Since 1967, guitarist Wayne Riker has played just about every musical style, and in an array of musical settings — house parties, coffeehouses, nightclubs, musical theater, cruise ships, arena rock concerts, and stadium festivals.
“I moved to San Diego County in 1980. My playing career started in my hometown of New York City in 1967, in various eclectic groups, beginning in clubs in Greenwich Village, through the heyday of the
Jersey Shore, before moving to the midwest in 1974, playing in the Kansas City area through 1978, and in the Minneapolis area in 1979, before taking a year off to study guitar at the Guitar Institute of
Technology in Los Angeles in 1979 and 1980.”
As a member of the Guitar Institute, Riker has cohosted workshops around the world with A-list jazz and blues cats such as Larry Carlton, Robben Ford, Marty Friedman, Dave Grissom, and Duke Robillard.
“In my 32 years in San Diego County, I’ve played in 35 groups, including big band, musical theater, cruise ship and musical duos, along with the more obvious aggregations of top 40, country, funk,
jazz, rock, R&B, and blues groups.” Concurrently, Riker has also taught private guitar lessons, in the North Park area from 1980 through 2010 and at Rick’s Guitar Shop.
“Nowadays, I’m reinventing myself in the solo acoustic world,” says Riker, “after many decades of primarily electric-guitar gigs and projects. It gets me out of the house more often.”
He’s also taken to telling stories between and during his instrumental performances, such as the time he met Jimi Hendrix cohort Randy California of Spirit or how he almost went to Woodstock in 1969 but instead ended up at a jazz fest featuring a brand-new group calling themselves Led Zeppelin.
“You rack up a lot of living when you play music for this long,” says Riker. “Though I may not be as famous as guys like Jimi and Randy, sometimes the best success is just surviving.”
Riker’s 2010 album Penumbral Sky was released as the Wayne Riker Quintet, a group that also includes Chris Klich (horns), Fred Lanuza (keys), Steve Araujo (bass), and Tyler Buckley (drums). Also released in 2010 was his instructional book Putting Chords In Their Place.
In 2011, he helped launch a new Facebook page called San Diego Gives Me the Blues, with local band histories, performance videos, and blues lessons. Around the same time, he began recording a new CD, Guitar Decathlon, featuring ten original tracks in ten different music styles, each with one of ten San Diego guitarists as a guest player.
“Many of the musicians on on this recording are ones I’ve played with or known about over the years here, and culminates a great spotlight for so many deserving local musicians. Some of the personnel, in each group, were combinations of players just meeting for the first time, and some who play together regularly.”
The idea, he says, was to record “An album that authentically represents many of the styles I’ve played, taught, and transcribed, featuring ten of my instrumental compositions, written specifically for ten different musical genres, each featuring a top local guitarist, as a representative in each style, joining me on each track, with shifting rhythm sections of bass, drums, and percussion to accommodate each changing genre.”
As of 2012, his Quick Licks column is running in Guitar Player magazine. Later that year, he launched a new guitar curriculum at Coleman Tech High School. “Getting music into our schools,” he told the Reader. “I'm there five days a week all year round [and] will be bringing in esteemed local guest artists each month for workshops and a concert series.”
The full-time paid position found Riker teaching several 45-minute classes each day, made up equally of boys and girls. “The students, a dozen or so in each class, all have guitars, mostly acoustics, some donated, some acquired by the school, and some hand-me-downs from their households.” In 2013, Israel Maldonado took over the high school guitar class at Coleman Tech High School for the following school year.
In early 2013, Riker began recording his sixth CD Kindred Souls at local Studio West. His 2014 full-length Groovin' With the Top Brass, features guest players Rob Thorsen, Gilbert Castellanos, Lori Bell, Bill Shreeve, April West, Bob Campbell, Troy Jennings, Fred Lanuza, Harley Magsino, and Walt Riker.
"The tunes are rhythm & blues, fusion and jazz based flavors, each track designed to fit the musical personality of each guest artist," says Riker of the album, his fourth consecutive one recorded at Studio West in Rancho Bernardo. "Bob Campbell plays tenor sax on the track 'All Aboard Blues,' and all the guests join in on rotating 32 bar solos, as a grand finale. Three of the tracks feature a small live audience, brought in post production, as a listening party, reacting to the music and a handful of Bob Wills-Zappa-esque microphone moments on three of the tracks."
Recording of his 12th CD, R&B Thunder, began at Studio West in early February 2019, featuring six local soul vocalists singing individual featured tracks. His 2020 Wayne Riker Gathering album Blues Lightning, features guest vocals from Lauren Leigh Martin, Michele Lundeen, Leonard Patton, Shelle Blue, Scott Mathiasen, and Deanna Haala.