Episode #9 of the Miller Piano Podcast is finally here! In this episode, host Jason Skipper talks with Eric Bikales, a musician, composer, and amazing pianist. If you are a music lover, this is an episode you do not want to miss out on!
- Eric’s Relationship with Miller Piano
- How Eric Became the Musician He Is Today
- Advice to an Aspiring Musician
- The Music Business and LA Living
- Eric’s Music and New Album
Jason Skipper 0:12
Welcome to the Miller Piano Podcast! I’m your host, Jason Skipper, and in this episode, we have special guest, Eric Bikales connected with us. Eric has been a longtime friend of Miller piano specialist and is a musician. Specifically a wonderful pianist, composer, also a flute player and many other things. Eric has played for 37 years, I believe, with Neil Sedaka. He has composed music and played for many different artists, TV shows, and much more. I’m really looking forward to having Eric share so many of his stories. Eric, welcome to the podcast!
Eric Bikales 0:47
Hey, Jason, great to be here. I’m really happy to speak with you. The first thing I want to say is thank you to Miller Piano for being such a great home to me. All the people over there so nice, and they have treated me so well. For years now they just really make me feel like I have a place here in Franklin, Tennessee. You know, they also sell the best pianos too!
Jason Skipper 1:18
That is for sure! I know you’ve been with their events, “The River of Calm” and other events that they’ve done over the years at Miller Piano Specialists. I heard your music there and heard it online many times. Your music is amazing. Talking about Miller since we started there, how did your relationship start with Miller Piano Specialists?
Eric Bikales 1:37
Well, it was kind of funny. I had just moved to Franklin from a little bit north of Nashville. I lived there for a number of years. When I moved to Franklin, I decided that I want to start teaching piano out of my home. So I designed some posters and I just looked up what music stores were in the area and the first one on the list happened to be Miller. I went over there and I met Sherry Carlisle Smith, who was their general manager and a saleswoman, and she and I just really hit it off.
Jason Skipper 2:16
It’s hard not to with Sherry in it?
Eric Bikales 2:19
She’s got that bubbly personality! We sat down and talked for I think what amounted to like a couple of hours. I was only going to ask her if I could hang up an ad for teaching in her music store and it wound up that we knew all kinds of people in common. Then I found out that she had been in the business herself as one of the Jordanaires, which is a very famous singing group who used to backup Elvis and a lot of other artists. One of the guys in the Jordanaires and the name escapes me now (Charlie McCoy), who actually devised the Nashville Number System that we still use today. Sherry was there on the ground level when all that was happening, she was touring as a singer and she didn’t become a piano salesperson until later on in life. Anyway, we had a great conversation and became really good friends. I just wound up starting to go there weekly to check up on how things were going, and then I got involved in their Writers Night, and she let me play original material. I developed a little audience and following at Miller, and then one thing developed into another and we’ve just been going strong for years.
Jason Skipper 3:43
How long has that been?
Eric Bikales 3:45
Well, I’ve been here for about six years, something like that. I think that she was one of the first people I met when I got here.
Jason Skipper 3:52
Okay. I know you’ve been connected through “Writers Night,” you’ve been involved in that activity. Also “The River of Calm.” How often are you in these events? And how often are these events held?
Eric Bikales 4:03
Miller Piano has events going every month. They have a whole schedule of things ranging from “Writers Night” where anybody can come out there and talk to Sherry about it, or Dave and get signed up to perform on a Writers Night. It is just such a good experience for people who write original material and want to test it out on an audience. Believe it or not, even though it is a piano store, “Writers Night” doesn’t even cater to piano artists, in particular. Lots and lots of guitars, people who sing and play guitar, come out there and participate in Writers Nights as well. Then there’s “The River of Calm” and that’s something that started up a couple of years ago with Ed Bazell. “The River of Calm” is an internet radio station that promotes healing, soothing, relaxing music. It’s primarily based on piano but not totally. I met Ed Bazell at Miller Piano. Come to think of it, I met Ed at my CD release party for my first CD that I put out called “Follow Your Heart.” That was an event that Sherry was kind enough to sponsor for me at Miller Piano to be able to have my release party there. I had a nice sized crowd and I got to play a few of my tunes from the upcoming record, and I played a few new ones. We had a great time. Ed and I actually started hanging out and decided to form a drone company because we’re both into flying drones. So, we joined forces and we started a company called “Fly by Day.”
