Guitarist Robby Krieger rose to fame in the 1960s as guitarist and songwriter with the iconic band the Doors.
His work after the group broke up in 1973 wasn't as well known; however, he earned critical respect and a loyal following for his solo recordings that blended rock, jazz, psychedelia, and world music, filtered through a guitar style that was clean, expressive, and straightforward. The Doors' 1967 debut album gave Krieger's fluid style its first widespread exposure, and 1971's Other Voices allowed him greater room to present his talents as a songwriter and vocalist after the passing of vocalist Jim Morrison. 1977's Robbie Krieger & Friends and 1983's Versions found Krieger digging into the jazzy, primarily instrumental approach that dominated his solo work, while 2020's The Ritual Begins at Sundown added a more experimental approach informed by the work of Frank Zappa.
Robby Krieger was born in Los Angeles on January 8, 1946. When he was very young, Krieger was first exposed to music through his father's recordings of marching bands, and at age seven, he became fascinated with Sergei Prokofiev's orchestral piece for children, Peter and the Wolf, though his enthusiasm was dashed when he accidentally broke the record by sitting on it. He was introduced to rock & roll by listening to the radio, enjoying early hits from Fats Domino, the Platters, and Elvis Presley. When he was ten, Krieger started taking trumpet lessons, but he lost interest in the instrument, and later tried to teach himself to play blues songs on the piano. When he was 17 and attending a private school in Menlo Park, California, he picked up a friend's guitar and began learning to play, and he acquired a Mexican flamenco guitar a year later during a holiday visit to Puerto Vallarta. Krieger took flamenco lessons for a few months, and he began incorporating blues, folk, and jazz numbers into his repertoire. Before he graduated from high school, he was good enough to join a group with his fellow students, a jug band dubbed the Back Bay Chamber Pot Terriers.
Krieger next enrolled at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he became a passionate fan of jazz guitarists like Wes Montgomery and Larry Carlton as well as blues acts like Albert Collins and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. While he preferred jazz, the electric sound of the Butterfield group opened Krieger's eyes to the new possibilities of rock & roll, and in 1965 he joined a fledgling band called the Doors, who had only recently changed their name from Rick & the Ravens. After making a name for themselves on the L.A. club scene in 1966, the Doors signed with Elektra Records, and their self-titled debut album arrived in January 1967. The single "Light My Fire" -- primarily written by Krieger -- launched the group into stardom, and they became one of the most popular and talk-about bands of their time, releasing six studio albums before the death of vocalist Jim Morrison in July 1971 brought the group back to earth. Krieger, keyboard player Ray Manzarek, and drummer John Densmore regrouped as a trio and issued two modestly successful albums, 1971's Other Voices and 1971's Full Circle, that gave Krieger greater prominence as a vocalist and songwriter. In 1973, the Doors broke up.
Krieger and Densmore soon formed a new group, the Butts Band, whose sound was rooted in blues and soul influences. They issued two albums, 1974's Butts Band and 1975's Hear and Now (both of which had entirely different lineups besides Krieger and Densmore), before fading out. Krieger first stepped out as a solo artist on 1977's Robbie Krieger & Friends, a primarily instrumental jazz fusion effort. In 1979, Krieger was part of a short-lived rock band called Red Shift, which came together when Mack McKenzie, a serious Doors fan, approached Krieger and asked if he would be interested in working with him. Nothing was released during the group's brief history, but seven studio recordings were issued on a 2019 EP. 1982's Versions, a set of covers that dabbled in rock, reggae, and jazz, included guest appearances from his former bandmates Ray Manzarek and John Densmore. That same year, Krieger guested on the album Panic Station by the retro-psychedelic combo the Acid Casualties.
Krieger jumped back into jazz with both feet on 1985's Robbie Krieger, and in 1989 he issued No Habla, an installment in I.R.S. Records' "No Speak" instrumental guitar recording series, which included a new version of the Doors' "Wild Child" and keyboard work from U.K. jazz-rock pioneer Brian Auger. I.R.S. would also issue the 1989 collection Door Jams, which combined material from Robbie Krieger & Friends, Robbie Krieger, and Versions. Krieger's band the Robby Krieger Organization documented their live sound on the 1995 release RKO Live!, and he continued to pursue his passion for fusion jazz on 2000's Cinematix, with Billy Cobham on drums.
In 2002, Krieger and Ray Manzarek, prompted by continued interest in the Doors, began touring under the name the Doors of the 21st Century, performing the Doors' classic material with Ian Astbury of the Cult standing in for the late Jim Morrison on vocals. John Densmore, who did not participate, quickly expressed his displeasure with the project, and sued his former bandmates to keep them from using "Doors" in their name; after briefly billing themselves as Riders on the Storm, they simply toured as Ray Manzarek & Robby Krieger.
Krieger's next solo effort wouldn't arrive until 2010; Singularity was another fusion effort that he produced with frequent collaborator Arthur Barrow. Krieger lent his talents as guitarist to the 2013 William Shatner album Ponder the Mystery; the sessions were produced by Billy Sherwood, who recruited Krieger to contribute to a number of multi-artist collections and tribute discs he coordinated, and 11 tracks from those projects were gathered on the 2017 set In Session. In 2020, Krieger released The Ritual Begins at Sundown, an adventurous record influenced by his love of the music of Frank Zappa. The same year, Krieger contributed guitar to "All the Time in the World," the closing track to X's comeback album Alphabetland. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi