The Doors’ Robby Krieger still gets royalty treatment

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The Doors was one of the most deeply admired and worshipped bands of the ’60s, largely due to the oozing charisma of the band’s singer, Jim Morrison. While it could be argued that a band is merely as good as its music, Morrison made The Doors something much greater than an amalgamation of notes, phrases and instrumental zeal. A sex god unmatched in today’s popular culture, Morrison became an icon of spiritual sexuality at a time when spirit eclipsed all else, and his premature death at the age of 27 only served to cement the legend.

So when Doors guitarist Robby Krieger and keyboardist Ray Manzarek announced that they were “re-forming” the band and taking it out on tour last year under the Doors name (actually, “The Doors, 21st Century” is how it’s being advertised), it raised some interesting questions. Primary among them, can this band really be called The Doors?

Here are some facts to help you sort it out. First of all, in Morrison’s place, Krieger and Manzarek hired Ian Astbury of The Cult. Astbury on stage is an eerie dead ringer for Morrison, but he’s also a respected rock name on his own. Second, and more significant, is that while Morrison was revered for his poetic lyrics, Krieger had a much greater influence on The Doors music than many realize. Not only did he write much of the music, but he also wrote the lyrics for some of The Doors’ most popular songs, including “Light My Fire,” “Love Her Madly,” “Touch Me,” and “Love Me Two Times.”

Also, when the reunion was announced, it was said that drummer John Densmore’s tinnitus made it impossible for him to tour with the band. In his place, The Doors hired ex-Police drummer Stewart Copeland. Copeland is one of the most lively and inventive drummers in rock history, and no band with him on the skins could be lightly dismissed as a knock-off. So Stewart’s inclusion seemed to lend the band further credibility.

Densmore, in response, filed suit against Krieger and Manzarek for breach of contract, trademark infringement and unfair competition, saying that no band should be called The Doors if Morrison isn’t singing. He did, however, continue playing with his own band, calling the tinnitus excuse into question. Their legal wranglings are ongoing.

Soon after, Copeland was replaced on the project after he injured his elbow mountain biking, and Krieger and Manzarek thought his replacment was better for the band. Copeland then filed suit, alleging breach of contract. That suit has since been settled.

And, as if that’s not enough, Jim Morrison’s parents are suing them for trademark infringment.

Bankrate spoke with Doors guitarist Robby Krieger about money matters prior to all the lawsuits.

Bankrate: Was your deal with The Doors structured in such a way that the band’s lasting popularity has made you financially set for life?

Robby Krieger: Well, we divided everything equally, four ways, and we still get royalties from the songwriting and all that. So it’s been pretty good.

Bankrate: Were all the songs credited equally?

Robby Krieger: They were split equally, money-wise. Up to the fourth album, the albums said “written by The Doors.” Jim didn’t want people to know who wrote what. He wanted to make it mysterious. When I started writing more of the songs on the fourth album, we started giving credit to who wrote what.

Bankrate: So who actually wrote most of The Doors’ songs?

Robby Krieger: Well, Jim wrote most of the words. I wrote some of the words, including “Light My Fire.” I wrote the words to “Touch Me,” to “Love Me Two Times,” “Love Her Madly,” and Jim wrote the words to “The End,” “When the Music’s Over,” and more of the heavy duty ones. I usually came up with the musical ideas, but we all worked them out together. Which is why it said “written by The Doors.” It really wouldn’t have sounded the same if we all weren’t involved in working up the songs.

Bankrate: Have you ever needed other sources of income since the Doors days?

Robby Krieger: Nope. I’m lucky in that I don’t have to do it for the money, so I don’t have to do what I don’t want to. Let’s face it, The Doors sell pretty good compared to most of the ’60s groups, so we’ve been very lucky as far as that goes.

Bankrate: Since it was such a hippie, druggie scene back then, was there any thought being given to the business end of what you were doing?

Robbie Krieger: We thought about it. My dad was a business guy, and he made sure we had a lawyer and business manager and all that stuff. Which was good because a lot of groups lost all their money on stupid business deals and stuff like that. We did pretty well.

Bankrate: If you had to do it all over again, from a business standpoint, would you have done anything differently?

Robby Krieger: We made some mistakes. We had some managers we didn’t like and had to get rid of, and that cost some money. Stuff like that. But overall, we did really well. It was a great idea to split everything equally because that keeps the group together. So many groups today split up over arguments about, “well, I wrote this verse, I should get credit for that.” I think if you’re going to have a real group, it should be a democracy like we had.

Bankrate: So what’s your biggest source of income today?

Robby Krieger: Obviously, The Doors.

Bankrate: So it’s still songwriting royalties? Do they still make you a millionaire every year?

Robby Krieger: Well, not every year, but some years are better than others. The last couple of years haven’t been that good, but years before that were very good. Who knows what the future might hold? This stuff we’re doing now, with the new Doors thing, it might just kick the old stuff in the butt, too.

Bankrate: Do you invest in the market at all?

Robby Krieger: A little bit. I don’t consider myself an expert, but I got screwed along with everybody else with the thing, but not too bad. My business manager for the past 10 years made sure I didn’t do anything too stupid.

Bankrate: Any investments do either very well or very badly for you?

Robby Krieger: Like I said, some of the stuff didn’t pan out very good. One of my best ones was Krispy Kreme donuts. That thing has been doing great. I got in about three or four years ago. Compared to everything else, it sure has been rising.

Bankrate: How are you planning for your financial future?

Robby Krieger: I’ve done the living trust thing, stuff like that. I stayed mostly in bonds.