My Dad Wrote Light My Fire: Escaping The Shadow Of The Doors’ Legacy

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“The first song my dad wrote was Light My Fire,” said Waylon Krieger, son of guitarist Robby Krieger of The Doors. “That’s like winning the lottery a million times over on your first try.”

Waylon wasn’t even alive during The Doors’ heyday, born just a bit over two years after Jim Morrison’s death at the age of 27 in 1971. “He almost looked like a veteran coming out of Vietnam,” Waylon mused. “Just put a green jacket on him. It was scary.”

Regardless, Waylon’s life seems to have been almost entirely in the shadow of the band’s storied legacy, a fact that has come full circle over the past couple years by touring with his father, performing vocals on the current Robby Krieger Band and Jam Kitchen tour dates.

I met Waylon at the Robby Krieger band’s Tarrytown gig in April 2015, when he relinquished the microphone to my father, Joe McCausland, to fulfill his lifelong dream of singing the classic “Roadhouse Blues” live with a member of The Doors. When I asked him about it afterwards, Waylon would only tell me, “I’ve discovered that when I make other people feel better, it makes me feel better about myself.”

Waylon drew a breath. “I consider myself an artist and I definitely haven’t been an angel my entire life. I’ve tried lots of different things, and have done stuff I’m not proud of.”

Waylon’s life as a child was pretty straightforward, staying in the public educational system. Waylon claims his hands were “too small” to play guitar, also noting that his father wasn’t much of a teacher in that regard. “My dad never pushed music on me,” Waylon assured me.

Waylon first showed some interest in a drastically different career trajectory from his father in grade school: “I was interested in acting as a kid and took a two or three week class, but I couldn’t understand what it meant. I ended up hating it because I was a really shy kid growing up. There were all these outgoing kids doing other stuff and it made me feel stupid, like I didn’t belong.”

That is until he was around eleven years old or so, when his classmates suddenly began to treat him much differently, with Waylon being automatically lumped into the “popular” category.

Waylon really began noticing that his father’s career was much different from most others when he was a bit younger, but it didn’t really click until then, the fact being sealed by a conversation Waylon still remembers to this day. “Don’t you get it, man?” Robby asked of his son when the latter asked why his classmates began to treat him differently. “You got The Beatles, The Stones, Hendrix… and The Doors!”

“What’s it like having a legend for a dad?” one classmate would later ask of him.

From there, school seemed to be a breeze. A couple of events really seemed to lay the groundwork for the two passions that would continue into Waylon’s adulthood: seeing Back to the Future, with its famous Chuck Berry scene, inspired Waylon to really pick up the guitar for the first time (emulating the greats such as Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Johnson, & Hendrix), and a bizarre experience with Val Kilmer arguably reignited the young adult’s interest in acting circa 1990.

It was during the production of Oliver Stone’s The Doors that Waylon came the closest to ever meeting Jim Morrison in the flesh. “[Val] was dressed up in leather pants and his hair was grown out. I don’t know if he was stoned or not for real,” Waylon reminisced. “I’ve never met Jim, I only know what I’ve seen from documentaries, but he’s just standing on the balcony of my dad’s house and the three of us are just staring at the view just chatting about life, and I’m just like, ‘it’s just so fucking strange!’”

Waylon was hit by the full brunt of method acting. “My dad called me one time and told me to come down to the Fillmore West. I watched them shoot for a few hours, and it was a wrap. Afterwards when I was talking to the producer, Val changed into his street clothes, and he was like, ‘Oh hey man, Waylon, what’s up bro?’ Completely different guy! He just snapped out of it right there. He just turned [Jim’s persona] off like a lightswitch. I’ll never forget that. It was one of the strangest things I’ve ever witnessed in my life. Out of nowhere, he’s this dude who I have no idea what he’s like.”

Waylon dabbled in extras acting around that time period, his portfolio including the classic Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers lineup and the drama Fame L.A.; however, his priority at the time was playing guitar, both with his father and his own rock and roll band, Bloodline.