Jason Skipper 6:05
Oh wow! Very cool!
Eric Bikales 6:08
We still have a little Facebook page up and some of our work. That continued for a couple of years until the laws changed regarding commercial drone flying. Of course, now, it requires a pilot’s license of sorts, and things kind of came unglued at that point. But, we still do it and we still have our drones. So in fact, I use the drone now for taking photos from my records and my latest record, which is called “Fire in the Clouds.” That piece, “Fire in the Clouds” is written for a scene that I took a photo of which was a beautiful sunset right here in Tennessee. I guess I had it up there at almost as high as you could get it about 380 feet or so. I got a really gorgeous shot and that wound up being the cover of the new CD. To continue about Miller, they sponsor their “Writers Night” I think those are the first Thursday of every month. They sponsor “The River of Calm,” which is the third Thursday of every month. Then, they have various other things like CD release parties, and of course, they have teachers on-site there who give lessons. Sherry also gives a class lesson on piano. It’s a busy place you know, they’ve always got stuff going on there.
Jason Skipper 7:29
Always, always. Well for our listeners, follow Miller Piano Specialists Facebook page, because we’re always sharing when these events are. You can see it on our website, Millerps.com, as well. I know that these are always going out live from the Miller Piano Facebook page, and also The River of Calm Facebook page, I believe. Always come out, too. It’s quite an experience, as Eric said. Eric, let’s get to know you a little bit more, just about you, where you’re from. So let me just ask you that, where are you from?
Eric Bikales 7:58
I’m a Kansas City guy.
Jason Skipper 8:00
Eric Bikales 8:01
Yeah! Kansas City, Kansas. My family was all musical, everybody in the family played instruments. There were four kids in my family, two boys, and two girls. We all started on the piano, and if we chose to, we could take a second instrument after a couple of years. I chose flute, I really chose drums, but my folks said, “No!” Then I said okay well then, saxophone and they said no again. And then they suggested, “How about flute” and I went, “Okay.” I mean, my folks were totally classically oriented. What we listened to at home was classical music or show tune. So that was the era in which my folks grew up in. To them, The Beatles would have been kind of like new crazy music that you know, they just don’t listen to. Which seems so funny to us, because The Beatles are so accepted at this point. But back then, it was a new thing. So I didn’t get into listening to pop music until I got into junior high school or middle school, as they call it now. That’s, that’s when I got turned on to pop music and jazz in particular. Once I heard a couple of jazz artists that really spoke to me, I was off and running. I just, I love this stuff. I mean, I heard Dave Brubeck. His song “Take Five” was brand new, I think was released in the late 50s or maybe early 60s. I can’t remember. But, it was a cool, cool thing.
That record “Time Out” just captivated me. Then when I heard Ramsey Lewis come out with “In Crowd,” that was it. I had to learn how to play that note for note and so I did! I just learned the whole thing, see by then, I had already had several years of classical lessons and so I had some fingers at that point. I just had to try to copy what Ramsey was doing. I didn’t know what I was doing, I’m sure I ruined a couple of record albums, putting the needle back and forth, making sure I had everything exactly the way he did it. Then I did the same thing with Herbie Mann on a flute because the first time I heard Herbie Mann live at the Village Gate, which only had three songs on it which were “Summertime,” “Comin’ Home Baby” and something else. It absolutely captivated me and it gave me a direction besides classical. Although I love classical, I was at the age where I was really interested in integrating into the music of my generation, and music that my peers were listening to. I know that when I performed classical music, in school and talent shows and stuff like that, people were receptive to it, and I think they were more impressed than the present. Really, I think that classical music was always something that some people listen to and other people never really bothered with. I love it to this day, I still have a classical repertoire that I play on the piano and a little bit of flute. I try to keep those things up as best I can. The problem these days is that there’s so much music that you collect throughout your life, that it’s just really hard to keep it all going at once.
Jason Skipper 11:24
Right! Well, let me ask you this. I understand you lived in Los Angeles for a while, and you’ve done quite a bit of commercial music. I know you’ve moved around, played with Neil Sedaka, I believe 37 years. How did you get into all of that?
