Views and Reviews
Ron Riddle on NPR's "Out of Bounds" aired April 5, 2012.
Most Evil - Composer
Most Evil, a twenty eight-part series that provides a countdown of the most evil serial killers in history, is based upon an "evil matrix" developed by Columbia University forensic psychiatrist and personality expert Dr. Michael Stone. Using this new system of measurement, this landmark series forensically deconstructs the wicked deeds of the world's most notorious serial killers and analyzes their psychological make-up, revealing the results to count down the most malevolent human beings of our times.
I received a call from my friend and editor of Most Evil Tom Swartout. I had just worked on a film with him and producer Craig Duff called "Arctic Rush". He recommended me as the Most Evil composer. They sent me a rough cut of the first episode and I was transfixed from the first frame. I was expecting a horror type approach to the subject matter. Instead, everything about Most Evil is very stylized. It's not the usual TV fare. It's very compelling.
As a composer it was very exciting. It was a chance to exercise not going for the obvious or the sensational but to really hold back and let the music build. One of the pieces I composed for the film I named "A Quiet Disturbance. This kind of typlifies how the music feels to me. It's very quiet and sparse yet has movement to it providing a demented backdrop that helped move the film along. What's interesting about being a film composer is that you have to be able to switch gears quickly. At the same time I was working on another weekly series for A&E and Granada International called Dallas Swat and was closely followed by an a film for The music in this show needed the exact opposite approach. Then to really make it interesting I started a film that was made for the King of Abu Dhabi called "The Underwater World of the United Emirates" This was an underwater film by Tom Campbell on the king's favorite mammal the Dugong which is related to the Manatee. The score on this one was very big and orchestral combined with a middle eastern flavor. I hope the King likes the score, I'd hate to get beheaded over it.
Pass the Baton
Ron Riddle orchestrates his life
Ron Riddle hasn't been idle since, his departure from Blue Oyster Cult. I met up with him recently I when he came through Minneapolis on tour with Israeli pop star David Broza, as part of his trio. Ron told me that he has spent the better part of the last three years composing... a symphony! Needless to say, I was surprised! After Ron's stint with Stuart Hamm, he locked himself up for a full year, turned down all jobs, and composed. Inspired by the Thomas Cole paintings called "Voyage of Life", Ron describes his symphony as "a musical spiritual awakening-a life work-a musical version of my life."
"Each movement represents a period of a man's life, from beginning to end. It is not only a mellow piece, but also has a lot of Scorpio energy," said Ron. In the past, he had always been writing with a certain style in mind, be it for the Burns Sisters project, the Red and the Black, or Blue Oyster Cult. This time he wrote without "filtering" the music with any certain style. He just wrote, and whatever came out, came out. And all the music came out orchestral. To finish the work, Ron secluded himself on an island in Canada, with just his studio and his pet wolf.
"A Journey Within" has four movements, and is about an hour long. The four movements are "The Innocence," "The Seduction and Fall From Grace," "The Awakening," and "The Warrior's Last Dance." The composition was created electronically, using MIDI, and an Atari A040 STE computer outfitted with Notator (now called Logic), Proteus I and Proteus 2 Orchestral sound modules, a Korg M3R keyboard, and a Kurzwiel K2000s.
Where did this orchestral thing come from? I, of course, know Ron as a rock drummer, so I asked him. Ron said that while he was in college, he was planning on studying to become a conductor, but "Rock & Roll paid better," and so he began his career of Rock drumming.
Currently, Ron is awaiting the Italian release of "A Journey Within," due out this spring, and has had the work accepted to be played and recorded by orchestras in Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. The ltalian release will be the electronic version of the piece. A stateside record company has also expressed interest in releasing it.
With his symphony finished, Ron delved immediately back into electronic composition, this time to do two film scores for National Geographic television specials, "The Solar System: Sun, Earth, Moon", which is about eclipses, and "Inventors and Inventions." Ron likes the challenge of writing to film. "It takes a different sort of frame of mind to do scoring," Ron said, "You could be a great musician, but you may not be able to do film scores. It's great fun, it's like jamming with a movie." Ron enjoys being able to compliment something else, whether it's enhancing a film, or a live performance.
Which brings us to Ron's most recent live gig, David Broza's trio. Ron's alliance with Broza began in 1994, when the president of Broza's record label called Ron and set them up to meet. (Incidentally, the man who was also involved with recording RonDonJon's The Red and The Black). Ron was immediately taken with the wide variety of styles that Broza covers in his music, and the virtuosity of this guitar master. The challenge and variety of playing everything from pop to middle eastern rhythms to flamenco to Latin really appealed to Ron, and he found the music great for keeping his creative brain in good working order. "This was my first project after coming out of my self-imposed isolation. It was the only thing I found interesting enough to want to go out and do." His job in the trio: to do the work of three percussion players-not only playing the drum kit, but also all types of percussion and conga drums. A very challenging task, with "each limb doing something completely different."
I was awed by David Broza's incredible guitar playing. At the show, Broza played the first five songs by himself, with his nylon string guitar. Within the first 30 seconds, my mouth was hanging open in awe of the virtuosity of his playing. With just voice and guitar, with techniques of patting the strings with the flat of his hand and tapping on the top and sides of the guitar, he sounded like a one-man monster music machine. He has a great singing voice, too.