Featuring Waylon on guitar, Erin Davis (son of Miles Davis) on drums, Berry Oakley, Jr. (son of the same Berry Oakley of The Allman Brothers), and a very young “Smokin” Joe Bonamassa on lead guitar, the appropriately named Bloodline scored a hit single with “Stone Cold Hearted”, though the band split soon after the release of their debut album and a tour with Lynyrd Skynyrd. In reality, it may have been the grunge revolution that seared some doubt into Waylon’s heart, whose band had been decidedly classic rock oriented.

“That was when Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains were coming out. I knew something was changing.” Like many other Generation X’ers, Waylon didn’t connect with the excessive 80’s pop culture and looked to reshaping his generation’s pop culture interests. “I was in my late teens/early twenties. I got fed up with the hair band shit. I love Guns N’ Roses, but I knew something was changing in music. I played with my dad’s band in Montreal, and I remember we had a night off and me and a buddy went out to a nightclub with these girls we met. ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ came on and everyone started jumping around and freaking out. I was so amazed by that. ‘Are they really playing Nirvana at a club?’ I wanted to be a part of that as much as I could.”

After Bloodline’s abrupt end, Berry and Waylon formed a new band called the Oakley-Krieger Band, playing a gig every Wednesday night for a month or two. OKB was eventually offered a record deal; however, Waylon’s heart wasn’t entirely into the new project, which wasn’t nearly as grungy as he desired. After recording eight or nine songs, the band decided to call it a day, and they drifted apart, not speaking for years.

Waylon drifted from one workplace to another after the demise of OKB, dabbling in a bit of everything: refrigeration, air conditioning, wiring, and even aquarium work. Despite Waylon’s father’s wealth, the former Doors guitarist is very frugal and is mostly “hands off” with his son’s career path; Waylon is by no means a trust fund baby. “I work my ass off,” Waylon joked, though it’s a trait of his father’s that he’s actually appreciative of. “He’s been putting up with my ass for the last few decades.”

Robby eventually did offer his son a chance to tour with him and Doors keyboard player Ray Manzarek. However, that offer slipped out of Waylon’s grasp, and the late, great Ray (as John Densmorecalled him last year) “broke on through to the other side” in 2013. “I was supposed to audition for the part of singer when Ray was still alive,” Waylon told me with a hint of regret. “For whatever reason, on the day of the rehearsal, I couldn’t make it. That was the last straw for my dad. ”

“If you’re gonna be a flake, so be it,” said Robby to his son. That was when Ray and Robby hired  Dave Brock from the renowned Doors tribute, Wild Child.

Thankfully, at just the right junction point in his life, Waylon received a surprise call from a friend, Nick, that would send his life in a completely different direction. “My buddy Nick called and asked me to be in a movie he wrote based on a 30 minute short he had written called American Addict.” Waylon was initially apprehensive of the project due to his previous experiences in acting classes as a child. “Dude,” Waylon said. “I’ve never acted before in my life.”

“Just be yourself,” Nick replied.

One thing led to another, the project morphed, and after shaky rehearsal sessions and changes to the creative team, Waylon eventually found himself on the set of what would be called Chowdaheads with director Douglas Quill and Orson Chaplin, grandson of Charlie.

“I figured I could help fund the rest of the production… let’s try something different.” Though rattled by the stressful pre-production and his still uncertain acting skills, it was too late for Waylon to turn around; he had already put enough time and money into the project when they started shooting in early 2013.

“He’s a real working actor,” Waylon said of his co-star, Chaplin. “I was nervous. He was a pro.” Still, Waylon found his groove. “The first time we [rehearsed], it felt really weird. The second time was way better. By the third or fourth time, it felt so natural. Orson loved [my intensity].”

Sadly, the project was ultimately halted. “What we got out of it was a lot of A and B roll footage. We were only able to make a really cool trailer. That’s all I’ve gotten back so far.” Despite this obstacle, the whole ordeal was a learning experience for Krieger, whose ambitions in life were reoriented.

