Thursday, April 2, 2009

Power Plays & Power Chords: Hockey's Rockin' Deejays

There are several things you can count on happening at a hockey game: the referees will get booed; someone will go to the penalty box; and there will be some rockin’ music driving the players and the fans.

Music has been a mainstay at hockey games as far back as anyone can remember. In the old days, an organist provided the tunes during stoppages in play (anyone remember the scene in “Slapshot” where Reggie Dunlop fires a puck off the organ player’s head?) Nowadays, you can still find the occasional organist. But at most arenas, a music director cues up snippets of songs to break the silence, drive the team or perk up the crowd.

Take a recent Saturday night at ShoWare Center in the Seattle suburb of Kent. The arena slowly filled with fans excited to cheer their Seattle Thunderbirds to victory in WHL playoff action against the Spokane Chiefs. The refs took the ice to a chorus of boos. So did the Chiefs. Then, announcer Tom Helm bellowed, “Are you ready!” and music filled every corner of the arena. On this night, as in other nights during this season, it’s the chorus to the popular song “Let it Rock” by Kevin Rudolf. The crowd goes wild as the white-clad T-Birds take the ice and skate around furiously.

With one song, music director Mitch Brotherton set the tone for a game that would be as hard rockin’ as it was hard hitting. This is what he and many others do in hockey arenas around the world. And it doesn’t matter what league you follow. From the major juniors of the Western Hockey League, to the big boys of the NHL, the song, as they say, remains the same. Only the tunes are different.

Take the goal song, for instance. Many teams, like the T-Birds, stick to the tried and true anthem “Rock and Roll, Part 2” by Gary Glitter. It’s been Seattle’s goal song almost since the team’s early days as the Breakers in the late 1970’s/early 80’s.

“If I remember correctly, we were one of the first sports teams to use that consistently during games,” remembers Mitch Brotherton. “A couple of years ago, we tried to experimenting with a variation of it by a local band. It didn’t go over well.”

Cross-town rivals, the Everett Silvertips, turn to “Zombie Nation” by Kernkraft 400 to celebrate their goals. Music Director Aaron Wilson, “Our goal song has been the same ever since we got here. I think we’re the only ones who play it after goals, at least in our league.”

The Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League have also stuck with Gary Glitter. But Bill Dotzel, who handles songs for the Pittsburgh Penguins affiliate, inadvertently launched another post-goal tradition. “We started something last year where after we scored a goal and the song played, the public address guy would announce the goal and we would play a guy in the office yelling ‘whoo!’ We made an MP3 of it and it took off.”

It’s not uncommon for little “extras” to be edited into songs. Dave Levinson, who’s been handling music for the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks since the 2000-2001 season sometimes goes crazy with the sound effects to complement the team’s goal song, “Crowd Chant” by Joe Satriani. “I dub in sirens, goal horns, whatever’s handy,” says Levinson.

The main thing seems to be to make things fun. Steve Rudolph keeps the beat at Xcel Energy Center, home of the Minnesota Wild. He also uses “Crowd Chant” as the goal song and for Wild fans, it’s one big sing-a-long. Steve wants to take it one step further, though. “We’ve been trying to get Joe Satriani to come play live for us during a game. So far, the schedule hasn’t worked out but we’re working on it.”

Head to Los Angeles and you’ll hear something completely different when the Kings score. Music Director Dieter Ruele says the songs he plays fits the city quite well. “Two songs are played after every Kings goal. First is Randy Newman’s ‘I love LA.’ After about ten seconds of that I play a song called ‘Power Ride.’ It’s an original song specifically for our goals. Newman because we’ve been doing it since the 80’s, and what other team can play it? And ‘Power Ride’ because it’s original.”

