Riker's lifetime achievement

San Diego guitarist Wayne Riker honored at this year's SDMAs

Wayne Riker: “90 percent of this business is all about horror stories and stress.”
  • Wayne Riker: “90 percent of this business is all about horror stories and stress.”
  • Image by Steve Covault

This year’s winner of the San Diego Music Awards’ “Lifetime Achievement” prize is guitarist Wayne Riker, who is still kind of processing that information.

“Having worked in all the different genres professionally, I can name 50 other musicians that are equally deserving,” says Riker. “So for me to be picked out is quite an honor. But having said that, I could get on ten different stages tonight playing ten different types of music and come out sounding relatively intelligent.”

"Caldonia"

...Wayne Riker on guitar

...Wayne Riker on guitar

Riker’s journey through music began in the mid-’60s. “If it weren’t for the Beatles, I’d be sitting here talking about my career as a sports journalist,” he said. “I had no musical background or ability, but as a 15-year-old kid, seeing those guys with the long hair and all the girls screaming made everyone in my Bronx neighborhood go out and buy instruments. It started out as a hobby, but by 1967, I started to play some gigs. I was still pretty much in garage bands until 1973 when I turned pro, and I’ve been a performer and teacher since then.”

Riker remembers the days when musicians could earn a decent living playing six nights a week and more, but he feels the advent of the drum-machine, disco music, and club deejays brought about a more frugal aesthetic.

“Bar owners realized they didn’t need to pay a large band when they could get two guys with a sequencer or a guy to spin records for a lot cheaper.”

Past Event

San Diego Music Awards

  • Tuesday, March 21, 2017, 7 p.m.
  • House of Blues, 1055 Fifth Avenue, San Diego
  • $36

But it was a radical shift in social norms that really restructured the nightclub business, in Riker’s estimation.

“The biggest change was when Mothers Against Drunk Driving were able to raise the national drinking age to 21 and establish much stiffer penalties for DUI’s. Club owners then realized that no one was going out because they couldn’t afford to get arrested. That changed everything. After 1984, almost everyone became a part-time musician with some sort of day-job.”

Speaking of drinking, the crowds at the SDMAs can be notoriously inattentive, but Riker won’t be intimidated.

“As long as the ten people up front who care about me, like my daughter and son, can hear, I’ll have no problem at all,” says the guitarist. “You know, 90 percent of this business is all about horror stories and stress and maybe 10 percent about those magical musical moments. I’ve been heckled and harassed and even had beer poured on me, so I can handle any kind of audience. To me, it’s all about the work ethic and surviving all these challenges. If people get rowdy I won’t be fazed at all. I want everyone to have a good time.”

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