Eric Bikales 11:37
Well, I guess it all started in college. Just briefly what happened was that I discovered when I went to the University of Kansas that contrary to my entire belief system, I wasn’t going to be a doctor. I thought I was going to go to medical school like my dad. I just figured that was what I was going to do because it seemed like a really good thing to do. Of course, that’s pretty naive. So when it really gets down to brass tacks, you find out pretty quickly if you’ve got what it takes to be in that world. The magic wasn’t there for me, I wasn’t really actively taking physics and chemistry and biology when I got to college. I was in the liberal arts program, and I realized that I’m not going to be a doctor. Then I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I wound up deciding that I should do what I do best, and that’s music. So it had nothing to do with making a living or anything else. I didn’t really consider anything except, “What do I do the best? What do I love doing? What do I want to go into?” It’s just so naive, but that’s where I was. So I said, “Follow your heart.” Yeah, I just decided to do that and I got into the Music School at the University of Kansas. I did that for two years until I realized that it was kind of a dead-end for me because the school didn’t even recognize jazz or pop music as a legitimate art form. They really only did classical and they went right from classical into all this postmodern stuff that I didn’t really like all that much. I didn’t really look like serial music and 12 tones and all the really weird stuff just didn’t appeal to me at all and I didn’t see the purpose of it. So after two years of music school, I quit and I joined a band. The band became really popular in a regional way. It’s called Sanctuary, and that attracted the attention of a producer in Los Angeles named Mike Post. Mike had a couple of hit tunes, one with classical gas, Mason Williams, and he had a hit with Kenny Rogers in the first edition called, “To See What Condition My Condition Was In.” So everybody knew who Mike Post was, and he was interested in producing my own song “Sanctuary.” He and I became really good friends, and we did a recording session together with him. At that session, he pulled me aside and said, “You know, you should really consider coming out to LA and being a studio musician.” I said, “Yeah, I definitely want to do that. And what is a studio musician by the way?
Jason Skipper 14:29
Eric Bikales 14:29
He said, “You know, you could play people’s records for a living!” I said, “I could make a living from that?” And he said, “Sure, you could get paid union scale for playing with different people. You just have to know how to play in all styles. Your time has to be good. You have to play in tune, you have to be able to read a little bit. Look, why don’t you just work on all those skills for a year or two, save your money, move out to LA and I’ll help you!” I said, “Man, that’s an incredible offer. I would love to do that.” It opened up a whole world to me that I could go into. I just had never thought about moving to California or making a living in music or anything else. I was just kind of floating with what was going on. So I took him at his word, and I wood-shed for two solid years, and I practiced between five and eight hours a day, took lessons, and I really worked hard. I saved my money, and I moved out to LA. Sure enough, he made good on his word only he had also, in the meantime, become a really hot TV composer. When I saw what he was doing, he was splitting focus between producing records and writing music for TV. He had shows like Rockford Files, The A-Team and Black Sheep Squadron and those were all hit shows. He said, “Eric, you really need to follow me into this, you’d be perfect for this.” Off show, you had to write for a picture. So he sat down with me and taught me how to write music for TV. However, I didn’t have any training as an orchestrator or an arranger, and he was using like a 37 piece orchestra. So I had to take lessons on the fly from a guy in Hollywood. He took one of the pieces that I wrote, and he scored it for A-Team. He had me come to the session, and I got to hear my music played on the air. Then he sat down, showed me how to do it, and he showed me how it all worked. He gave me an opportunity to write some music for A-Team and then for a show called Hunter. Later on, there was NYPD Blue, Hill Street, and LA Law, White Shadow, just a whole bunch of shows. Ten one of the guys that he was working with, I started working with that person. His name’s Danny Lux, and he had that he had the work on like Party of Five, Ally McBeal, My Name Is Earl, Sliders, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Scrubs, Good Wife. It just goes on.
Jason Skipper 17:12
That had been amazing the first time that you heard your music being played live on these shows.
