Writings about Music

Riders On the Storm

The monumental songs and originally evocative guitar style of Robby Krieger are an essential part of a band that transformed both the music world and the world itself. Left to right: John Densmore, Jim Morrison and Robby Krieger.

Its been stormy in LA the past few days, and all bundled up to protect from the rain, I ventured out to the post office, it looking more like a battle scene from a war film due to heavy reconstruction going on. Inside, I was waiting on line, and then, looking behind me, spotted guitarist and composer Robby Krieger! I paused for a moment, and then decided to say hello, at the same time letting him know I had been a friend of Ray Manzarek, another member of The Doors. Robby responded in a friendly manner, so I gave up my place in line, moving two persons back to be alongside him and chat.

What a pleasantly exciting ten minutes or so this was - we talked about so much. Part of this was Robby asking me to type into his cell phone the name of a raga I've been studying, Basant Mukhari, and learning he, too, had studied with Harihar Rao, the senior disciple of Ravi Shankar. Robby had taken classes with Harihar in Los Angeles together with John Densmore before The Doors were formed. This is a big deal. Never before had I heard that Harihar Rao was the person who imparted to The Doors the magic of Indian classical music through his extremely rare gift for articulating and communicating esoteric musical concepts that allow students to afterwards develop and assimilate lessons in their own individual manner. No music exemplifies such lessons better than Robby's "Light My Fire". Typing into his phone with some difficulty because the letters were so small, including having to go back and erase a number of times, I was pleased to find myself recalling another of Robby's songs, "Touch Me".

Robby talked about their song, "The End", and how it was based on a raga, and how he had owned and learned to play a sitar before giving it away to someone. He also fondly raised another raga-based song, "Indian Summer", one that Ray had introduced to me, this being one of the loveliest of Doors songs. There I was explaining to Robby how I came up with the name Meruvina, and how I was the person whose idea it was for him and Ray to play together again, but the big difference was that I envisioned them doing entirely new improvisational music based on ragas in an acoustic setting. My persuasive reasoning with Ray at the time had been that he and Robby, and John Densmore, too, should play together again because their astounding musical connection transcended whatever band they may have been in together in the past. As you know, Ray and Robby went in a different direction without John, attempting to reform The Doors, and that episode was fraught with difficulties.

Robby was a relaxed, unassuming presence with a powerful beneath the surface intensity. His eyes sparkled with admiration when I told him how Pandit Jasraj described the musical quality of Alap, the opening section of Indian ragas, as being like touching a newborn baby with a very soft and slow manner. He was intrigued to learn that Pandit Jasraj is a vocalist, and that the only other singer I could think of with a similar vocal quality was John Lennon.

At the moment of giving up my place on line, the woman next to me inquired why, and I explained how I was leaving to be next to one of my favorite musicians. She asked what type of musician he was, meaning which genre, and, not wishing to compromise Robby's privacy, replied that American jazz and American and British rock and pop had superseded European classical music during the twentieth century, so he (Robby) was a classical musician, with Robby concurring, echoing my assertion while not revealing his identity. However, while later getting my car from the valet, an amenity due to the post office construction, the woman passed by and asked who the musician was, and so I told her because I could tell she would not bother Robby in any way. Her eyes grew wide, exclaiming how she, too, was a great admirer of The Doors.

In addition to their obvious musical gifts, you get an idea of how incredibly intelligent The Doors are from their answers to the interview questions in-between performances of "Crystal Ship" and "Light My Fire" here. I still can't believe how I spent so much time with Ray, like I was dreaming it. His house had a supercool front door, and it was always a thrill to ring the bell and see Ray appear after he opened it to let me in with a warm greeting, if not quite, "Hello, I Love You". Come to think of it, he did tell myself and several other musicians assembled for a project that he loved us all once.

Afterwards, after stopping by a favorite store, Kelly Paper, on LaBrea, and noticing the proximity of Pink's, I went in and had two chili dogs with kraut, this being my breakfast. Standing in the rain on line once again, this time next to a towering African American man who guiltily confided he had not been to Pink's in at least ten years, he insisted that I go ahead of him on line after learning I had not yet had breakfast, it being the late afternoon. Not the healthiest breakfast, but OK for a special occasion celebrating meeting one of my musical heroes, at least with water to drink rather than soda or beer. They didn't serve coffee at this impromptu "Soul Kitchen" in the rain...

Well, your fingers weave quick minarets,
Speak in secret alphabets.

- Michael Robinson, March 2018, Los Angeles


© 2018 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer, programmer, pianist and musicologist. His 199 albums include 152 albums for meruvina and 47 albums of piano improvisations. Robinson has been a lecturer at UCLA, Bard College and California State University Long Beach and Dominguez Hills.


Poetic excerpt from the song "Soul Kitchen" by The Doors