OFF ICE FEATURE: MUSIC DIRECTOR
Enter Dieter Ruehle.
Ruehle's presence is unmistakable at Kings home games. As the Kings full-time Music Director, Ruehle is, in many ways, the inspirational leader for the masses of fans that fill the arena each and every game.
Whether it be with Randy Newman's "I Love L.A.", Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle" or Ruehle's own version of Elton John's "Bennie and the Jets" on the organ, the Music Director's job is to enhance each fan's hockey experience using a musical score.
"When the Kings play well and there is lots of fan energy in the building, it is really exciting," Ruehle said. "And when I can unite the crowd in clapping and yelling "GO KINGS GO!" That is my favorite part of this job."
Game day is the equivalent of a rock concert for Dieter Ruehle. Much of the day is filled with prep work and anticipation leading up to the eventual opening of the curtain.
"For a 7:30 game, I like to be completely ready to go by 5:30, which is when we run a production rehearsal for our open," Ruehle declared. "At 6 p.m., our doors open and I'm responsible for all music from this point until the game ends and I play walkout music. So, I usually arrive at STAPLES Center sometime around 3:00.
"From around 3 until 5:30 p.m., I line up a list of in-game recorded music. I will also put together music for walk-in, player warm-ups and intermissions. I receive a game script, which I review and mark up my cues. Finally, I warm-up my fingers on the organ and I'm ready to go."
While game-days can sometimes present a tense atmosphere, off-days are usually much more laid back.
"When we don't have a game, I request music from record labels, edit music using computer software, review music charts, open up my mail, which is usually new music from record labels," Ruehle said. "I also maintain the music playback equipment."
As unique as the job of Music Director is, stranger still is how the 37-year old Ruehle came about it. Applying to a sports fantasy contest as a child, Ruehle wanted to display his musical talents at a Kings game. The rest of the story is a lesson in both persistence and ambition.
"When I was 11 years old, I saw a news segment on KABC-TV called "Sports Fantasy,"" Ruehle remembered. "I wrote them a letter asking if I could play the organ at a Kings game, and on my 12th birthday in November of 1980, I played during the first period of a Kings/Winnipeg Jets game.
"After that, I was hooked. After writing letters every summer to the Forum expressing my interest, I was hired by the Lazers (indoor soccer) in 1984 when I was 15. Then, five years later, the Kings hired me during the summer of '89 when I was just 20 years old."
Perched high above STAPLES Center in the Bob Miller Press Box, Ruehle gives a guided tour of the various gadgets and devices he uses during games. At the push of a button, Van Halen's "Jump" blasts through a vacant arena.
Located a few feet above the top row of section 317, Ruehle's "office" seems to be a mix of half music studio, half sports museum. A cluster of approximately 1,500 CD's line the walls over his left shoulder while the opposing partition contains numerous sports images and autographs. The technological equipment give the space a Mission Control-like feel.
The centerpiece is the STAPLES Center's Roland organ, which Ruehle uses as a motivational tool to get the crowd going.
"I took classical piano lessons as a child and studied music composition and theory in college," Ruehle said. "But most importantly I grew up listening to organists at other NHL arenas and studied what they played. I developed a feel for in-game music."
In his 10 years with the Kings, Ruehle has seen his share of characters take the ice for the Kings. Yet, when asked if any of the players ever requested certain selections, Ruehle remained diplomatic.
"Not usually," Ruehle responded. "I think they are too busy focusing on their jobs on the ice. However, from time to time, I do get player requests. I met Marty McSorley back in 1990 and he requested I play "Wild Thing" for him. More recently, Stephane Fiset and Sean Avery had CDs sent up for me to play during warm-ups."
And despite his experience, nothing prepared Ruehle for the newest showman to join the Kings roster this season.
"Under the headline of 'strange but cool' was during our pre-season game in Vegas this year when Jeremy Roenick started moving to the music I was playing during a delay. The more he moved, the more the fans reacted. This was a very spontaneous dance JR did, and probably the most out of the ordinary thing I've been a part of with the Kings.
Kings games are not Ruehle's only gig. The Burbank-native works home games for the Lakers, Sparks and Avengers as well as boxing, tennis and soccer events at both STAPLES Center and the Home Depot Center.
However, it is next assignment that has Ruehle really exited. Starting in less than two weeks, Ruehle will work as a Music Director for the Winter Olympics in Torin, Italy.
"I'm very honored and excited to be a part of the Olympic experience," Ruehle said. "This will be my third consecutive Olympics. I'm fortunate enough to have been a part of two previous Olympics -- Salt Lake City in 2002 and Athens in 2004."
Going with Ruehle tradition, the story of the Music Director's Olympic hiring is somewhat unorthodox, this time for it's simplicity.
"I saw it up on Monster.com," Ruehle said of the popular job-finding website. "Someone from SLOC (Salt Lake Olympic Commitee) 2002 sent me a posting from there about the Salt Lake job opening.
"You wouldn't think it would be that easy to get a high profile job like that."