John King is a piano man but his repertoire goes far beyond Elton John or Billy Joel.
The Texas native, whose Rock N Roll Piano Bar takes place Tuesday nights at The Lighthouse Cafe in Hermosa Beach, said Metallica and rap are part of the 1,000 songs he's learned over the years.
“I have different ways of kind of accompanying myself in a way where I can just about do any kind of song,” King said.
King's show is interactive, he takes requests and encourages the audience to sing along. The song list is upbeat, which keeps the 8 p.m. to midnight show moving.
“You never give them a chance to get bored with a song.... it's over and they're like, 'Okay, what's the next one?'” he said.
King grew up in Texas. His father, Patrick, was a keyboard player and his mother, Beverly, was a singer in a cover band. He said he spent his first four years in hotels. But his interest didn't lie in music, it was sports. At one point he had to choose between baseball or piano lessons, so he picked baseball.
“It wasn't later until I appreciated what my parents did and I would listen to old recordings of them performing,” King said.
King started playing music in 1996 when he was 21 and later joined a band that never performed in public, but a lot of rehearsals gave him more experience. He had been studying electrical engineering at the University of Texas but that “did not go well” because of poor grades.
“I worked really hard to learn whatever the five songs they were learning ... I was not very good when I started, but I got better. Just by being in a band you have that pressure,” said King of that first band.
But King's father's old country band was reuniting and needed a keyboard player.
“I was a good fit. To them I was this young guy, I had a good attitude and I was good about carrying the equipment,” King said. “That's what my dad told me. The best thing you can do if you want to get into a band: as soon as they unload, as soon as they open the truck, be the first one in to grab stuff and work hard setting up and tearing down.”
King started playing with more bands to pay the bills and made enough to go back to college where he earned a psychology degree at Texas A&M University and later a masters degree at Texas State University.
But he continued to work at the piano including the now closed Crocodile Rocks Dueling Piano Bar in Austin and Pete's Dueling Piano Bar, also in Austin, where he worked for 13 years before moving to Los Angeles in August 2018.
It was at Crocodile Rocks that he integrated more into his show, including singing, which did not come naturally to him.
“It was pretty intense work, learning songs, learning how to sing, learning how to memorize the words and play at the same time,” King said.
King's wife Elisabeth, a nurse practitioner in oncology, was offered a job at City of Hope managing its Clinical Genetics Department, so they headed west with their two children.
King did not know any one in Los Angeles, so he attempted to make connections and eventually picked up shifts at various clubs. One day he visited the beach cities and spotted The Lighthouse and contacted its general manager, Steven Grehl. It so happened that Tuesday nights had recently opened up and King started playing there in February.
“We started to build a following, we're just trying to get the word out,” King said.
The Lighthouse is located at 30 Pier Ave. in Hermosa Beach.