Spending an evening high up in the rafters of Staples Center, with the legendary organist for the Kings, Dieter Ruehle.
How Halloween, right? How hockey.
After all, organ music just seems to lend itself to the bawdiness of NHL games — the basso profundo bounce, the vibrato, the spine-tingling "Ride of the Valkyries" layers.
The only way this could get better is if Ruehle wore a cape and an eye patch. Or, with Halloween so near, placed a candelabra atop his Roland A-90 keyboard.
As the maestro of mayhem for the Kings, the classically trained organist is now in his 20th season of thumping out "Go Kings Go!" on the keyboard, or filling in with glissandos when the puck skips over the glass. His ability to manage the flow of this icy game, and stir the troops at just the right moment, is one of the underappreciated elements of the Staples experience.
The organ is "a sound that's synonymous with pro sports similar to how marching bands are synonymous with college and high school sports," Ruehle explains of his music's appeal.
Like any good maestro, Ruehle is driven, hardworking and a little sly. He plays all the usual NHL standards: "Bennie and the Jets" and "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" (written by the son of a church organist).
But the Kings' organist also makes inventive selections that many fans might not notice. For instance, this night, Ruehle plays "This Is Halloween" from "The Nightmare Before Christmas." Later, he slips in "Brass Bonanza," the beloved fight song of the Hartford Whalers before they moved to Carolina (the Kings' opponent this night). Sure enough, a few of his 2,600 Twitter followers pick up on it.
That's how groupies keep track of rock stars — and NHL organists — these days, on Twitter, where Ruehle and his colleagues around the league have established a following.
For example, @organistalert lists the starting organists in NHL arenas each night, and stalwarts such as Ron Poster in Boston and Ray Castoldi in Madison Square Garden keep in Twitter touch with fans throughout games.
Ruehle is known as one of the best in the business, having now spent two decades with the Kings, at Staples and at the Forum, and 15 years with the Lakers. Over the years, he's also played at five Olympics and six NBA All-Star games.
"When I watched hockey on TV as a kid, I always heard the organ in the background," he says of his early fascination. "It spoke to me."
Ruehle was a bit of a prodigy. At 11, the Burbank boy wrote a letter asking whether the Kings might let him play a little pregame music; they did. Eight years later, he was their full-time music director.
His role has become far more elaborate over the years, with most every minute of a hockey game scripted — the cut-ins, promotions, trivia contests. Ruehle's day begins in midafternoon, when he comes in to go over that night's script, and meet with game presentation director Brooklyn Boyars and her team of digital and video whizzes. There's a production meeting at 4:30 and a sound check at 5.
Once the game begins, Ruehle also punches buttons for the prerecorded "prompts" that pepper every sporting event, such as "Everybody clap your hands!" But the trademark battle cry "Go Kings Go!" is played live every single time.
"By playing live, the organist can instantly adjust to things happening on the playing surface," he says.
He also happens to be the person who flicks the foghorn button when the Kings score, his thumb hovering over the trigger near his right knee whenever the Kings are on the attack, so that he can sound it instantly when there's a goal.
The way things are going lately, that may keep Ruehle pretty busy this season. This night, he honks that horn three times as the Kings shut out the struggling Carolina Hurricanes. With the Lakers' season starting this week, he'll now be doubly busy.
He admits that, despite his renowned ability to juice up a crowd, there is no substitute for a winning performance by the Kings to really make an evening go well.
"A good game for me is when things naturally fall into place," he says. "And the team does well on the ice."
In-a-gadda-da-vida, baby. Whatever that means.