BY RANDY KEITH
Liberace is arguably the best interactive piano entertainer of the 20th century. His new biography, “Behind the Candelabra” stars Michael Douglas playing the piano showman. The movie stays genuine to the setting of Liberace’s life, shot mostly in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, yet some scenes were shot in Palm Springs, where he died, and right here in Santa Clarita, the hometown of a 21st-century Liberace.
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Randy Keith is also referred to by many of his dueling piano colleagues as one of the top interactive piano entertainers in the country. Keith grew up in Santa Clarita. Born in 1980, Keith was more influenced by Liberace’s successor and protege, Elton John. Like Liberace and Elton, Keith was an early musical bloomer. Liberace sat at the piano at 4, Elton at 3. Keith’s first seat at the piano was at 8 months and his first lesson was 5 months before his third birthday.
Keith could have been a piano player for hire, as he entertained his guests at his third birthday party in front of cameras staged by his parents Robert and Bonnie Keith. At the time, Bonnie had just finished shooting for the lead role of 1983’s “D.C. Cab” and continued to work as an actress in Los Angeles playhouses, most notably with Eric Douglas, the younger brother of “Behind the Candelabra” star, Michael Douglas. Keith would accompany his mother on many rounds of auditions and line-readings, even at one point having 3 different agents himself.
Upon moving to Santa Clarita at the age of 7, Keith dabbled in playing “easy piano” versions of pop tunes in between lessons with his classical Polish music teacher. Coincidentally, one of his favorite waltzes to play was composed by a man named Jan Paderewski, a teacher of the famed Liberace.
By his freshman year in high school, Keith was doing weather reports for KHTS predecessor KBET AM-1220 during the day, and at night was playing pop songs on the piano and backselling them on his own home-built radio station “Stereo 97 FM.”
At Saugus High School, Keith learned the singing and acting part of playing the persona of “piano player extraordinaire.” In school, he co-starred with Mandy Gonzales, now a headliner on Broadway, in “The Sound of Music” and “Guys and Dolls.” By 15, at home, Randy was building his Elton John repertoire.
“I remember the first time I heard ‘Rocket Man.’ I think I had heard the song before, but it was different this time… I had just purchased the Elton John song book and realized I could play the song exactly like Elton if I listened hard enough,” Keith said.
Like Liberace, Keith learned to play piano mostly by ear; he didn’t have the patience to read music and figure out details.
“If he could hear it, he could play it,” he said–a truth for Keith and any notable interactive piano entertainers who take requests on the spot.
After losing his dad to heart disease and seeing his high school co-star Mandy Gonzales star as Amneris in “Aida” in 2003, Keith decided that pursuing his dream of playing onstage like Elton was the road he wanted to take.
Watch The Video: Liberace Of Santa Clarita, Randy Keith
Liberace, Elton John, Billy Joel and a plethora of other entertainers had paved the way for the 21st century interactive piano entertainer. With Keith’s performing and radio background, he was able to adapt his communication skills to the stage, and continued to watch tapes of Elton and Billy in their prime.
“Elton never misses a note,” Keith said many times in frustration trying to figure out many of Elton’s bluesy piano solos by ear.
“But when the crowd is really into it,” he said, “the accuracy really doesn’t matter.”
In “Behind the Candelabra” the authenticity of Liberace’s actual pianos is preserved, as movie producers brought in his two grand pianos for the filming. Unlike traditional “dueling pianos,” which Keith mastered since his first visit to Howl at the Moon, the setup in the movie features two pianos side-by-side.
“I couldn’t even imagine playing a real piano that much; every gig I play today uses keyboards. The technology is pretty good now so they sound like real pianos, but most real piano players know the difference. Keyboards are much easier on the fingers though.”
Like Liberace and Elton, Keith also plays the Vegas strip, working at the world-famous dueling piano bars “The Bar at Times Square” at New York New York and “The Piano Bar” at Harrah’s. Corporate event entertainment is big in Vegas and all over the country in the form of dueling pianos.
Keith has played for clubs and companies from coast-to-coast and even overseas on land and cruise ships. Keith has lived in Seattle, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Singapore since leaving Santa Clarita in 2007.
“I am so blessed to be able to play piano like I used to with all those Elton DVDs… And now I make a great living doing it and entertaining bunches of people along the way.”
The title of “piano player extraordinaire” undoubtedly matches the likes of Liberace, Elton John, and Billy Joel. But Santa Clarita’s own Randy Keith is a little more accessible and still enjoys being the “interactive piano player” and not just a performer. Randy’s feelings almost directly match those of the 20th century virtuoso and subject of “Behind the Candelabra:”
“There are lots of things I like to play (classical music, romantic ballads) but can get construed as background music. If I’m just playing and I get a little golf clap afterwards, what’s the point? I want people to enjoy what I’m doing, and in turn enjoy what they’re doing.”
About Randy Keith
Randy Keith, a Santa Clarita native, travels the country performing as a professional piano entertainer. Randy plays at dueling piano clubs primarily in Southern California and Las Vegas and is available for bookings through his company, PremierPianoShows.com.
Read more about Randy Keith, Editorial: Randy Keith Is The ‘Liberace Of Santa Clarita’
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Source: Santa Clarita News