Eric Bikales 17:19
Yeah, it really was. It was an incredible experience for me. As exciting as it was even then I didn’t really get how cool it was until years later when I could gain some perspective on it and realize how fortunate I was to have come across Mike Post and become one of his protegees, have him show me the ropes as he did. He’s amazing. I mean, this guy was just so talented musically, and so good at business, so sharp and so good at thinking on his feet. He was just like a perfect role model and he was hot at that point. He was the number one TV composer. He kind of was to TV what Hans Zimmer became in the movie industry, later on. In looking at everything, for me, it’s been a game of trying to be the absolute best you can be at all times and never stopping with practicing and learning and being a student, just absorbing everything you can. But then the other half of the equation is accessibility, and we just all need to have access to something that can propel us in the right direction with the right people at the right time. My guy was Mike Post at that time, and I was just so fortunate.
During that time, I had a lot of opportunities to audition for different people and play in different recording situations and road situations that work with The Pointer Sisters, [Inaudible], Chere, Bette Midler, a whole bunch of different artists. I wound up auditioning for Niels Sedaka one point, and I had played recording sessions with everybody in his band, and so when they decided to have a second keyboard player, I got the call. I didn’t get the job, but I just had to audition along with all the other usual suspects. I would see the same piano players that all the auditions, it’s all the same guys. They’re all really good, sometimes you get it sometimes, they get it. You take turns and it was really fun. I happened to get the audition for Neil, so I joined his band in 1983. I have been doing it ever since and I just never thought I could possibly last that long. Yet it has he just keeps going and he keeps using more or less the same guys. It’s changed a little bit. We have been all over the world, we’ve played so many different places everywhere from Carnegie Hall to Billy Bob’s in Texas. The best place everywhere and I’ve been in so many different countries
Jason Skipper 20:03
Eric Bikales 20:06
Oh, it’s been an incredible experience. It’s not all smooth sailing, but it’s provided me with so much travel and experience that I never would have gotten any other way. You know, Jason, it’s really a question of being ready for those opportunities when they come around. Sometimes you are and sometimes you aren’t, it’s not a matter of luck, It’s a matter of good fortune. There were auditions that I went out for that I did not get. I thought, “Gosh, I mean, I thought I played pretty well. “And yet, there are reasons, they’re there sometimes things beyond your control, or maybe somebody came in and played a lot better.
One thing I did learn in LA very quickly is that there are 10 people that probably live on the block that can play circles around you, and it’s just amazing. You just don’t want to pin all your hopes and dreams and your ego on the fact that other people can’t outplay you, because you won’t be able to deal with it psychologically if you’ve got that kind of a personality. You really have to let that go and figure out there are people that can play better than you all over the place. You know you find your own little niche. You have your own way of doing things. Everybody is special in their own way. You know, they have their way of writing songs, their way of playing their style, and you can find your place.
Jason Skipper 21:44
That is a great life motto. It doesn’t matter what niche you’re in, it doesn’t matter what you do. There’s always someone that can run circles around you. So I love that!
Eric Bikales 21:56
I’m constantly amazed, and especially with it with YouTube now and all the phenomena’s that you see on YouTube. Little kids that are six years old that can play rock [Inaudible.] It never ceases to amaze me, but I don’t I really don’t think about it too much. It’s one of those things that there’s always somebody that can outdo you at something. It’s really not the point of it.
Jason Skipper 22:23
Right. You mentioned you have a new album out, of course, with the drone, you were able to take the footage of that, but I’d like to hear more about the album. Exactly, what did it take to make that? How long have you been working on it?
Eric Bikales 22:35
I’m going to start with the album for that, which was my first release in quite a long time. I actually had a little record deal toward the end of my stay in Los Angeles. I released four CDs as a new age electronic artist. I was on a label called “Mood Tape”. I guess the best-known record that I did of the four was called “Tranquility.” There’s still stuff on the radio that they play from some of those four albums. At that point in time, the easiest way and the most inexpensive way to record was to do it all electronically and digitally. That’s what I did because I’ve always enjoyed synthesizers and electronics. Then the styles when Windham Hill came along, the style started shifting more toward acoustic music. That really left me out in the cold because I was an electronic guy, with that deal. It wasn’t that I couldn’t play acoustic piano, that’s my main instrument. It’s just that’s not what I was known for. So there was some period of inactivity there and then I didn’t pick back up on being a solo artist until I got to Tennessee. Then I decided I wanted to do something to take the place of the TD music that I’m really not doing anymore because most of that’s done out in LA or at least was then. So I started working toward making a solo CD and I wanted to make it all piano because I wanted to show people that I can play the piano and that I love acoustic music as much as electronic. So I released an album called “Follow Your Heart.” It did moderately well and got a lot of radio play all over the world.
