By Morgan James
Brothers, John Stanley King and Ronnie King, are celebrated musicians and music industry professionals who are being given the Pioneer Award at The 2017 CV Music Awards at The Riviera in Palm Springs Sunday, July 23. Born into a musical family, the pair has embraced the opportunity to learn the business and perform regularly in the Coachella Valley in its own infancy, blazing a trail of success along the way. Though greatly accomplished in their careers individually, both John and Ronnie are adamant to see young musicians follow and succeed in their musical ambitions. I spoke with the King brothers about the Coachella Valley as it was, as it has become, and what it means to be honored with a Pioneer Award.
MJ: Tell me what it means to be recognized as two of Coachella Valley’s pioneers in music?
RK: “I was shocked. Being a pioneer sounds like you are old and I just cut my hair and let it go grey so… man, that hits home. Seriously though, my brother and I have been talking about this award and what it means and it really is such a huge privilege for our whole family. Both of my grandfather’s came out to the desert and played music in the 1930’s and 1940’s in town before it was even popular. They were playing country clubs when the first country clubs were just being built. Our grandfathers would play the OLPH Catholic Church and Knights of Columbus parties, way before there were generator parties. We were fortunate to follow in their footsteps and to follow this music path in general.”
MJ: What other influences did you have growing up and how did your careers differ from those of your grandparents and parents? What gigs did you play?
JSK: “We had one grandfather on each side playing out here; one a hillbilly and one a jazz dude. We ended up in the middle though, I think, with our music. Ronnie got more into the punk stuff, but my era was more Led Zepplin, Allman Brothers, Steve Miller, and Santana. I graduated Indio High School in 1976. I was able to survive through all of the disco and electronic music though and continue to play.”
RK: “At that time our parents would take John to see John McCormick in a club in Indio. Our only representation of Hollywood was Sinatra and all that. I used to watch Gloria Greer and think ‘Wow! What a glorious lady on TV.’ My sister got me on keys before I had any official lessons, but Scott Smith was one of my mentors here in the desert and John Buchino. My first paying job was at El Morocco Hotel playing with my brother, John, and Bill Ferguson. I was in high school so I had to get a note that I could even play in the bar and my dad had to go with me. Crazy though that I easily made $300 per week. We used to set up on a Tuesday night and play until the weekend. At that time a musician could make a great living working regularly. We played at the Amigo Room in Indio when Baby Budda used to play and we would pick up his off nights. We would actually get in John’s truck and play at the North Shore Yacht Club at the Salton Sea and play the Friday and Saturday night parties. Three would sit in the front and then I’d be in the truck bed with the equipment. The Iron Gate Club up 74 was a great place and we played 5 nights per week where all our friends would come and hang out in the parking lot afterward.”
MJ: Where did you each go from there?
RK: “John toured with Fred Waring after all that. We both went through his workshop one summer and we were studying under him, especially John. I’ll never forget the big tour bus rolling up to the house and all the people dressed up and my folks made dinner for them. I got picked up to play at the Canyon Hotel at age 18 or 19, 5 nights per week. That was with Frankie Ford. Then we toured around. I played with John McCormick a couple seasons as well on all the major party days, but right about then I didn’t like playing on holidays; my poor wife who was my girlfriend at the time, coming to all of my shows on Thanksgiving and the like. In the desert you could make money playing music, you just had to figure it out. Only a few booking agents were around and we used to play a lot of private parties. It was shocking the amount of money we were making. All the hotels were just being built and hiring musicians for parties. I rebelled against the desert though, thinking I needed to be bigger, I was going to make records in Los Angeles. You have to have drive. Obviously I did play on and produce a lot of records, and now in the movies and being an entrepreneur, and you know, the rest is history. I have been in and out of the desert and L.A. and all over the world ever since.”
JSK: “Now I’m at this place called Vicky’s of Santa Fe and I have been getting this great rush of people coming out to see us play with sold out shows every Friday through the season.”
MJ: Tell me what advice you’d have for up and coming artists and those who are looking to work in the music business?
RK: “What’s great about these types of awards is that amongst their peers they are acknowledged. I suggest and direct the young musicians, but not tell them. They have to make the decision. I don’t have a crystal ball as to what path will work for them. It is so fun working with younger bands though. Stick with it and learn about the business aspect too, so you can be competitive in the world. I would most like to see the establishments support music and have club owners go the extra mile for the artists and invest in them.”
JSK: “I would say that if you are trying to make it in music you need to choose your direction and go for it 120%. It was important for me to be able to make a living playing music. I didn’t want to starve for ten years making an album and hope to make it. Are you going to have a house and not travel and play locally? Or are you going to tour and try to get your videos seen by a million people? I have two kids so I am lucky to play 5 or 6 nights per week and still be able to raise my kids, but have musical gratification. I go at it on a small level. If I can sing to someone one night at the club and they love my original music, then that is just as great as having that MTV music video. Ronnie on the other hand, is always on the go, that’s what he likes. We are fortunate to be doing what we love.”