JR: It’s a relationship that started many years ago when I worked for them. It turned into an artist relationship. They've been very supportive. I've taken the Korg Kronos all over the world with me. It's such a powerful instrument. The short story is that whatever I do in the studio with all my various keyboards and software, I pretty much boil down to a Korg Kronos before most of the live shows.
MF: It’s my understanding that you were trained as a concert pianist.
JR: I was. I went to Juilliard from the age of nine, basically leaving when I was about 19. I left because I had been going there for so long and I really started to get into the world of synthesizers. I got tired of sneaking into the practice rooms to play my blues and rock and what have you. So I needed to go and kind of discover the world of synthesizers. I'd been collecting pictures of Minimoogs and putting them all over my bedroom wall until finally the day came when I was able to get one and then of course things totally changed. MF: You experienced some resistance on peeling away from that education I'm sure. JR: Oh, yes. I was so deep into it. I was going to be a classical pianist. From nine years old I had been practicing from three to six hours a day. I was being groomed to be a classical pianist and I really thought I was going to be. My teachers and my parents, that's basically what they knew so it was tough for them, but for me I never really had my chance to have, I guess, my teenage rebellion or to start getting into the kind of music that I've been interested in and exposed to.
MF: So who cracked through that shell? Was it Keith Emerson?
JR: Yes. Keith Emerson had a lot to do with that, actually. Started out with things like Chick Corea, that album Now He Sings, Now He Sobs. Somebody played that for me. I thought that was really, really cool. But even more of an impact was listening to things like Tarkus. That blew my mind entirely. All of a sudden I realized that you could have so much power on the keyboard. I mean I knew the kind of
chords Emerson was playing, but the kind of intensity and power just literally blew my mind and changed my life. That mixed with some good amount of Genesis and Pink Floyd and Gentle Giant and things can definitely change.
MF: Were you into Kraftwerk and heavy synth groups?
JR: I was really into Tangerine Dream. Tangerine Dream was very influential to me, especially albums like Phaedra. Things like Tonto's Expanding Head Band were awesome. I loved Tomita, Tomita's music, his arrangements of Debussy and Mussorgsky were awesome.
"I SPEND A LOT RUDESS OF TIME ON MY TECHNIQUE AND REALLY REFINING MY CRAFT."
MF: That would be a logical bridge to that heavy classical background.
JR: Yes, absolutely. I was so turned on by that I still listen to Tomita's arrangements to this day that he did on the big modular synthesizers. They are still extraordinary.
MF: In the early '90s you were a bandleader with your record Listen, and then you started getting some pretty attractive offers from established groups, notably Dixie Dregs. Was it difficult to let go of the reins and follow the direction of an established musical vision of someone else's?
JR: I had been working for some of the keyboard companies like Korg and Kurzweil. As I was working for them my career started to open up more and more because I was meeting people. Then eventually it led to my doing my solo album Listen. That was just a solo album. Basically did it myself. I hired a drummer. Ken Mary came in and played drums. I had different people playing and he was
singing. It was primarily a solo album, but then I started to get calls from other people. For me the offer of playing with the Dixie Dregs was really, really cool, because I was a fan of that band anyway. Huge fan of Steve Morse and Rod Morgenstein and I saw them as masters. So to be invited into that fold was really an honor for me. It actually came at the same time as the offer to join Dream Theater back then. When I first got the offer with Dream Theater, it really wasn't the right time for me to do that, so I went out and played with the Dregs.
MF: Speaking of Morse, speaking of Petrucci, you've had a long association with some pretty high octane guitar players. Is there some advice you might have to keyboardists on how to complement the playing of a really assertive guitarist while still retaining your own musical identity and contribution to the project?
JR: That's a really good question. I think excellent guitarists generally like keyboardists because they get inspired by the fact that there are a lot of things you can do on a keyboard that may be really hard to do on the guitar, but that are really attractive to do once you've figured it out. The guitarists I've worked with are always really into and really appreciate the kind of approach that I have on the keyboard. And I guess it's always mutual. In the case of the guitarists I've worked with, the Vinnie Moores and Petruccis and Steve Morse-type guys, it's a mutual admiration, mutual learning. These are people that are so focused and so proficient. They look to me to provide a different kind of musical knowledge base. My background, coming from the classical world mixing with the rock world, I spend a lot of time on my technique and really refining my craft. I think the reason that these guys enjoy working with me and I think what other keyboard players could do to make themselves more attractive is first of all you have to be really focused and proficient, but you have to have kind of a wide breadth of musical ability