However, despite his connections within the movie industry, Waylon feels inclined to find success based on his own merit. “I’m buddies with actors like Patrick Warburton. We hang out at parties, and I don’t want to be asking, ‘Hey, can you fit me into a film?’” This approach to the acting extends to his father, who tried to help his son line up at least one acting gig while the former was slated to score the soundtrack for an undisclosed feature film.

“At least with the acting, I can say, ‘Hey, I did that, and my dad didn’t do much of that.’ Another reason why the acting thing would be cool if it ends up really going somewhere. I got a couple of good calls lined up!”

“Nothing is just gonna fall into your lap,” Waylon assured me, “and you gotta be proactive.” Krieger put aside any and all distractions and focused on becoming more goal-oriented to see how far he’d make it. “I feel like nowadays I’m doing positive things.” Besides just recently trying to bury the hatchet with Berry from Bloodline (now a father himself with four kids), Waylon reconnected with his own father, who was happy to invite him on tour to provide vocals for the current incarnation of the Robby Krieger band featuring Phil Chen on bass.

“Even though I’ve been hearing this music my whole life, I had three weeks to get ready before we headed out on tour,” Waylon told me with some anguish. He had around 25 songs he had to memorize in short notice. The pressure was high: the son not only lives under the umbrella of his father’s legacy; he now feels pressured to hoist it for the both of them.

“I’m a much better guitar player than I am a singer, though I’d much rather just get up and sing. Let my dad do his thing so we don’t get compared to each other.” Still, Waylon enjoys picking up his guitar alongside his father during downtime and jamming together.

“I can’t imagine how I’m being judged for the whole singing with my dad thing,” Waylon said with a sigh when he was telling me about a negative review of a recent Long Island concert. “I don’t even think about it anymore.” Waylon took a breath, sounding much more confident speaking the following words.  “I’m just out there doing what I do, the way I know how to do it. I’m not trying to be anybody else. I’m not channeling Jim.”

Despite the pressure and the occasional critic, Waylon finds himself in a great place, reconnecting with his father and some old family friends. “I’m having a good time. As long as I have a good time, everyone else is, too. Phil Chen… I’ve known him since I was a year old. It makes you feel good to hear praise from guys like him. They know when somebody’s on or not. My dad must enjoy what I’m doing, because he invited me out to his Jam Kitchen dates as well. If I’m able to do this for the next couple of years with my dad… we’re getting to hang out and travel together, laugh together. I feel very blessed and happy with where I am in life right now.”

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Photo by Ida Miller.

Still, Waylon sees the Robby Krieger tour as an opportunity to raise awareness of his public figure and acting aspirations. “I’m not getting any younger… I could use this as a stepping stone.” He can even envision himself combining his acting and musical interests in a movie that features him as a guitar player. Still, Waylon will be playing it by ear; in the meantime, the bond between father and son trumps all anxieties.

Waylon told me of a time Robby gifted him with a copy of his black Les Paul, numbered 001 in a limited print of 150 and the bittersweet debate that followed when his father requested him to return it three days later. “I’ll give you another one… 003 or 007… you’ll be like James Bond.”

Waylon was befuddled by the request. “What the hell, why do you care, you have the original anyway!”

Robby’s logic was a bit melancholic: “You’ll own every one of my guitars one day when I’m dead, so why do YOU care?”

“Hey, don’t get all morbid,” Waylon replied. “What about this: you let me keep it, and you can enjoy watching me play it while you’re alive.”

Thankfully, Robby will enjoy watching his son advance his acting career; the last I heard from him, Waylon was overcome with joy over landing his first big acting gig as “Engineer Ed” in the upcoming Ruta Madre. “Whatever happens, happens. I just want to end up in a positive area. I just want my dad to see me do well.”

The one thing Waylon is 100% sure of is that his father will never stop playing golf.