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Interview with Eric Bikales, January 2019
Interview with Eric Bikales, image 1
Eric in his studio.
One of the real joys of reviewing so much music is finding artists that I might not have heard about otherwise. Eric Bikales is one such artist. I’d seen his name but wasn’t familiar with his music. When Eric sent Follow Your Heart for review last year, it really stood out as something special. I dug around on the internet a bit to learn more about him, and there isn’t much in the music industry that he hasn’t done. I think you’ll find his story as interesting as I have. Enjoy!

KP: Hi Eric! It’s been a few months since I reviewed Follow Your Heart, but I really love the album! In fact, it is one of my Favorite Albums of 2018. One of the things I really like about it is the versatility in the music. Once I started looking for some info about you, I was amazed by your incredible background! We have a lot to talk about! How has the album done since its release in August 2018?

EB: Hi Kathy!   It’s a pleasure to talk with you and I’m so happy you like Follow Your Heart!   I’m very pleased with its progress after asking Sherry Finzer at RS Promotions to help me with it.  Admittedly, I’m not very good with promotion, particularly regarding myself.  Since Sherry took the reins, it’s up to about 30 radio stations world wide, including an overseas airline and it’s going into rotation on the Spa channel. 

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Click on album cover to go to Kathy's review.

KP: Great news! I understand you released a shorter version of the album in 2013 and added three newer pieces for the 2018 release. Was the re-release to bring the music to a broader audience?

EB: Yes, exactly!   I felt it didn’t really get its due the first time around, and I didn’t want to just let it die. So, I changed it up, added new tunes and re-released it.

KP: The list of television shows you have written music for is really impressive! Are you still doing a lot of that?

EB: No, not really.  Everything changes in time.  I had a shot with Mike Post back in 1976 when I moved to L.A.  It was an incredibly fortunate opportunity and I just went with it.  I also did some writing for Danny Lux: “My Name Is Earl,” “Party of Five,” “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” and “Ally McBeal.” I wrote a few movie scores and independent TV productions.
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KP: Wow! I watched “Ally McBeal” and “Party of Five” all the time! What have been some of your favorite shows to compose for?

EB: “A-Team” was my first shot, then “Hunter” (a cop series).  My work on Danny Lux’s shows was completely different and required a different skill set. I will say that working with Mike Post was a total gas.  He always made me feel secure — an important thing considering how nerve-wracking an orchestral date at Paramount can be!

KP: How did you get started with writing music for television?

EB: When I moved to L.A. my goal was to be a studio musician. Mike Post helped me to do that, but he also started composing for TV and said, “Eric, you should follow me into this….”  He showed me how to approach it — and gave me a golden opportunity. 

KP: Have you done a lot of film composing as well?

EB: I wrote a film score a couple years ago for a production out in California called If, Then Scenario.  I recorded the entire thing at my own studio. I think it got some attention at various film festivals.  Before that, I’d written a couple complete film projects when I lived in L.A. I believe you can still rent the DVDs!  

KP: Any favorites?

EB: I do really like the last project.  I featured Larry Knight on acoustic guitar. I was somewhat influenced by Lalo Schifrin’s score to Cool Hand Luke.  Other than that, I once ghost-wrote a string quartet in the style of Haydn. That was fun for me, but I’m not supposed to talk about it!

KP: That must have been interesting! You have also toured and recorded with many singers and other musicians. Who have been some of the more memorable artists you’ve played and/or recorded with?
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On tour with Neil Sedaka.
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An earlier tour with Neil Sedaka!
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With Little Anthony on a cruise ship.

EB: I had an extraordinary experience with Tom Waits on a record called Swordfishtrombone. I played B3 organ on that one.  I got to play rehearsal piano once with Patti Labelle.  When she started singing, I nearly fell off the piano bench, her voice was so big!  My first gig with the Pointer Sisters was really memorable. When we left the stage up in Canada, the girls were promptly arrested by the Canadian officials for some infraction committed back in their “more wild years.”  Shaking hands with Ray Charles and getting to perform once with Stevie Wonder were totally mind-blowing.  Playing Carnegie and the Royal Albert Hall with Neil Sedaka was also a once in a lifetime honor. 

KP: Whoa! I’m impressed! The Pointer Sisters?? They’re from Oakland, too (like me)! Carnegie with Neil Sedaka??? He was a favorite of mine for a lot of years! I have never seen him in concert, though.

Let’s back up a bit and learn more about your early background. Where were you born and where did you grow up?

EB: Born in Topeka, Kansas, raised in Kansas City.  My dad was a psychiatrist and mom, a social worker. (this may account for any inequities in my personality:)  Everyone in my family was musical.  I’m the only one who decided to make it a career.  I first studied piano, then flute.  Just classical music until middle school.  Then I developed a strong attraction for pop and jazz.  I’m still trying to grow up.

KP: Haha! Aren’t we all? When did you start playing the piano?

EB: I think at age 6 or so.  I used to climb up on the piano bench and pick out tunes with 1 finger.  (I’ve been trying to break that habit)

KP: It kind of slows down your speed! How long did you take lessons?

EB: Well, I still take piano lessons to be honest. I’m currently studying with Dr. Bruce Dudley, head of the Jazz Piano Dept. at Belmont University. 

KP: Good for you! There is always more to learn! Was your family supportive of your becoming a professional musician?