Still, other teams choose not to stick with one goal song, but shuffle through several, or change things up every couple of months. Take the Philadelphia Phantoms (Philadelphia Flyers affiliate) and Minnesota Wild affiliate Houston Aeros of the AHL. Phantoms’ music director Mike Menschner cycles through specific parts of two songs: “Do You Wanna Touch” by Joan Jett and “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” by the Who. “I play the chorus part of ‘Do You Wanna Touch’, the part that goes ‘yeah, oh yeah.’ For the Who, it’s the screaming part at the beginning of ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again.’ He pauses to demonstrate and does a fairly good imitation of Roger Daltrey’s tortured wail.

Houston Aeros’ music man Tom Entwistle says team management chooses a different goal song from time to time. He also plays something specific when the opposing team scores. “We try to play a song that makes fun of them, like ‘One is the Loneliest Number.’ We recently started playing sound effects of crickets.”

Many music directors, like Brotherton, Entwistle, Menschner and Levinson, have backgrounds in radio or as party deejays. Entwistle and Rudolph have also played music for pro football (old Houston Oilers, Minnesota Vikings) and baseball (Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins). Ruele was originally hired to play organ for the Kings. He’s also played for the San Jose Sharks, Phoenix Coyotes and the NBA’ s Los Angeles Lakers. Dieter still plays organ at Kings games, but is also in charge of all the other music.

Penalties get extra attention from these guys. Says Houston’s Entwistle, “We have songs for our own players when they go to the penalty box. One of those we play is the theme from ‘People’s Court.’ Or a song by Cowboy Mouse called ‘Why You Wanna Do Me Like That?” At a Seattle Thunderbirds game, fans might hear “It’s a Mistake” by Men at Work. The Everett Silvertips’ Aaron Wilson actually has a playlist of songs to play, just for bad penalty calls.

With a plethora of songs at their fingertips, do any of these guys still get special requests from players?
You bet.

Mitch Brotherton recalls one request from team captain Thomas Hickey. “Thomas asked me to find a version of ‘Hick Town’ by Jason Aldean and use that when he scores. I had it ready our next game.” And Mitch doesn’t reserve that song just for goals. Recently, he played it after Hickey laid a monster hit on an opponent and helped turn the tide in a very close game. The T-Birds scored on the next play.

Thomas Hickey/Seattle Thunderbirds
Houston’s Tom Entwistle has a special song for Mitch Love, a fan favorite who has gotten into a few scraps on the ice. “When he fights, we have a special button on our computer called the ‘Mitch Love’ button. We hit the button when Mitch fights and the song, ‘Who Do You Love,’ by George Thorogood plays. “The song seems to be a hit with Love as well as the fans. “For some reason, the other player will try to pull Mitch’s jersey off him. Mitch will wave the jersey in the air as he heads to the penalty box or to the locker room.”

Mitch Love/Photo: Fred Trask
The Wild’s Steve Rudolph also has a special song he plays when enforcer Derek Boogard gets into a scrap. “A year or two ago, Boogard passed along an AC/DC song (“Boogie Man”) that he wanted to be played after his fights. It’s a lesser-known track so he actually sent the CD up through someone, to make sure we had it.”

Derek Boogard/Minnesota Wild
Philadelphia Phantoms music guy Mike Menschner takes a “Southern” approach to saluting two of his team’s top players. “I play ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ for Jared Ross and Scott Munroe.” (Note: Both Ross and Munroe played college hockey at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. “Sweet Home, Alabama” was the team’s theme song.)

Jared Ross/Philadelphia Phantoms

Scott Munroe/Philadelphia Phantoms
Another mainstay at many hockey games at all level is 80’s heavy metal. Every guy interviewed gave the same response when the topic came up: a chuckle, then a seal of approval. Says the Canucks’ Dave Levinson, “In its day it was dubbed ‘arena rock’ and it works. The guitars and drums have a driving edge. There are a lot of songs from that era that have good intro elements that add to a game.”

The Kings’ Dieter Ruele agrees. “I would guess hard rock appeals to hockey fans because the game itself is kind of like hard rock. It’s a physical game, the ice is hard, the skates are sharp, etc. There’s a certain ‘toughness’ that hard rock music and ice hockey share.”