After the solo intro, Ron and bassist Scott Garber joined onstage and they showed that they were no slackers musically, either. It was very interesting to hear Ron working with subtlety and space, when I was used to hearing him smash the skins with the Cult.
If all that is not enough, he recently jetted out to Austin, Texas, to produce an alternative rock 4-piece band called The Syrens, and is teaching a series of drum workshop seminars sponsored by Zildlian at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York.
It seems any hat Ron wears, he wears it well!
As a last note, he mentioned that he had recently heard "Gamera is Missing" that great instrumental tune he recorded with Buck Dharma. On TV-as background music on Entertainment Tonight.
"Some of the albums that I remember as having a particularly strong influence on me were Joe's Garage (Parts 1, 2, and 3) by Frank Zappa with Vinnie Colaiuta on drums; A by Jethro Tull with Mark Craney; and Crafty Hands by Happy The Man with Ron Riddle; and Seconds Out by Genesis with Collins, Thompson, and BruEord."
-Jonathan Mover, Modern Drummer
"...backed by their new lean, mean rhythm section of drummer Ron Riddle..."
-Sarge Blotto, Saratoga News
Escaping the Cult
Dharma, Riddle & Rogers Play the Rongo
"But anytime you break open an oyster, there is a chance you'll find a pearl. Thursday night at the Rongo, Dharma, Riddle and Rogers will give local fans a chance to peek and perhaps even catch a glimpse of the great pearl they might become."
-The Grapevine Press
Voted Best Composer 1986
City of Ithaca: Ron Riddle
-Ithaca Times Poll
Blue Oysters Play It Red Hot At the Ritz
"From the start, it was all drums and lead guitar...Ron Riddle and Buck Dharma were the one's to watch. Riddle's destroy this place drumming was powerfully perfect for a musical style that pays not the least attention to nuance."
-Matt Auerbach, New York Daily News
Ron Riddle's 1989 was spent mostly on the road. After composing, arranging, co-producing, and playing keyboards and drums on the Burns Sisters' CBS record a few years ago, Ron couldn't pass up a tour offer to Join Don Roeser (aka Buck Dharma), Allan Lanier, and Eric Bloom in a revamped Blue Oyster Cuit.
"It's an interesting band because all three of the original members have a lot of different opinions. One person might be more into a Blue Oyster Cult song historically and want the same part that's always been played, and the other two might say, 'Please make up your own part; I can't stand that part.' Basically, I would take all the information I got from them and play it the way I felt it. If there was some sort of real problem and someone said, 'I really miss this fill there,' I'd say, 'Okay, I'll put it In.' I try to make everybody happy, plus play the material with my own personality.
"The material is very demanding physically because we do a two-hour show, and I play with a lot of high energy. There are a lot of different feels going on in this music, and there's a lot you can do with it. A tune like 'Cities On Flame' is a real challenging tune to play. It's almost like a medium to slow tempo, half-time heavy rocker, and there's a lot of triplet things you can do with it with double bass drums. 'Red and the Black' is a real up-tempo tune, about quarter note equals 155 beats per minute. I do some double bass drum playing in that as well. It's real demanding, particularly at the end of the night. Then there's always 'Godzilla,' which has the big drum solo and which, of course, probably my favorite because I get to ham it up.
"In a drum solo it's important to show the maximum amount of things you can do and the minimal amount of things you can do,- says Riddle. "I usually start out the solo fast-just a blur of notes. Then I bring it down, usually into a 6/8 beat with double bass drums and a lot of fills, and like a polyrhythmic thing over that. Then it usually goes into a Latin kind of thing. I utilize a lot of triplets between the left and right hands and just the one bass drum. At the end of that section, I usually get the audience involved with either some sort of chanting thing, or usually the big thing is I'll hit three beats and then yell 'BOC,' and hit another three beats and the audience picks it up from there, and it goes back and forth. Then I usually build that into a frenzy at the end for as long as I can possibly stand it."
Currrently, Roeser, Riddle, and the other newer Cult member, John Rogers, are working on another project. "it's all new music," Ron describes, "and it's actually a little more geared to the radio. I get to utilize my abilities more as a composer in this trio and use a lot of musical styles I've picked up over the years."
-Robyn Flans, Modern Drummer
Who's Hot Tonight
The Burns Sisters Band Poised for Success
"The sixth member of the band is Ron Riddle, who writes all the music to Iyrics composed by each of the five sisters and plays drums, keyboards and synthesizers.... Riddle coproduced this album for himself and the sisters."
"Ron Riddle writes hit music..."
-The Ithaca Times
"All of the sisters give a generous helping of credit to Ron Riddle for his part in this project. 'Ron did so much work on this album,' said Annie. 'He did a great job. It's sort of like family--I mean it is a family..."
"'Ron's the mad scientist,' laughed Marie, in reference to his elaborate electronic music arrangements, 'but he's such a sensitive guy...I really trust Ron; we all do.'"
"As much as we're the faces everyone will be seeing, [Ron] is like a foundation for this band. He's a real good friend."