EB: Yes, amazingly so.  I say that because they didn’t disown me for quitting college to go into music.  (since then, I graduated from Belmont for my degree)

KP: Are any of your siblings musicians?

EB: My two sisters have a calling for the theatre, rather than playing music professionally.  But my older brother, RIP was ridiculously talented and played many instruments, only classical, though. 

KP: When did you write your first piece of music?

EB: I began writing music on piano in middle school for no particular reason. I just wanted to do it and was getting influenced by pop and jazz.  

KP: Were you a music major in college?

EB: The first time around I selected Music Theory/Composition.  My degree is in Contemporary Composition, but I teach music theory, film scoring and arranging at the Academy of Art University San Francisco. 

KP: Do you play other musical instruments?

EB: Keyboards give me incredible access to almost any orchestral or rhythm section sound for recording purposes.  I do play flute and that allowed me to play with several orchestras. 
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KP: When did you know you wanted to be a professional musician?

EB: Ahh, that decision happened not long after I was certain I didn’t really want to go into medicine!  

KP: Who and what are some of your musical influences?

EB: My influences are so many!  Of course early on, it was all classical, but as I first became aware of jazz and pop, I really got into Ramsey Lewis, Herbie Mann, Mongo Santamaria, Dave Brubeck, Booker T, Sergio Mendez and Brazil 66, Oscar Petersen, then Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett and Hubert Laws.  In college, I was influenced by Jethro Tull, Beatles, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Bonnie Raitt, Mike Finnigan, Carole King and James Taylor.  I think those were my mainstays, but I was amazed by nearly every great band of the day, from Dixie Dregs to the Zombies.  

KP: I found it interesting in your bio that you were once asked to leave the practice rooms at University of Kansas for not playing classical music. I really think that attitude has had a big part in “killing” classical music and turning people off to it. I know several other “new age” artists who left college as music majors because they were force-fed atonal 20th century music. I think that has had a strong influence on quite a few of the contemporary composers who have gone into creating strong melodies and music that is more comfortable to listen to. Thoughts?

EB: You really hit the nail on the head.  After impressionism, which I dearly love, I just couldn’t get with John Cage, Milton Babbitt, and Schoenberg.  I really couldn’t assimilate that stuff into my world back in 1970. As it turned out, these disciplines would have been good for me to have a handle on when I started working as a composer, but I was able to study serial composition a little bit, on the fly as I was working in Hollywood.  The University of Kansas was incredibly stuffy, musically speaking, back when I was enrolled.  I’m sure they’ve changed immeasurably.  But you’re right to think that many a talented student probably felt post modern music is a good reason to switch directions! 
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Eric and his wife, Khai.
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Video shoot.
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KP: It sounds like you also have a very strong background in jazz. Tell us a bit about that.

EB: My first jazz piano teacher was George Salisbury at UMKC.  He was amazing and I can still play the songs and voicing he showed me (I think I was about 10 years old).  Next, I studied with John Elliott in Kansas City.  He was the jazz guru there and taught Pat Metheny among many others.   In L.A. I studied with Terry Trotter, Milcho Leviev, and got some help from Andy Laverne. In TN, I studied with Dr. Anthony Belfiglio, and currently study with Dr. Bruce Dudley.

KP: Do you do a lot of improvisation?

EB: I love to improvise, but it’s challenging to keep learning new ways of expression.  You can study improv for a life time. 

KP: When did you start teaching online for the Academy of Art University San Francisco? Which classes do you teach?

EB: I started with the Academy about 5 or 6 years ago.  I started as a Harmony instructor.  I have since written my own course in fundamental music theory, and I also wrote a beginning arranging course.  I teach Composition For Media and Music Theory II.

KP: Do you teach privately as well?

EB: Yes, I do teach piano, B3 organ and composition privately. 

KP: How many albums have you released?

EB: I think Follow Your Heart is my 5th release.  I was an electronic new age artist back in the mid-eighties. 

KP: Do you plan to release new music in 2019?

EB: I’m planning on 2 releases in 2019:  a solo piano CD and one with other instruments. 

KP: Do you perform in concerts very often?

EB: Not that often, Kathy.  I would like to, but it’s difficult to keep up with all the business arrangements etc. that are essential if you want to tour. I find myself much more engrossed in creating music, playing gigs, teaching and practicing.  I do play with bands and usually do a gig or two, sometimes more every week.  That takes a lot of time. 

KP: Are you still touring with other artists, too?

EB: I did tour a bit with the Box Tops and some one-off dates with the Coasters, the Crystals and I still tour with Neil Sedaka. He hired me back in 1983 and we’re still going!  

KP: Who are your favorite composers?

EB: My favorite composers are also many, but I would say Debussy, Bach and Chopin are the three composers I can't do without, and I always have a couple pieces by each of them I can stumble through.  

KP: If you could have any three wishes, what would they be?

EB: Oh Kathy!  That’s a hard question!  How about a bigger piano, (and a bigger house to put it in) Is that 2 or 1 wish?   A Grammy someday!  And a few more digits in my checking account balance!!   

KP: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?

EB: Yes there is.  Don’t ever stop being a student of music.  There is always more to learn!  

KP: Amen to that!

Many thanks to Eric Bikales for taking the time to do this interview. For more information about Eric and his music, be sure to visit his website and his Artist Page here on MainlyPiano.com
Kathy Parsons
January 2019