My follow up album is the one that you’re speaking of, and it’s called “Fire in the Clouds.” The difference between these two records is mainly that “Fire in the Clouds” was recorded completely at home in my own studio. I’ve got this great studio, I’ve had a studio for as long as I’ve been in the music business and it’s always changed. It’s morphed from one thing into another because technology changes so much. At this point, It’s a pretty efficient little studio. I decided I’m going to try to do the whole thing at home. That’s what I did. This record now is just being released as we speak. It’s not up on Spotify yet, but it will be within the week. You can find it on any of the usual vendors online from Apple Music, iTunes, it’ll be streaming on Spotify, Pandora, basically everywhere. I have a promotion company that was helping me get it out there called “Higher Level Media,” and they’re just great. So they’re helping me with the effort, and I’m getting a lot of help from The River of Calm and from Sherry down at Miller. I’m just hoping that the follow-up record does better than the first record. I mean, that’s sort of the idea,
Jason Skipper 25:51
Right, of course!
Eric Bikales 25:54
What’s really changed that is hard to completely get my mind around is the fact that CDs are going away. I find fewer and fewer people who are buying CDs. So it’s really hard for me to let go of, I’m at the age where I grew up with records, and then that that gave way to CDs. I didn’t mind that so much. CDs to me sound better than records even though records are kind of a kick down for a lot of younger people, it’s just it’s like a nostalgic thing. You know, it’s vintage and all that. But, the fact that CDs could be seeing their last days is a difficult thing to transition for me to make. Personally, I really like the idea of having physical media that you can hold in your hands and say, “This is my record, you know, this is my music.” I find that what we’re going to is a world where you can say, “Yes, I’m a composer. Here’s my music because you can’t hold it in your hand because now it’s just a file.
Jason Skipper 27:00
Right, It’s just a file.
Eric Bikales 27:02
This may be a weird thing for some people to understand but for those of us musicians who were old enough to have been through the era of vinyl, it’s kind of sad to see it all going away. It’s only going to be streaming at least for now. We never know what the future holds.
Jason Skipper 27:23
It has changed so much the music industry I know that I didn’t grow up with records, but I grew up with cassette tapes, and then, of course, CDs and everything along with that. It has changed so much over the years. We don’t have a CD player in our house. Of course, I do in my truck, but I don’t at my house. And I think that’s the norm anymore. Everyone uses digital now.
Eric Bikales 27:45
You can’t fight the trend, right? I mean, you can’t. You have to go with where everybody is going if you want to be a part of it. Honestly, for me, Jason, it’s been a struggle to let go of the old school music business and embrace the new music business. Suffice it to say, that where I am in my career right now, I mean forget about records and forget about CDs and all that you really need to get your stuff out there on the streaming stations so that people can hear you because that’s how music is being listened to. We’re making this transition and while CDs are not completely dead yet, they’re just like gasping for breath. So you still have to make a CD sometimes. I find that at some radio station if you want them to play your music, you have to submit it on a CD.
Jason Skipper 28:41
Oh, is that right?
Eric Bikales 28:42
Yeah, it is! That’s one good reason to go ahead and at least make a short run on CDs. I like having the physical thing that I can hold in my hand and I like it when I go play for a gig and I want to sell my music at the gig, that I can sell a CD. So I’m still making CDs. But I think by the time I do another record, ooh, I don’t know. That may be the end of us.
Jason Skipper 29:13
Wow, yeah. It’s hard to let go but it very well maybe because it has changed so much. Well, one more follow up question here. So we don’t get too long. You mentioned that you had put together some footage from your drone and put it with music. Do you post that anywhere? Is there a way to see that footage?
Eric Bikales 29:32
Well, what footage we’ve actually had time to do, my wife Khai has put together for me, she’s really getting into the video editing portion of this. You are asking where you can find it. Well, right now it’s only on my Facebook, but I intend to put that up on YouTube and I intend to see if I can develop a YouTube channel. It’s just another way of adapting to what there is to do at this point in time. I still have a lot of music that I want to write, I have lots and lots of ideas. I have a nice studio and I’m at a time in my life where I’m really kind of foregoing a lot of the activities that I used to be involved with, because I’m sort of tired of doing those and I want to focus more attention on writing and getting my music out there. So I want to build a following and I want to build a fan base that enjoys my music and is willing to buy it or download it or at least listen to it stream. Which, again, that’s the main thing I guess. I’m in their pitch and you know, I haven’t turned in the towel a doubt If I’ll ever do that.
