John Stanley King is a man of many talents, covering multiple genres of music.
The brother of local musician and famed music producer Ronnie King is widely known after performing for decades at venues valley-wide. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Independent readers voted him the Best Local Musician for 2017-2018.
King explained during a recent phone interview how he’s been able to remain passionate about music—after some 45 years as a performer.
“It’s been such a strange upbringing for me here in the desert,” King said. “I had to figure out how to not only make a living playing music, but I also had to figure out how to play music and not get bored or burned out with it. What I figured out, because I love so many genres of music, is that by putting a blues band together and playing blues tunes, I have enough blues in me to be considered a blues guy. So I’ve gotten awards for being a blues artist.
“I started performing with my grandfather’s band when I was 12 out here in Cathedral City, and in his band, I had to learn all that Frank Sinatra stuff. … The jazz part of me—that, I do at Vicky’s of Santa Fe on Sunday, and I sing all that stuff from my grandfather’s band with jazz guys and with a jazz bass player and a jazz piano player. I’ve learned how to mix and match talents, and I’m able to sing a certain genre and present a theme. On Friday night, I get to be myself at Vicky’s of Santa Fe, and that’s where I do stuff I grew up with, like Pink Floyd, Steve Miller, Carlos Santana and Neil Young. I also get to perform my original music that I’ve been writing since I was 15. I’ve been able to stay busy that way.”
There is one song that King said he’s very much tired of.
“If I had to sing ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ five nights a week, I think I’d just cut my wrists,” King said with a laugh. “Luckily, I haven’t had to do that song in nine months, thank God. But I can count the thousands of times I’ve had to do that song.”
King almost always has a band with him—because he does not like performing solo.
“I can’t stand playing music by myself. I lose the passion with the music part,” he said. “It’s almost like shooting baskets when you’re a kid at the park by yourself, and you’re waiting for somebody to come, and no one comes, so you just give up. It’s the same way with me and playing music: I have to have someone to play off of, and at least have that much. I like the back and forth communication between musicians. I’ve seen it go away in many friends of mine who get used to that (solo) routine, and you’ll see them at the street fair, looking miserable. I’ve tried to protect myself from that for a number of years by always having at least one person with me. The bigger, the better.”
Despite his long and successful career, King insisted that he does not take music for granted.
“I just figured this was a good way to make a living,” he said. “I asked God when I was in high school: ‘Just let me make a living playing music, and I’ll be good. It’s OK if I don’t have stardom and stuff; just let me play music for a living so I don’t have to work in the desert digging holes.’ Back in the ’70s and ’80s, there weren’t many houses, so building was huge, and all my friends were in construction. I didn’t want to do that. This has been a great way for me to make a living and enjoy music. I’m still loving every moment, and it’s a lot of fun.
“I recently played at the McCallum Theatre with Jimi Fitz, and that was a lot of fun. … I was, like, 18, and somehow I got into Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians and toured the country. We did the Kennedy Center, the Greek Theatre and Carnegie Hall, and I did that for 2 1/2 years and then decided to play my music again. I’ve played in the clubs and backed many of the local legends who have come and gone through the years.”
King mentioned a Facebook thread not long ago on which local musicians listed all of the places at which they’ve played in the Coachella Valley over the years.
“I played them all when they were open, and played them all as they closed,” he said. “In fact, I tried to open two clubs of my own. I had a place called Moonlight Grill in Palm Desert and a spot called King’s Social Club. I learned a lesson that I wasn’t a great businessman, so I don’t want to do that anymore. I just want to play the music part of it.”
Because he’s seen it all, I asked King what he thinks of the current local music scene.
“The Coachella festival has just changed the whole thing,” he said. “It put the whole fricking thing on the map. I remember when I was a kid in Indio, and Iron Butterfly came and played at the Date Festival. Those kind of gigs would come once every 10 years—they’d let someone big perform in the desert. Now? (Indio) is the ‘City of Festivals,’ and Indio is world-renowned for these concerts that have come up. I think it helped the creativity in the Coachella Valley all around. It made it a little more hip for people to enjoy, and we have places like The Hood Bar and Pizza in Palm Desert that’s all original music, which is awesome, because those kinds of places didn’t exist in the Coachella Valley. There are probably four more places that let you come in and play your record and rock it out, which has been a great tribute to the kids out here. That’s where Kyuss and all the younger bands came out from—this real creative pocket that exists here. It’s growing and growing and growing.”