. The four elements, they’re pretty solid. And then I always liked that song by the Stones, “Play with Fire.” It’s a good one. So I started to write about fire and the rest is history. And you know, up until then, nobody had put those three words together, “Light My Fire,” which is pretty crazy.
Fox News: Which song did you initially believe wouldn’t perform too well but actually turned out to be a big hit?
Krieger: “Love Her Madly.” I thought it was too commercial. I wanted to put out “Riders on the Storm” as a single, and they all wanted “Love Her Madly.” So I said OK. And to my surprise, it did really well.
Jim Morrison and The Doors would burn brightly, releasing albums ‘The Doors’ and ‘Strange Days’ in 1967, ‘The Soft Parade’ in 1968 and ‘Morrison Hotel’ in 1970. (Courtesy of Robby Krieger)
Fox News: Which has been your favorite song to perform over the years and why?
Krieger: When Jim was alive, I loved playing “The End.” It’s like a 12-minute song and it has a lot of guitar stuff in it. That was fun to play. But after Jim, I think maybe “L.A. Woman” is one of my favorites. That one always goes over really well. So we usually play it last or next to last in the set.
Fox News: “Touch Me” has more of a pop quality to it in comparison to the band’s other songs. Where did the idea for that track come from?
Krieger: Oh, nobody’s ever asked me that. I always do the music first and the words come to me later. So I was writing that song about a game of blackjack. And it wasn’t “Touch Me,” it was “Hit Me.” Hit me, hit me, give me a 10, give me an ace, you know?
But Jim didn’t like that. He thought people might take it literally and try to hit him as he was singing it *laughs*. So we changed it to “Touch Me.” And… on the chorus part, I kind of stole that from a Joan Baez song. It had the words, “I’m gonna love you ’til the heavens stop the rain.”
In his memoir, Robby Krieger detailed his rise and struggles as an artist. (James Fortune)
Fox News: Is it true Jim wasn’t allowed to sing the lyric “we couldn’t get much higher” from “Light My Fire” on “The Ed Sullivan Show”?
Krieger: Yeah, they did tell us to not say “higher.” But we thought they were kidding. I mean, that’s ridiculous. Come on. We didn’t believe that they were serious. And so we just went out and did it the normal way. “The Doors” movie shows Jim kind of looking into the camera and saying “higher.” He didn’t do that. He just did it normally.
Well, the producer guy didn’t like it. He said, “You’ll never play Ed Sullivan again!” [Our response was], “We don’t care, we’ve already played Ed Sullivan.” But the audience had no idea. They made the Stones change one of their songs, “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” They said, “Let’s Spend Some Time Together.” They caved in. [But] they were about a year before us. So yeah, ’67 was a good year.
Fox News: What was your reaction when Jim was arrested onstage in New Haven during a middle of a gig?
Krieger: Yeah, that was crazy. I never thought that would happen, you know? But those cops, they [weren’t] messing around. Backstage, we were just hanging around and waiting to go on. Jim had some girlfriend of his and they were kind of making out in some washroom or somewhere private. Somehow a cop ran across them. He thought they just snuck backstage from the audience.
Jim Morrison’s mugshot taken on December 10, 1967 in New Haven, Connecticut. (Photo by Bureau of Prisons/Getty Images)
He didn’t know it was Jim. So the cop started bossing him around, telling him to go get out of here. Then Jim got a little uppity and started mouthing off. And the guy maced him. That doesn’t feel good when you get that stuff in your eyes.
Luckily somebody came and explained the situation. But Jim was pissed off. Then he finally got the stuff out of his eyes. Then we went on stage. I can’t remember if it was the third or fourth song, “Back Door Man.” Right in the middle of it, [Jim] starts to tell the story about the little man with the little blue cap. He was putting the cops down basically. And they’re all standing around near the front of the stage, getting madder and madder.
Finally, [the cops] went up on stage. Jim says, “Oh, you got something to say? Here.” He hands the guy the mic. I forgot what he said, but they grabbed him, along with a Life magazine photographer who happened to be photographing the whole thing. They grabbed him too and arrested him. [Jim] thought it was good because we got our picture in Life magazine.
Jim Morrison’s dynamic stage presence was on full display during appearances on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ and at the Hollywood Bowl. (Courtesy of Robby Krieger)
Fox News: Is it true that you later met the cop’s son who apologized?
Krieger: Yeah, that’s right. This was probably 10 years ago with my band, Robby Krieger Band. The guy comes up to me and he’s nice. I don’t think he was a cop. He might’ve been. Anyway, he said, “I heard what happened and I’m sorry.” I thought it was really cool.
Fox News: What’s one memory of Jim Morrison that makes you smile whenever you think about it?
Krieger: Oh, gosh. One time we were over at my house and we had some girlfriends over there. Jim comes in and he makes a beeline for the back window and jumps out the window. And everybody’s horrified, you know? And there he is hanging off the balcony, laughing. He used to do stuff like that.
Fox News: What’s a misconception you feel people still have about The Doors and what’s the reality?
