Do you have any quirks as a drummer? Drum height or placement, tuning…
“You know, another jazz drummer, Ed Thigpen, who played with Oscar Peterson way back – it was the first time I ever heard rivets in a cymbal. And then I heard that Chico Hamilton had them too, and I went, ‘Oh, that’s it. I’m taking that for my sound.’ And it worked well on Riders On The Storm, so that’s one thing.
“I have the ride cymbal kind of low, so I can ride on it. I look at some guys – there’s some incredibly technical heavy metal drummers, but it’s bizarre how a lot of them have their cymbals up really high and almost perpendicular. You crash ‘em, and that’s all you can do – all you do is crash. I like the subtleties. Play the bell.”
Improvisation was always a hallmark of The Doors' music but also in a lot of the other projects you’ve been involved with. Could you have thrived in something that wasn’t improvisational?
“That’s an interesting question. Maybe not – I don’t know. You have to do your homework, and of course, it’s good to have form. I don’t like totally free jazz, unless it’s done by somebody like Coltrane, who did bebop and cool jazz, so he was allowed to go out there. I love trying to be in the moment and playing off of whatever’s going on. That’s improvisation, really. Keeping the pulse – that’s the main job – but I like to spin off of the moment.”
Speaking of improvisation, did you ever play Light My Fire the same way twice?
“No. That song was always a lot of fun to play live because of the long solos – it was new every night. There were always little nuances here and there, just like jazz.”
I love the album The Soft Parade, but at the time of its release, the critics were less than kind. Who spearheaded the direction of the album – the strings, the horns?
“When Ray and I first met, we talked about jazz, and we wanted to try strings and horns – before we even recorded the first album. So then when Sgt. Pepper came out, we said, ‘OK, let’s do this.’ We had a lot of fun doing it. The critics… they fall in love with a sound, and then they get pissed off. But we wanted to try that experimentation from the beginning, and we thought, ‘Someday, later, we’ll expand it.’
“We wouldn’t have gotten back to Morrison Hotel and LA Woman if we hadn’t gone way out there and tried a big orchestra thing. And then we thought, ‘All right, that was great fun… ‘ I mean, Touch Me went to number one – the audience got it. The critics got ornery. Then we wanted to get back to our roots, the blues, and LA Woman was the ultimate, where we denied technology and used eight-track instead of 16, which was Morrison Hotel. We did it in our rehearsal room, really trying to get back to the garage, where it all started.”