The Aeros’ Tom Entwistle plays all the greats. “RATT, Twisted Sister, Quiet Riot, Scorpions. The 80’s will never die in hockey circles. They have great intros and all you need are 15 seconds nowadays.”

Bill Dotzel plays about 4 or 5 AC/DC songs during the course of a WSB Penguins game. “We have a video ice projector and do a nice slide show to ‘Thunderstruck.’”

There’s one song you’d never expect to be popular at a hockey game but nearly every music director interviewed says the crowd goes crazy whenever they play it. It’s a rendition of “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” by a band called the Rednexx. The Everett Silvertips have incorporated that song into a contest during the second intermission. “It’s called ‘Dance for your dinner,’” says Aaron Wilson. “We almost always start with the ‘Chicken Dance’ and then we’ll have some kind of rotating song for second one and always end with ‘Cotton-Eyed Joe. How it got so popular, I don’t know. I guess it’s one that really fires up the crowd.’”

The T-Birds have a dance contest during the first period. The winner gets to ride in the Zamboni during the first intermission.

Dave Levinson gets even more adventurous at Canucks games. “We try them all,” he says. “’Country Boy’ (by John Denver), ‘Zorba the Greek’, ‘Dueling Banjos.’ I’d like to say everything I’ve played, the crowd likes.’

I ask these guys if they’ve ever played a song that just completely bombed with the crowd. Most say they haven’t, that if a song seems awkward, they switch to another one pretty quickly. However, the T-Birds’ Mitch Brotherton and Canucks Dave Levinson each shared a situation where a song crashed and burned.

Mitch: “I could have sworn it would have had a better response but we played John Denver’s ‘Thank God I’m a Country Boy. The song starts off with clapping. I thought it would be a crowd involvement song and it just fell flat on its face.”

Dave’s musical faux pas elicited an unexpected response. “There’s one song I played – ‘The Happy Wanderer’ and I played it in Vancouver (against the Montreal Canadiens), hoping the crowd would sing along. Right after the whistle blew, the phone rang and it was the GM. He said, ‘Don’t ever play that song again.’ That was the first and last time that anyone ever called and said, ‘don’t play that.’” (Note: “The Happy Wanderer” is actually popular with Montreal Canadiens fans.)

These guys have song collections that would make even the most serious music collector drool with envy. They find their music in a myriad of ways: through partnerships with local radio stations, sites like iTunes and, subscription services like “Promo Only,” or even from record labels.

Before you think about running out and trying to hook up with your local hockey team to spin songs, you need to know this: nearly every guy has another job, some, within the organization. Mitch Brotherton is the Seattle Thunderbirds’ IT guy. Aaron Wilson is in charge of ticket sales for the Everett Silvertips. So is Bob Dotzel of the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins. Mike Menschner, Tom Entwistle and Dave Levinson all have outside jobs. They call their hockey mix-master jobs a “labor of love.”

The fans love them right back, judging by the way they respond during games. Some even email the teams, asking about a certain song. If these guys can answer, they will. One thing most say they can’t do right now, is post their song lists online. For some, it’s just too busy up in the music booth to even keep track of the songs they’ve played. That’s not the case with Dave Levinson. He regularly posts playlists online at the Vancouver Canucks website.

So, the next time you go to a hockey game, sit back and listen to the soundtrack that accompanies the action on the ice. See if you don’t find yourself responding as much to the driving beat of the music, as the players driving up the ice toward net. Only please try to restrain yourself when “Cotton Eyed Joe” comes on. Or just let it all hang out and show off your best moves. You never know. In addition to seeing your team win, you could win dinner. .. or even a ride in a Zamboni

1 comment:

  1. very cool. very informative. and very, very well done.

    sorry it too me so long to get around to reading it. i saw it when it came out, but i just haven't had time. although, the yellow lettering on the black was a bit trippy to read.