Jason Skipper 30:38
Well, I think that’s the way it has to be done today. That would be great if you could get something up on YouTube. Now, for everyone who is looking for on Facebook, we can find you on I believe it’s facebook.com/ebikales, correct?
Eric Bikales 30:55
That’s right, yes. The other thing too is that I’ve gotten to enjoy teaching, which is something I never did in my earlier years. I work for the Academy of Art in San Francisco as an instructor, and I’ve written several courses for them, and I teach them. So I have college students and graduate students from all over the world that are enrolled in the Academy of Art based in San Francisco. I teach online, I teach harmony and theory, notation, ear training, arranging and film scoring. I do that full time I’ve been doing that for about, over five years, maybe six years, I really enjoy it. So being an educator is another thing that is part of my life. It’s a stabilizing factor. I enjoy helping people to understand what music is important and what’s not and what you really ought to do to equip yourself to do your art.
Jason Skipper 31:49
All right. Do you still do personal lessons as well?
Eric Bikales 31:52
I do, I do. I still have piano students and love to teach a piano and I’ve given lessons on B3. I have one of those over here. I’ve taught people in film scoring, how to write for a picture. Yes, I can do it all privately. So if you’re in the Tennessee area, I’m happy to oblige.
Jason Skipper 32:11
All right, well, how can people get ahold of you?
Eric Bikales 32:13
The best way is to go to my website, which is undergoing a facelift right now. But It is www.Ericbikales.com. That website is being redone as we speak. Also there’s the Facebook site that you mentioned already is facebook.com/ebikales. By all means, you can friend me on Facebook and my email address is easy to find on both of those sites, so you can write me a personal email if you wish to do that. I am selling the second CD and the first one, and copies of it if you have a CD player!
Jason Skipper 32:51
Well, I’m gonna buy it off of Apple Music, but I’m really looking forward to that as soon as it comes out there. I was looking forward to earlier.
Eric Bikales 32:57
Well, great. It’s been a pleasure, Jason, I am so happy to be associated with Miller Piano. You know, they sell the best pianos in the world. Even when I go out of town with Neil Sedaka, and play concerts with him, we always have a grand piano for him. Then I play it for part of the evening. 90% of the time, that’s a Yamaha. They just make the most consistent pianos.
Jason Skipper 33:22
They really do. Well, that is amazing. I just love hearing all your stories, Eric, I imagine we could probably talk for another two hours. You can probably share maybe more, you know, of just all the things you’ve been through. This has just been a great, great time to hear your stories. This has been great, Eric, I really appreciate it. One last question. As a personal note here, you said you’re from Kansas City. Are you a Chief’s fan?
Eric Bikales 33:47
Oh, you betcha. I am so proud of the chiefs. The Super Bowl, It was an amazing thing. Yeah, I was jumping up and down.
Jason Skipper 33:56
I bet, I bet. We’re a little sad here that Tennessee didn’t make it, that the Titans didn’t make it this year, but we were written for the Chiefs when they made it through. At least I was and everyone I know was, as well. So, alright Eric. Well, thank you.
Eric Bikales 34:11
Thanks, Jason. It’s been really fun talking to you. I appreciate the opportunity of coming to your podcast and getting to talk to everybody. I’m so happy and proud to be associated with Miller Piano, and I’m going to be a supporter from now until the end!
Jason Skipper 34:28
Well, thank you, Eric, so much for being a part of Miller Piano and everything that we’re doing and we appreciate that. This has been great. This was Eric Bikales, a pianist, flutist, composer, drone flyer, just a great guy, get his music! As always on this podcast, you can find show notes and a transcript of this episode right on our website at Millerps.com, as well as you can also find us on Apple Podcasts, Google Play podcasts and Spotify. Look us up on your favorite podcast listening platform. Don’t forget to rate, review and subscribe. It really does help us, we’d really appreciate it. Once again, I’m your host Jason Skipper, and we’ll see you next time!