Rod Masters was only 10 when taught to play Lady of Spain on piano and organ in his native Ohio, never realizing he’d someday popularize the 1931 Tolchard Evans classic for generations of hockey fans.
In fact, Masters, 66, who’s quietly spent the past decade living in Edmonds, is arguably hockey’s most famous organ player that’s never worked an actual game. That’s about to change Saturday when the foil for actor Paul Newman’s character in the Hollywood cult classic movie “Slap Shot” sets up at Climate Pledge Arena as the Kraken’s new in-house organist.
“I can’t believe it,” Masters said. “I don’t think I’m going to believe it until the first night it’s over with.”
That’s because in the 45 years since Slap Shot’s 1977 release, Masters hasn’t made an additional dime off his celluloid appearance alongside Newman and the fictional Hanson Brothers in some of the movie’s most iconic scenes.
But Google the movie’s name and YouTube videos pop up showing a scene where Newman, playing Reggie Dunlop, captain of the Charlestown Chiefs, walks into the arena pregame and hears Masters warming up on his organ with music that clearly displeases him. An outraged Dunlop storms into the arena’s control room, rips the music sheet from atop the organ and admonishes Masters: “Don’t ever play Lady of Spain again!”
Masters’ character by then was wearing a hockey helmet while playing the organ: the result of taking a puck off his head in an equally memorable prior scene courtesy of a deflected shot into his booth from ice level by one of the Chiefs’ bespectacled Hanson Brothers, a trio of hockey-fighting goons.
“They shot the puck out of an air gun and the gun is just off camera aimed right at my head,” Masters said. “We did quite a few takes because I was blinking my eyes. The director is sitting right across the organ from me staring at me right in the face making sure I didn’t flinch or anything before it hits me. And I know it’s coming.”
But for all the notoriety his scenes generated, Masters was never approached to play at actual games or do anything hockey related. That’s quite unlike the real-life minor pro hockey player actors portraying the Hanson Brothers, who’ve traversed North America the past two decades making a living off paid public appearances.
Masters has only been to a handful of hockey games. He got the movie gig because he’d been living in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where it was shot and playing at a local hotel where Newman’s brother, a drummer, had come out ahead of the film and sat in on their sessions. The brother told Masters the movie needed an organist, he auditioned, and the rest is history.
Due to not being a hockey buff, Masters admittedly was unaware until recently just how big a cult following “Slap Shot” and his scenes had attained.
“I didn’t think hockey was the way for me to go,” he said. “I never dreamed that I’d actually get a job playing the organ for a hockey team. So, I never applied for it.”
Masters never even got an official movie credit for his role. Spoken lines Newman wanted him to say were never added to the script.
“The director didn’t go for it, so I didn’t get to talk,” Masters said. “Therefore, I didn’t get the credit I deserved, or royalties. I mean, they paid me. But until now, it’s never paid off.”
Until now, Masters, who’d mostly worked lounge acts on piano and organ in Las Vegas and Alaska, planned to spend his retirement at a newly purchased home in Arizona. He’d come to the Seattle area by way of Fairbanks, Alaska, because his girlfriend there, Lauri Strauss, decided to move here to start a new business.
He did paid music gigs throughout the region, mostly with bands in bars, but never let on about his movie past.
“I never used the fact that I was in ‘Slap Shot’ to ever get a job,” he said. “None of the things that I went after would ever apply to that. Just because I could play Lady of Spain and look handsome on-screen wasn’t going to get it done.”
He finally retired and was preparing for a new life in Arizona when he learned the Kraken would be starting up.
“I thought, ‘Maybe I could talk to somebody,’ ” he said. “But I couldn’t figure out who to talk to.”
Finally, a friend from Fairbanks with NHL connections got him contact information for Lamont Buford, the Kraken’s vice president of entertainment experience. Masters emailed him in October, just as the team was preparing to open Climate Pledge Arena.
The Kraken had long toyed with hiring an in-game organ player. Buford showed the Masters email to his boss, Jonny Greco, the Kraken’s senior vice president of in-game entertainment.
“When Lamont (Buford) got the email, it was just a few days before our first game,” Greco said. “And I’m like, ‘Get out of here! There’s no way the real guy from “Slap Shot” is right here.’ It just didn’t seem real.”
Once the arena opened and the team had time, it arranged for Masters to send video demo tapes of how he’d perform. Some have since been shown on the arena’s dual giant scoreboards during Kraken games, juxtaposed with footage of Masters from the actual movie.
“The video clips of Rod have landed so well with our crowd that we were like, ‘We have to do this,’ ” Greco said. “The fact that he’s been in this city 10 years and he’s so tied to hockey tradition, it’s just ridiculous.”
Masters will now remain at his Edmonds residence the remainder of the season while building out his new in-game gig. He’s worked on a playlist with the Kraken — “Lady of Spain” is on it — and will stick for now with the same Roland combination of digitally controlled classical sound instruments he’s played on for years and that “still sound fantastic.”
But he’s shopping around for “an actual proper organ that would be good for hockey games” and is leaning toward a Hammond. “That’s the choice of most organ players really,” he said. “That’s why I always try to go for the Hammond sound … that people have been using since the 1950s, or even the 40s.”
Greco predicts the organ music, performed from a press box level area visible to the crowd, will bring “an awesome live element” of traditional hockey to the 250 or so songs already played during every game.
“We’re thrilled about it.”
So is Masters, who said playing Kraken games is the only thing he’d consider leaving his newfound retirement for.
Masters has no problem with Lady of Spain despite it being the movie’s object of ridicule. He said “Slap Shot” director George Roy Hill, famed for directing Newman and Robert Redford in the classic films “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “The Sting,” picked the music for his scene.
“I sat down at the organ, looked at the director and said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ ” Masters said. “He said, ‘Play Lady of Spain.’ ” And I said: ‘I know that one.’ ”
And now, millions of hockey fans do as well: If not the music itself, at least the name. And come Saturday, so will local hockey newcomers among the thousands attending Kraken games.