Striking A Chord With The Piano Man
Son of a Preacher Man, for over 25 years, Randy Beecher has reigned supreme as San Diego's Piano Man
Born and raised in San Diego, his father a Pastor, who overtime began a church of his own in El Cajon, raised the family as church goers who both sang at choir and played piano. Although all of the siblings could sing, none ever chose to make a career of it, nor did Randy at the very start. His mother, the pianist in church, and who also promoted piano within the home provided all of the family with a steady diet of piano and song.
Connecting with Randy at his long held gig in Rancho Santa Fe, we find a passion within him that has continued strong these many years with each night's performance as fresh, albeit incredibly more polished and refined as must have been his first.
Q: What led you to the piano as a career choice?
A: Although I was quite familiar with both piano and song, when graduating from high school, I first sought a career in realty and also sold pianos for a time. I went back to school and thereafter acquired my Masters in Musicology. With degree in hand, I began to teach music at Grossmont College and occasionally at Mesa College as well. I focus on the history of rock music and music appreciation courses.
Q: When did you begin doing gigs as a piano player?
A: Right out of high school I played some of the greatest East County dives you could imagine. On my breaks, I had to go out in the parking lot because I was too young to go into the bar. I then met up with a very talented guitarist who needed a keyboardist and we teamed up in the 80's. The guy was a master on stage and I learned so much from him and owe a repertoire to him. He could do it all and taught me how to follow along. It is then that I began to sing and began to do my own gigs all over San Diego at most of the traditional piano bars.
Q: Is the piano man also a family man?
A: Absolutely right. Married with two daughters and a son.
Q: What led you to Rancho Santa Fe?
A: The real life changer came at Kelley's Steakhouse downtown in Mission Valley where I was playing a gig. A fellow came and approached me to fill in for him at a restaurant located in the Ranch. Two weeks before the scheduled date, he called to say that he had decided to quit and suggested that I show up for an audition. I went up and did audition on a Friday night. All of the staff members sat around the piano and I was asked to play. It was in May of 1993 and the rest is history. I have been playing there ever since.In those early days, there were so few people that I would even read a book after the dinner hours, since the bar was so small and everyone left after being served their meal. Over the years, I began to create a following, the venue grew larger and now it almost always is filled with a rather colorful and rambunctious gathering of personalities.
Q: Do you prefer a raucous crowd or one listening intently?
A: I define myself more as an entertainer than a musician. Years ago I was approached to consider the San Diego symphony and I could simply not see myself in that role. I prefer to have a group who is appreciating the songs, be that loud dance music or more subdued melodies that allows for conversation. I would rather have people come in and have a great time laughing than to listen intensely to every note I play. My greatest challenge is when we have a combination of personalities sitting around the piano and on the dance floor. As I read the room, I am deciding which of the songs to keep everyone engaged and happy. If the crowd is totally split, then it can be a huge challenge and I may find myself going home exhausted.
Q: Performing in the Ranch, had you had any number of well-known figures drop in on occasion?
A: Far too many to list. President Ford and his wife Betty, Burt Bacharach, Tim Conway, Mel Brooks, Bill Gates to name a few. Burt actually sat down and played a few numbers. That was a special night.Looking for love in all the wrong places; consider this venue as one possible exception!
Q: Having played Mille Fleurs for the past 24 years, how do you manage a show face each and every appearance?
A: I truly owe it to my Dad, whose smile came so naturally to him. He had personalities of all types coming to him and he genuinely was able to deal with it. He had great people skills and I would like to think that some of it rubbed off on me.Additionally, I love what I do as a performer. I have a front row seat in what can be great theater. The variety of personalities of all ages that arrive on scene one could only have imagined, and yet here they are, each seeking a night of enjoyment, be it to dance, to listen to the music or whatever else may be on the agenda. On many a night, it just all comes together.
Q: Do you follow a set routine for each night's performance?
A: Certainly early on, while diners are still enjoying their meal, the tone is quieter and the music more subdued. As the evening moves along, and as I begin to sense the personalities in the room, I begin to liven the tempo. In recent years, it has become a combination of piano bar and disco with everyone taking to the dance floor. At times, I am there just accompanying the sound of the music rather than being featured as the main player.
Q: Have you seen relationships develop and dissolve over drinks at the piano bar?
A: Have I ever! In fact, getting to know some of those who frequent the nights that I play, I have introduced one to the other, which on occasion has led to marriage.
Q: There must be a number of songs that you dread as a request?
A: Shall I say Piano Man! I do try to stay away from playing the piano between gigs so that when I next play it will seem more spontaneous. And there always are new faces and old friends who show on scene, so once seated, never knowing what the night will bring is stimulus enough for me to find enjoyment in every set.
Q: Twenty-four years on the same stage, at the same venue, on the same weekly schedule. Are we nearing the end?
A: I am here unless asked to leave.