December 28, 2023

Everyone has heard of The Doors, right? One of the quintessential, psychedelic, hippy bands of the swinging ‘60s, with their influential and charismatic poet-lyricist and front man Jim Morrison, whose untimely and mysterious death in July 1971 helped to form the whole concept of the ’27 Club’, comprising celebrities who died (or more accurately self-destructed) at that age. Personally, when I think of The Doors, the sound I hear in my head is Morrison’s baritone drawl over Ray Manzarek’s distinctive keys, specifically on the classic Light My Fire.

As it happens though, that song was originated by the band’s guitarist, Robby Krieger, originally inspired by the work of Hendrix and the Stones. Krieger was accomplished in multiple styles: the spaced-out rock associated with The Doors, bluesy slide, Wes Montgomery-inspired jazz, flamenco, synth work and even the sitar. After Morrison’s death, the rest of the Doors continued under the same name for a while, and continued to work together on and off, but Krieger branched out into the world of jazz fusion with his own band. This arguably reached high tide with the 2000 album Cinematix, which included contributions from fusion royalty including bassist Alphonso Johnson, the incomparable Billy Cobham on drums, and even Edgar Winter on saxophone. More recently, Krieger has started his own YouTube channel, opened his own studio and written a book, and continues to search for ways to expand his musical palette, most recently by guesting (alongside Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson), on the new album by Today Was Yesterday, due out in February.

Robby Krieger And The Soul Savages – Photo by Robiee Ziegler

Now in his early 80s, the latest development is to form a new instrumental soul-fusion band named Robby Krieger And The Soul Savages, whose self-titled debut album is set for release on 19 January 2024. Cool, laid-back and easy, the song structures are deceptively simple, but with complex layering and arranging – more a case of getting the groove on and jamming over the top, but tastefully and sympathetically. The first number, Shark Skin Suit, sets out the stall with a solid four-to-the-floor drum pattern and a chunky, rock guitar sound playing jazzy chords and scales – it includes an excellent synth solo from the venerable Ed Roth, who goes overboard on the eastern-influenced next track, Samosas And Kingfishers, dubbing Hammond chords and twinkly electric piano underneath Krieger’s tasteful slide, and something that sounds like an electric sitar. See if you can count how many different instruments Krieger plays in the video at the foot of this page.

A Day In L.A. is a mid-tempo groover and the lead single, featuring lazy congas and acoustic piano backing. And to be honest, that description could be applied, with minor variations, to every track here. Contrary Motion brings some of the more melodic Focus pieces to mind, especially Sylvia, while Bouncy Betty starts with an easy, groovy guitar and tremolo keyboard duet, and includes a couple of key changes for keyboard and bass solos. Never Say Never has various percussion, sticks, maracas etc, laid over the top. Ricochet Rabbit pays more attention to the melody perhaps, as a major-key ballad.

Drums are provided by Franklin Vanderbilt, whose credits include Chaka Khan, Stanley Clarke, and Lenny Kravitz. The whole ambience is relaxed and genial, but it’s the last couple of tracks that are the highlights for me. Blue Brandino starts with a little slap bass from Kevin Brandon, then a gentle drum pattern and dry, staccato chords – but then they change to a slow, bluesy, shuffle rhythm for just a few bars, followed by some imaginatively phased drumming before dropping back into the main rhythm. This happens at intervals throughout the number, until the final chord plays out over a shaken tambourine. And then for the denouement, we are treated to a piece called Math Problem – it’s the only one that messes about with the time signature, alternating bars in 7-8 and 8-8, which may be the actual math problem I guess, as it means the whole piece is playing in 15-8.

It’s 44 minutes of sweet jazz from Krieger and some of the leading soul and jazz session musicians of the age, an easy listen, which also repays some attention to pick out all the multiple sound layering and deeply considered variations. I love it. Just don’t expect The Doors.

Robby Krieger And The Soul Savages is released on 19 January 2024 via The Players Club / Mascot