After spending half a century expertly performing an array of musical styles, Wayne Riker knew the perfect title for his 2016 autobiography: “50 Years, 50 Bands, 50 Dollars.” “
Likewise, the versatile guitarist knows exactly how he’s going to begin his acceptance speech on Tuesday as the 2017 San Diego Music Awards winner for Lifetime Achievement.
“The first thing I will say is, ‘Thank you, Beatles!’ Because seeing them perform on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1964 changed my life, ”said Riker, a New York native who moved to San Diego in 1980 and never left.
“Before that, I was a music fan and carefully watched the best records. But I never planned to play music. Then the Beatles came out, and it was like, “Here are these four guys, getting all the attention of the girls!” And everyone in my generation, from Billy Joel to Bruce Springsteen, ran out and bought an instrument.
Riker, then 15, was no exception.
He started playing guitar almost immediately after watching The Beatles for the first time. After only seven lessons from Dion, Grody – a 13-year-old guitar scholar in his Bronx neighborhood – Riker set out to forge his own musical path.
He succeeded by forging many paths. A jack of all trades, he flourished as a performer, author and guitar teacher who has mentored students of all ages and abilities.
Solo albums, books and lots and lots of bands
Riker has been a mainstay of the San Diego music scene for 35 of his 66 years. He has notably performed in popular San Diego bands such as Stone’s Throw, Hey Fever, The Shelle Blue Band and Roberta Linn & The Gamblers, whose titular conductor was the former “Champagne Lady” of the Lawrence Welk Show.
“On top of everything he’s done, Wayne is a pretty amazing person and a great choice for this Lifetime Achievement Award,” said Kevin Hellman, founder of the San Diego Music Awards. “We are delighted to honor him.
To date, Riker has released nine solo albums and written nine highly regarded guitar instruction books, including “Mastering Blues Guitar” and “Blues Soloing Strategies For Guitar”.
He has also written columns for Guitar Player, Acoustic Musician and other national publications, and writes for San Diego Troubadour, a leading musical periodical in the region. From 1990 to 2006, Riker was a senior faculty member at the National Guitar Workshop. From June 18 to 23, he will once again lead the annual San Diego edition of the International Guitar Workshop Plus.
And, despite his semi-retirement, Riker plans to record a new album in April. He will showcase his slide guitar playing in several genres.
“Wayne amazes me with all he has accomplished over the past 50 years,” said Troubadour co-editor Liz Abbott.
“He started out as a skinny kid in the 1960s with a vision for himself and stuck to the script, so to speak. He has become versatile and proficient in so many styles of music, not to mention writing instructional manuals and his autobiography. He’s a good friend and I really appreciate him!
While proud of his accomplishments, Riker has no air of how he got from there to here.
“I didn’t have any training or musical ability when I started, nor anyone in my family. I worked many hours, over many years, on the guitar, ”said Riker, a Lakeside resident.
“I worked twice as hard being what I call a ‘blue collar’ guitarist. I’ve played everything from big band, Latin and country to hard rock, blues and jazz, and spent 10 years playing guitar in productions at the San Diego Repertory Theater.
“I was wearing all these different hats. But, aside from the seven lessons I took when I was 13, all of my teachers were seasoned musicians that I worked with and learned from. And, eventually, you become the veteran – and the teacher, too. “
Beginnings with the Xenomaniacs
Riker was still in high school when he started performing at Cafe Bizarre in Greenwich Village, which also hosted concerts by Velvet Underground and Tiny Tim. As a guitarist for rock group The Xenomaniacs, New York’s thriving music scene offered him a world of opportunity.
That was in 1967. Thanks to the growing popularity of budding guitar heroes like Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, the electric guitar has never been so popular.
While he made almost no money initially as a xenomaniac, RIker was hooked for life. In a recent interview, he noted Cafe Bizarre’s closeness to Cafe Wha? (where young Bob Dylan and Hendrix – then known as Jimmy James – had both perfected their solo acts.
“We have very little salary. You would play for free sometimes just to make yourself known, or to be able to say, ‘Hey, I’m playing in the Village’! Riker called back.
“Allen Ginsberg and Andy Warhol were frequent visitors to Café Bizarre. Coffee What? and Cafe Bizarre were non-alcoholic establishments and served food so you could go in if you were 12 or 13. It was great to play there as a minor and to be able to go to a lot of these clubs to listen to music.
“I had the chance to play in New York from 1967 to 1974, with great players who helped me learn all styles. We also played at resorts in the Catskills and clubs on the Jersey Shore, and you had to really master your game. It was very competitive. “
For four of those years Riker was a night musician and day student at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. He wrote about music for the school newspaper, The Tarrevir – “River Rat” spelled backwards – and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1973.
Riker laughed when asked if he was pursuing his college education for a career as a writer or a teacher.
“I was there to avoid the draft, like most of us,” he replied. “But once there it was great. Barry Bloom, who later covered sports for the San Diego Union-Tribune, was the editor of The Tarrevir. We grew up together in the Bronx.
Riker spent much of the latter half of the 1970s playing guitar in the Kansas-based band Heartland.
Oh my! An R-rated “The Wizard of Oz”
The group’s drummer was his older brother Walt, who became US Senator Bob Dole’s press secretary and later served as McDonald’s vice president of corporate communications.
The elder Riker played on several albums of his guitarist brother. The most recent is the ‘Blues Convocation’ of 2016. It also features keyboardist and vocalist Mike Finnigan, who counts Hendrix, Bonnie Raitt and Crosby, Stills & Nash among his previous collaborators.
“Heartland was a great performing group,” said Wayne Riker. “We did a 1950s and 1960s music review. We did a country music show. We were also a very good dance group that played R&B and disco.
“And,” he added with a chuckle, “we made an R-rated version of” The Wizard of Oz. “
“We didn’t really swear, but we had blue language, full props, smoke machines and costumes,” Riker explained. “It was a satire, with Dorothy looking for the money (vibrator). There were five of us guys and we all dressed up as transgender characters. I was Glenda, the good witch.
“Of course being in Kansas it was a big hit and we hit the road doing ‘The Wizard of Oz’ all over the Midwest.”
In 1979, eager to expand and improve his six-string skills, Riker enrolled in the Guitar Institute of Technology. The faculty included jazz guitar legends such as Pat Martino, Howard Alden, and Ron Eschété.
“I took a year off to improve and learn teaching strategies,” he noted. “I improved as a player and filled in the gaps I had by being self-taught.”
In 1980, engaged to a woman from Chula Vista, Riker moved to San Diego. He went on to perform with many bands here and spent 30 years teaching at The New Expression in North Park.
“I only have four guitars now and I don’t really practice or play a lot. But if I’m preparing for something, I’m a practice demon, ”said Riker.
“To be successful you need to have good social skills, respect the music you play, and be 110% prepared and 110% enthusiastic. I never missed an audition, I never took drugs, and I never wanted a day job. My goal was to play and teach music. I was very lucky to do just that.
2017 San Diego Music Awards
With: Lifetime Achievement Award winner Wayne Riker and performances by The Schizophonics, Creepy Creeps, Gilbert Castellanos & The Young Lions Orchestra, Hirie, The Verigolds and Steph Johnson & The Voices of Our City Orchestra
When: 6:00 p.m. Tuesday
Or: House of Blues, 1055, Fifth Ave., downtown
Tickets: $ 36 (plus service charges)
Telephone: (800) 745-3000
In line: ticketmaster.com