LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Dieter Ruehle will be providing the musical soundtrack as his beloved Kings once again go for the Stanley Cup.
From his perch high atop the ice, the 45-year-old music director at the Staples Center does everything from entertaining with the organ to cranking up the crowd with a drum machine or suitable rock music snippets.
He also gets to fire up the goal horn and celebration music when Los Angeles scores.
Ruehle is in essence scoring a live event each game. That makes for stress, especially on the roller-coaster playoff ride the Kings have had this season, but he calls it “fun stress.
“What really makes it fun is it’s not scripted,” he said.
He does his job sometimes to fans oblivious to the fact that Ruehle is working hard to ensure they stay connected to the game.
“I understand,” he said. “Most people are here just to watch the game. They don’t always think of all the other stuff that’s going on … But then other people do think ‘I’ve always wondered who’s that organist? Where are they at? Who’s doing it?'”
Ruehle’s well laid-out musical nook is just below the press box and above the highest seats in the stands.
To the left of his organ is a compact electronic drum machine. A little further over are his DJ turntables. To his right is a machine that stores recorded music and specialty items like the goal celebration music.
If he needs more music, he can turn to shelves of CDs behind him. That can come in handy if a celebrity appears in the crowd and he needs a specific tune.
While some of the night is scripted, such as a Kiss-cam or T-shirt toss during a TV timeout, other times he’s flying by the seat of his pants. An icing call can change the musical playlist in a blink of an eye.
“I find myself constantly thinking what’s next. I try always to be ready with one or two or three options.”
Soft-spoken with a beard and shoulder-length hair, the boyish-looking Ruehle could be a young Beach Boy. But he flies the company colours, with a Los Angeles Kings T-shirt and track top.
East meets West in this Stanley Cup final and when it comes to music, the two men in charge are good friends who go back together nearly 20 years.
Ray Castoldi is Ruehle’s counterpart at Madison Square Garden. Ruehle reckons they have 46 seasons of NHL experience between them.
“For us to finally play against each other, (it’s) fun times,” Ruehle said with a smile.
The two talked Monday, finalizing a friendly wager that will see the loser wear the winning team’s jersey around his city landmarks.
“A really cool guy,” Ruehle said of Castoldi. “An excellent musician. It’s going to be fun.”
Ruehle and Castoldi were colleagues at the Sochi Olympics, running the musical show at the Shayba Ice Arena and Bolshoy Ice Dome, respectively. Both have a resume packed with top sports events.
The two are also part of a select club in that they play the organ and DJ. Often arenas have one or the other, or two people handling the duties.
Like Castoldi, Ruehle has some go-to tunes on the organ. The Russian song “Kalinka” gets the fans clapping, as does his version of Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets.”
When it comes to recorded music, you can’t go wrong with such arena favourites as “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses, Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and Black Box’s “Strike it Up.”
Like the Air Canada Centre and some other arenas, the music for the warmups—mostly dance music—is chosen by the players.
Part of his job is staying up on music, knowing what’s hot.
“It’s really important to stay current. Otherwise you just won’t be as fresh as you should be,” he said. “I think you should always be constantly thinking and trying to get better.”
Like other Kings fans, Ruehle has been glued to his TV for road games, with Los Angeles winning three Game 7s to get this far.
“How the team does on the road determines my fate as well,” he said. “Especially watching Game 7 in Chicago, the (Western) Conference final. That was so stressful. And fun, exciting, incredible.”
Ruehle’s journey to music director is the stuff of a Hollywood script.
He was 11 and taking piano lessons when he played his first Kings game, thanks to local TV affiliate KABC-TV’s “Sports Fantasy” segment. He wrote in and asked to play the organ at a Kings game, getting his wish on his 12th birthday when Los Angeles hosted—and beat—the Winnipeg Jets.
“I got a taste of it and I loved it,” he said.
He was hooked and wrote to all the teams at The Forum to see if he could get a job as an organist. The Los Angeles Lazers of the Major Indoor Soccer League hired him at 15 and he played at their games for five seasons until the league folded.
In 1989, the 20-year-old Ruehle was hired as the Kings organist. He spent three seasons with them before moving to San Jose to spend five seasons working for the San Jose Sharks and then one (1997-98) for the Phoenix Coyotes before returning to the Kings fold for their final season at The Forum.
When the Staples Center opened, he was also hired by the Los Angeles Lakers, Sparks (WNBA) and Avengers (AFL).
Music has taken Ruehle around the world since.
He has worked at five Olympics—basketball at the 2004 Athens Summer Games, and hockey at the 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014 Winter Games.
“It was an adventure,” he said of Sochi. “It was fascinating to see a different culture and how the Russians live. It took a while to adjust to some of the differences.”
Musically, they loved his Russian songs including “Kalinka” and “Katyusha.”
He’s also done NBA all-star games, DJs at Arthur Ashe Stadium during the U.S. Open tennis, even the Arab Games in Doha, Qatar. Not to mention providing the organ music for several iterations of EA Sports’ NHL video game.
On game days, Ruehle usually arrives five hours before game time, to prepare and take in the pre-game production meeting. Doors open 90 minutes before the game, with Ruehle starting with some 20 minutes of organ music before varying the menu.
On off-days, he tries to practise at least an hour a day on the organ while drawing up playlists and checking the music scene.
He’s also a role model. Via Facebook, a teenager in Hawaii told Ruehle he was the inspiration for him playing the organ and DJing at his high school sporting events.
“I thought to myself ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool,'” said Ruehle. “It’s good to see that kids are into the organ.”
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