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Spokane’s Dr. Bob Riggs to celebrate debut album with Bartlett show

January 4, 2019

Anyone who’s seen the guitar hanging on the wall in Dr. Bob Riggs’ office at Kaiser Permanente’s Riverfront Medical Center knows.

So too does anyone who has caught an open mic night at the Bartlett recently, or anyone who read Riggs’ first “House Call” column, which appears biweekly in The Spokesman-Review, back in October 2015.

But anyone else might be surprised to learn that Riggs, who has been a family physician in Spokane for 26 years, is also an accomplished musician.

After years of writing and performing here and there, Riggs will celebrate the release of his first album, “Cairns,” with a headlining show at the Bartlett on Saturday.

Riggs has always been a singer, performing in choirs in grade school and high school, and he picked up the guitar at the age of 17, though he initially thought he was too old to learn because all of his guitar-playing friends took up the instrument when they were 10 or 12.

While in college, Riggs worked as a club leader with Young Life, a ministry that works with high school students.

“Part of the routine of those meetings is a time of singing songs,” Riggs said. “I cut my teeth playing guitar by standing up in front of a group of high school kids and pounding on my guitar and leading camp songs.”

The 63-year-old physician began writing songs 40 years ago, but other obligations, namely work and family, kept that songwriting inconsistent.

He started writing again three or four years ago, around the same time he began booking more public performances.

Over the years, Riggs sang at weddings and funerals and led worship at church, but, in his words, he hadn’t ever just been a performer.

But things changed when the Bartlett opened.

After years of talking himself out of performing at the Empyrean Coffee House, Riggs, who has known Bartlett co-owner Karli Ingersoll for years, convinced himself to brush up on his originals, learn a few covers and sign up for the Bartlett’s open mic nights.

“I’d been primed with the Empyrean and needed a safe place and then it was like ‘OK, this is here. I’ve got to do it,’ ” he said. “That was really the trigger that put me over the edge into playing more publicly.”

Riggs began to build a portfolio of covers he could perform while also writing two to three songs a year.

After a few years, Riggs found himself with enough material for an album.

“Cairns” features a mix of originals, traditional folk songs and covers.

One original, “Altamont E.R.,” finds Riggs turning to his career as a family physician for inspiration, telling the story of a young, unexpectedly expecting patient.

Riggs said he’s been performing the covers – “Angels from Montgomery” by John Prine and Mindy Smith’s “Come to Jesus” – for years, and has always loved the traditional songs, like the spiritual “Deep River.”

“Then I have half a dozen originals that at the time we recorded it, I think those were most of the songs that I had written,” he said. “Although there were a couple that I had written at that point that didn’t get on there so now I’m thinking about the next one.”

“Cairns” was produced by Scott Ingersoll, who performs solo as Scott Ryan and as a member of Super Sparkle.

The pair recorded the album, which features musicians Jenny Anne Mannan, Peter Dyer and Jamie Frost, in the back bedroom of Riggs’ house.

Karli Ingersoll created the album artwork, and Caleb Ingersoll, Karli’s husband and Scott’s brother, mastered the record, which was released on streaming platforms in November.

Riggs, like any creative with a day job, had to make time after his work at Riverfront Medical Center to write and record.

“The day job pays a lot better, but the music is a love that I have,” he said. “Most days I will spend at least 30 minutes or an hour, I’ll pick up my guitar and practice some songs. It keeps the calluses on my hands built up and my skills tuned up.”

If he’s not writing a song of his own, he’ll choose a song to learn and add to his list of covers.

But, as Riggs noted, live music happens after hours, so if a day has not been too rough, he’ll try to make it to an open mic.

Occasionally, he’ll take the guitar off his office wall and perform a song for a patient.

“That’s pretty sweet when I get to do that,” he said.

Riggs has been performing every couple of months as of late, including at Bellwether Brewing and River Park Square as part of Terrain’s Brrrzaar, but with “Cairns” in hand, he’s hoping to increase that to a couple times each month.

He’s hoping he can now use the album to introduce himself to places around town that host live music and ask to be put on the calendar.

Riggs figures if “Cairns” and his performances are well-received, he can begin thinking about album two.

He suspects it will feature even more original tunes, though he could also see including covers of a few more songs that are near and dear to him.

Riggs is grateful for the conversations he’s been able to have and friends he’s met because of his music and is looking forward to even more time on stage.

“The public has been positive and the musicians around here are just fabulous,” he said. “There’s so many talented people and they are just gracious and good-hearted folks and very supportive. It’s pretty heartwarming.”

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