Richard Gibbs was told by his mom at age 5 to take piano lessons, with the desire to see him become a cultured member of society.
It didn’t quite work out that way. Gibbs was not that easily controlled.
He learned to surf, once got fired for using a lawnmower to write an obscenity, and rattled about in an unconventional “nuclear family” that exploded.
“All sorts of problems happened when I was little,” said Gibbs. “It was deeply screwed up stuff.”
But his mom’s insistence that he learn to play piano was a precious gift after all.
“Music was my escape. I loved how it made me feel good when I was feeling bad.”
Unlike his two brothers, Gibbs never stopped playing. Now age 57, Gibbs is all about music. He’s an exceptional musician and composer who plays piano, other keyboards and sometimes fiddles on the guitar or trombone.
“I will always be a piano player first,” he said. “I took up guitar as a passion, and with the trombone I torture my puppy.”
Recording at The Woodshed
Much of his time these days is spent composing music or helping others do the same at his custom built music studio at his Malibu home, with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. Musicians that have played at his studio, Woodshed Recording, include Sting, Pink, Cher and Lenny Kravitz.
You most likely have heard Gibbs play, possibly as a member of the high energy rock band of the ‘80s, Oingo Boingo, led by Danny Elfman, where Gibbs was a member from 1980 through ‘84. Or maybe you heard the scores Gibbs has written for about 70 movies and TV shows, from The Muppets, The Simpsons and Battlestar Galactica to movies such as Dr. Dolittle, Say Anything, and Queen of the Damned. Or perhaps you heard him as a session player on more than 150 different albums with talents like Tom Waits, Robert Palmer, Aretha Franklin and Melissa Etheridge. The list of credits can be viewed at his website.
I caught up with Gibbs on a recent Saturday morning at a weekly collective of some of the brightest minds in Los Angeles, a professional networking group called METal. There is no missing the presence of Richard Gibbs. Even amongst a crowd more than 100 chattering bodies he stands out. Always mischievous looking, Gibbs exudes an electricity that, if it could write a message in the sky, might say “Let’s have fun.”
Gibbs is a dedicated member of METal, which meets most every Saturday for breakfast, camaraderie and speaker presentations. They meet for a few hours at a hall in the art district of Bergamot Station in Santa Monica. The group is led by Ken Rutkowski, host of Business Rockstars on radio station KFWB and one of the most connected men in Los Angeles. Each week the group is presented a wide range of topics in the fields of media, entertainment and technology, where the METal name is derived.
“Every time I go it’s a jolt,” said Gibbs. “It’s the mental stimulation, the energy that drives me forward in new ways.”
Man of the Year
On this day Gibbs was the main event, a double-header actually. That morning Rutkowksi presented Gibbs an award as “METal Man of the Year,” something of an honorary trophy that essentially knights Gibbs as the man among men.
But there was more. The main event that morning was Gibbs himself, who presented a lesson on how to score movies. He brought with him Miles Mosely, vocalist, bassist, pianist and composer from Hollywood. Mosely is a star-performing eclectic genius on an big, amplified upright bass – a testament to the kinds of talent Gibbs surrounds himself with. He wants to know something about every instrument and learn from the best.
“If you want to be a composer you have to be familiar with every family of instruments, at least to the point of carrying a melody, so you know what’s going on,” he said. “The violin, sax and clarinet, trumpet and percussion, you have to learn all these things to understand all the layers.”
The process of learning has never been an obstacle for Gibbs. As a kid he was a spelling champion and killer chess player. He earned an Associate of Arts degree from Daytona Beach Community College while still enrolled as a senior in high school. He went on to receive a Bachelors’ Degree in classical composition from Boston’s Berklee College of Music, before moving to California and getting married to Linda, where they delivered two sons, Keegan and Riley, and a daughter, Katelin, all three now in their mid-20s.
When asked what he would be if he wasn’t a musician Gibbs did not hesitate to answer.
“I would have been trial lawyer because I love a debate, getting into the nitty-gritty of both sides of issues, seeing another point of view totally different than mine.”
He describes his political views as not left or right but forward. Among his affiliations he lists Mensa, the largest and oldest high IQ society. He loves playing ping pong and still surfs, but he loves creating music more than anything else.
“I’m fascinated how music attaches to your brain,” he said. “And when I finish a film score I am bereft of any molecule being able to move. It takes a lot out of you.”
That thought reminded Gibbs of a story, of a French composer, Georges Delerue, who had more than 350 scores for cinema and television. Delerue had just completed an orchestral score. When the last note was completed he slumped over onto the podium and died right then. He was 67. The curtains had closed.
“That’s how I want to go. Just not yet. Composing is something I’ll do till the day I die,” said Gibbs.