Hired Guns: Eric Rigler|
BY PHIL PARLAPIANO
INSTRUMENTS: Scottish bagpipes, uilleann pipes, Scottish small pipes, Irish tin whistles, and Irish low whistles
PLAYING WITH: James Horner, Mike Oldfield, Mike Sembello, Dillion 'O Brian, Paul McCartney
RECORDED WITH: Phil Collins, Barbera Steisand, Mariah Carey/Whitney Houston, Rod Stewart, Tracey Chapman
Eric Rigler's recording resume ranges from Phil Collins, Barbera Streisand, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston all the way to Andy Griffith. And probably all of you have heard him as the featured piper soloist in Braveheart and the biggest picture of all time, The Titanic (hey , I was in that too!) as well as countless movies and TV shows. He has been seen on stage with James Horner, Mike Oldfield, Mike Sembello, Dillion O'Brian and Paul McCartney. Talk about Bagpipe player makes good! I had to talk with him on how he managed to transform a player of a previously obscure instrument into a heavily smoking hired gun. I caught up with Eric before he left to go to NYC to appear with John Tesh (he saw Eric on the Grammies playing the theme to Titanic) on the Regis and Kathie Lee show.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST GIG AND HOW DID YOU GET IT?
First big one was with Paul McCartney as part of a bagpipe group and we played with him in Glascow at one of his concerts in 1990 in front of 20,000 people. That came about from a band I was affiliated with in Scotland when I lived there for a time period in the mid 80s. After that, I spent many, many summers over there and they got the gig to back up Paul to play a song called "Mull of Kintyre"
HOW DID YOU FALL INTO PLAYING THE PIPES?
I grew up in Los Angeles and funnily enough, found the pipes here in America. I was brought up in a very musical family-not a family of musicians but of music lovers. My dad and mom would have the turntable going on on day long on the weekends. We didnt watch much TV. My dad had a huge record collection. We would listen to anything from opera, classical, to jazz to a couple of things he had like bagpipe records. I heard them as an infant and I just fell in love with the sound of them , so I got started learning when I was 7 years old from a guy from Scotland, who was a very good piper. I kind of found the pipes and although it wasn't in the family history, it became my obsession. After playing the Scottish pipes, I fell in love with the sound of the uilleann (which means 'elbow' in Galiec)-I didn't know what the instrument was-I had heard it on some Irish recordings and I had to find out what it was and what it looked like. It was super expressive and had more range than the Scottish.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE SCOTTISH AND IRISH PIPES?
There is a mouthpiece on the Scottish that you blow into. You basically have one octave, in the key of Bb, limited, but really loud! You get the power and intensity of a very ancient instrument but not a whole lot of flexibility. In the Uilleann pipes you have two full octaves in D and chromatic possibilities as well so you can play in a lot of different keys and expressivively as a player- you can bend around and slide between notes.
HOW DID YOU END UP PLAYING SUCH TRADITIONAL INSTRUMENTS IN A POP MUSIC SETTING?
I always have been into a lot of different music-rock has been a major thing for me all my life, as well as playing traditional Scottish and Irish music, which is it's own world altogether. I always had a vison of taking these instruments and putting them into a setting where they were not intended to be or have not been in the past. To fuse the sound of pipes, which is an evocative tone, and put that in with an electric guitar, not having those instruments play as a back up to me but to actually make a hybrid of sounds where the pipes and guitar are working together to make a new sound, has not really been done.
WHAT WAS THE PIVOTAL POINT IN YOUR CAREER WHERE THINGS STARTED HAPPENING?
I'd say it was in doing the soundtrack to "Braveheart". For one thing, a lot of people around the world, did not know what the pipes were but could identify-a totally different sound mixed in with the orchestra. From that, the music industry-composers, artists, producers and directors of other films- all of a sudden had to have this sound. A film soundtrack selling as much as it did suddenly created this need to hear the sound of the pipes. And I got a lot of work out of it!
HOW DID YOU HOOK UP WITH JAMES HORNER?
I had met a couple of guys he ended up working on 'Braveheart' with several years before when Horner was doing "Partriot Games". They were friends of an Irish friend of mine and we had a few drinks and jam session. Afterwards they said Horner was a big fan of Celtic music and he would love to have my card for using the pipes in the future. I gave them my card and I heard nothing from him until right before Horner started scoring "BraveHeart". I got a call from Ian Underwood saying Horner had heard of me from the two guys who passed my card along as well as hearing me on recordings and wanted to use me for a day of sampling for the movie. Three weeks later Ian called me back and said James loved my playing and he would rather use me than the samples, so I flew to London and recorded at Abbey Road Studios with the London Symphony Orchestra.
WHAT IS AN IMPORTANT ASSEST THAT YOU CAN OFFER AS A SIDE MAN?
My instrument has never got as much presence as a guitar plugged into a Marshall stack, so I have to think in a way that makes the pipes fit into the song with the integrity of the instrument intact. It doesn't make any sense to do something with the pipes that sounds like a synth or something else. I'm figuring out parts that add something that still sounds like the pipes but fits into cracks of everything else that is going on.
DO YOU BELIEVE WORK COMES THROUGH TALENT OR CONNECTIONS?
I think it is a combination. Connections helped a lot more before people could look on an album cover and see my name. Obviously, when you are out there working and your name is not recognizable but you have a lots of contacts-people that know you are dependable, you got good ears, you are in tune, and are responsible musically-that helps, but then I think later when things get the point where people know you've got a sound that they want and you've done things that they have heard, then they are going after your name in particular because they can trust that that is the sound that is going to work for them-it becomes a personal thing.
AS A HIRED GUN-WHAT HAS BEEN A HIGHLIGHT OF YOUR CAREER?
I'd have to say working with James Horner. We have been gearing up to do a Titanic live concert series in London-doing the basically the soundtrack live. As a guy who is featured soloist, he is writing something for you, but you have to deliver with a 100 piece orchestra and have your wits about you. It is a real challenge to sit, when you a traditional folk player, with the London Symphony Orchestra and a full Boys Choir, all in all 120 odd people, and you have to watch a conductor, in a traditional classical sense, with no click track or drum to keep the the rhythm going, just strings and things moving. It's something I love. It's pushed me into another genre -classical music- that I am not accustomed to but you pull up your bootstraps and pull it off. That is very rewarding.
ARE YOU WORKING ON SOLO PROJECTS?
The band that has been around for several years is a Celtic/World Music with some jazz and fusion sense is called 'Skyedance' (www.culburnie.com). This is a six piece outfit, mostly acoustic. The other band is more of my own project called 'Bad Haggis' (www.badhaggis.com) and that is an interesting mix of everything from rock/alternative to fusion and all this meets up with Celtic in the form of me on the pipes and whistles. Everything from a pretty agressive band to atmospheric in the Celtic sense-a pretty unique sound.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ASPIRING HIRED GUN?
Its important to always be flexible as a musican. The part might be something that you do not like or think you can do. Sometimes things come up when you are playing not so common of an instrument, that another instrument may do better. Or the producer has got a part for you in mind that is not in the style of the instrument. At that point, you must reinvent yourself to the instrument and to the artist or producer. I think it is important to always have really big ears and find what your voice amongst everything else Also to always be easy going and positive-even if you are frustrated in yourself because you are trying to find your part. Remember to relax and do what you do, best.
©1999 Gig Magazine
Reprinted with permission