Robby Krieger: Most people haven’t seen The Doors really unless they’re pretty old. So all they know is the Oliver Stone movie and the books that have come out… It’s very easy to get sidetracked by the movies, the books and rumors. That’s another reason why I wrote the book. To clear the air and make sure everybody knows exactly what happened.
Robby Krieger (pictured here) said he was happy with Val Kilmer’s portrayal of Jim Morrison in the 1991 biopic ‘The Doors.’ (Courtesy of Robby Krieger)
Fox News: How did you feel about the movie?
Krieger: I thought it was a great movie. I thought Val Kilmer was really good. He should’ve gotten an Academy Award in my opinion. But of course, it was a Hollywood movie and it had exaggerations and things that didn’t really happen.
But… I think it really helped The Doors’ career and Oliver Stone is a great director. In this case, I think he should have let the writer do his thing because he ended up writing the script himself. He was really into The Doors. He was like a super Doors fan. So I think he got too personally involved. He had this really good writer. I forgot his name, but he should have left it with that guy.
Fox News: Jim Morrison passed away when he was only 27. How did you and the rest of the band cope with his death?
Krieger: I don’t know. After Jimi Hendrix and Janis [Joplin] died, Jim kept saying he was going to be number three. We didn’t believe him. But it was tough, you know? He was our leader. He was our friend. And when you’re that young, you just don’t know how to cope with that.
Robby Krieger (left) said Jim Morrison had a fascination with death. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Fox News: Do you know why Jim kept saying he was going to be the third one? Was he joking?
Krieger: We thought he was joking. But maybe he wasn’t. I think he really believed that he was not going to be here a long time. I don’t know if he had some knowledge that there was something wrong with him, or something like that.
But… I’ve never seen anybody like him that just tempted fate, tempted death at many turns. Jimi Hendrix wasn’t like that. And Janis too. I don’t think those guys had a death wish. I don’t know. Jim just had this fascination with death. He always wrote about it. So in a way, he probably got what he wanted.
Fox News: It must have been frustrating for you to hear some of the conspiracy theories that have come up over the years. What do you make of them?
Krieger: What, that he’s still alive or something?
Fox News: Well, that and everything else that has been said to make sense of why he would pass away at such a young age.
Krieger: The truth is nobody knows. Nobody ever will. Jim took that secret with him.
Robby Krieger scoffed at conspiracy theories alleging Jim Morrison faked his death. In his book, the guitarist said that the singer wouldn’t have been able to stay away from the stage for long. (Courtesy of Robby Krieger)
Fox News: What’s your favorite memory involving Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin?
Krieger: I met Janis up in San Francisco the first time when we played The Fillmore. I walked up to the dressing room and there she is. I didn’t know who she was. All I knew was Big Brother and the Holding Company. I didn’t even know they had a girl singer. So she says, “Hi, I’m Big Brother!” I said, “Really? What the hell.” And she’s just chugging some Southern Comfort… Then later that night, we got to see her play. And boy, what a show. She was so good. I was blown away.
With Jimi, I got to ride with him on an airplane over to England when we were doing the Isle of Wight Festival. We sat next to each other for the whole ride. That was great. I was a big fan of his and I got to pick his brain about guitars and stuff. But all he talked about was getting drugs. It was kind of sad. And I knew it wasn’t just pot that he was talking about. He said, “Remember, if I score first, I’ll call you. If you score first, you call me.” That’s what he was talking about the whole time. I just wanted to know about his guitars.
Fox News: In your book, you described how you did hard drugs in the later years, after the ‘60s. When did you first realize that you needed to get clean?
Krieger: After doing it for a while, my producer, all my buddies, they kind of realized something was off. So they did an intervention, which was very early in the days of interventions. But boy, I was blown away by that. And that really helped.
Jim Morrison passed away in 1971 at age 27 in Paris. (Courtesy of Robby Krieger)
I wish we could have done that with Jim. We did a little one with Jim, just… my dad and the other guys. But in those days, they didn’t know anything about this type of problem. My dad was really into… he went to see a shrink. He was into psychiatry, all that stuff.
We talked Jim into going to see a psychiatrist. And that lasted about a week. But at least he tried. It was the ’60s, everything’s cool. You do your thing, man. You just didn’t talk to people that way back then. Even though we knew it wasn’t helping him. We knew it was bad. But… Jim Morrison, he wasn’t the type of guy you could reason with, you know?
Fox News: What’s life like for you today?
Krieger: Well, it could be worse *laughs*. I have a cool studio fairly near my house. I’ve got two albums ready to come out. With the pandemic, that’s all we could do – record. One [of them] is kind of an instrumental reggae album.
Robby Krieger is still making music today. (Courtesy of Robby Krieger)
I’m trying to get somebody to do vinyl on them. The vinyl market is so messed up right now. It’s almost a year’s wait to get on vinyl. So I’m trying to find somebody that has an in into the vinyl company. But if that doesn’t happen, I’ll just put them out myself on the internet. Spotify and all that.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.