“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”
The Greek philosopher Plato once said that and it rings just as true today as it did over 2,000 years ago.
When fans of the Los Angeles Kings attend STAPLES Center, they, like any loyal sports fans, expect to get their money’s worth. While a Kings win would be ideal every night, it just isn’t possible. But just the experience of going to a game is more than enough for many. Whether it’s Anze Kopitar scoring a few goals or Jonathan Quick making a series of clutch saves, the magic of a Kings home game goes beyond what happens on the ice.
If fans aren’t immediately treated to exciting action on the ice, they can say hello to an old friend they spot in their section, laugh at a man kissing his beer instead of his wife on the ever-popular ‘Kiss Cam’, or they can be entertained by the musical stylings of Kings organist/music director Dieter Ruehle, who this writer had the pleasure of interviewing last week.
Yet, while Ruehle is famous for his work with the Los Angeles Kings, his career goes well beyond the silver-and-black. Far from it, actually. In fact, when Ruehle began his career with the Kings, he had already established himself elsewhere.
“I was the organist at The Forum for the L.A. Lazers (Major Indoor Soccer League) from 1984 to 1989. I was also the L.A. Clippers organist from 1984 thru 1986,” Ruehle told me. Yet, while the Kings weren’t his first team, the longtime organist had the privilege of joining his boyhood team fresh off a transitional time for the franchise.
“In the summer of 1988, the Kings introduced new uniforms and colors under the new ownership of Bruce McNall. At that time, they hired a new organist — not me, “Ruehle continued. “However, one year later the Kings were looking for a new organist again. I think they heard me from playing at Lazers games. I was invited to audition on a summer day at The Forum while the building was empty. Shortly after my audition, I was hired.”
As for his debut?
“My first regular season NHL game was October 5, 1989, Opening Night at The Forum vs Toronto.”
Backed by a 28-save performance by Kelly Hrudey and two points each from (current Ontario Reign Director of Hockey Operations) Hubie McDonough and Hall-of-Famer Larry Robinson, the Kings made Ruehle’s first game a memorable one as they defeated the Maple Leafs by a 4-2 count.
While, as a native of Los Angeles, he had the honour of working for his hometown team, Dieter Ruehle moved on from the Kings shortly thereafter, spending time with the San Jose Sharks and Phoenix Coyotes, only to return a few years later.
“After three seasons, I left the Kings in the spring of 1992,” said Ruehle. “Six years later, I was back for the 1998-99 season which happened to be the final season at The Forum. I’ve been the Kings organist ever since. The 2016-17 season will be my 19th consecutive (22nd overall) season with the Kings.”
For as long as he can remember, this writer has always been enamoured with hockey, even if the Kings weren’t playing. Just as long as the passion for hockey itself was there, so was the fascination with the organist playing popular — and even obscure — tunes between plays. Yet, while the extent of this writer’s musical talents doesn’t go far, being an in-arena organist was nonetheless perceived as, from a spectator’s point of view at least, a fun career nonetheless and, for Dieter Ruehle, it is just that.
“I don’t think I ever had an interest in playing in any other capacity other than at sporting events,” Ruehle stated. “When I was a child, I was fascinated with hearing the organ at sporting events. This was in the late 1970’s when organ music at games was usually the only music heard at games.”
After all, because pre-recorded music didn’t become a regular part of game entertainment until the 1990’s, Ruehle was correct. Even with the addition of pre-recorded music in later years, the Kings’ longtime organist didn’t miss a beat. In fact, his resume only became more decorated.
In addition to his work with the Kings, Ruehle has spent 15 years working as the organist for the Los Angeles Lakers, which has helped pave the way to conducting the music for six NBA All-Star Games.
“NBA All-Star Games came about when the NBA heard my work at STAPLES Center,” Ruehle elaborated. “The league asked me if I’d be interested in being the organist for NBA All-Star Games in 2004, 2005, 2006 (I declined that year due to Olympics conflict), 2007, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 (I declined again in 2014 due to Olympics conflict).”
As impressive as that is, though, Ruehle’s work, as mentioned, has not been limited to professional sports as he has also performed in five Olympics.
Ruehle then took us through a routine game day to give fans an idea of what goes on behind the scenes before the puck drops.
“A routine Kings game day has me arriving at STAPLES Center at around 3pm (for a 7:30 game),” Ruehle explained. “I power up all the gear and get a printed run-down of what’s in store for that game (run-downs show timing for everything from when doors open, player warm-ups, TV timeout contests, dance cams, etc.). I then mark-up my run-down with notes, cue points, then usually do an audio check into the P.A. System at STAPLES Center and I also check the goal horns. Then at 4:30, we have a production meeting. After that, we rehearse (pre-game opening, national anthems, intermission videos, starting line-ups, etc.) at 5pm. Sometimes rehearsal ends quickly, sometimes rehearsal runs all the way until doors open at 6pm.”
One area where some fans have given Ruehle a hard time for — and that admittedly includes this writer via social media — is his penchant for playing the tune to taunt the opposing goaltender when the Kings have a mere one-goal lead. This, while a non-issue to many, can annoy those fans who are especially superstitious. Ruehle, while he has had some experiences of taking grief from said fans, admits that the situation doesn’t occur often.
“It’s rare, but sometimes I’ll hear from a fan who is upset or superstitious about taunting the visiting goaltender ‘too soon’, or if our lead ‘isn’t big enough’.”
For those who attend Kings home games regularly, it becomes evident which songs are his favourites. With that said, though, being the talented musician that he is, Dieter Ruehle always has something new for the fans to enjoy. Still, he has no trouble admitting that he has his favourites.
“Favorite songs to play include the songs/crowd cheers that unite Kings fans… GO KINGS GO!… Addams Family… WOO! The feedback I receive on Twitter has been so very positive. I’m grateful that fans have been so complimentary.”
For three-plus decades, Dieter Ruehle has been living out his dream while adding flavour and excitement to the Los Angeles sports scene. To make his story even sweeter, though, 2016 opened a new chapter as Ruehle began as the new organist for another of his boyhood teams, the Los Angeles Dodgers, officially making him — assuming there was any doubt before — the musician on the avid Los Angeles sports scene.
What makes Dieter Ruehle’s story especially fascinating, though, is that he, like many of us, simply grew up as a fan of his hometown teams. Also, like many of us, Ruehle experienced his share of heartbreak before seeing his teams reach their respective peaks.
Whether it was watching his beloved Dodgers fall twice to the hated New York Yankees in consecutive World Series before seeing them finally get over the hump in ’81 or watching the Kings eliminate one of the greatest teams in hockey history the following spring after years of mediocrity, the dream started as a fan cheering on his teams through better and for worse. In addition, Ruehle was fortunate enough to discover his dream and unleash his gift at an early age and now, he is doing what he loves on a regular basis, enjoying it so much that it would be unfair to call it ‘work’.
From talking to the Kings’ organist/music director, it is both astonishing and refreshing to discover that Dieter Ruehle, despite all of his accomplishments, is a genuinely humble man. So, because we now know more about the man behind the organ, it is easy to discover a new-found appreciation for the music played at every Kings home game. Whether it’s ‘Go Kings Go!’, the chorus of ‘The Addams Family’ or a tune we haven’t heard in ages, you can thank Dieter Ruehle and his exceptional musical stylings and know that, whether the Kings win or lose, the fans have certainly gotten your money’s worth.