A 6-year-old San Jose, California boy and avid Beatles fan, King Tobias, is living the musical dream of his young life.
The precocious guitar player, who, in less than one year of lessons, has already mastered numerous songs by the Fab Four, got to meet two of his musical heroes (or, in King’s word, ‘brothers’): Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney.
King’s mother, Cali Tobias, feels a particular sense of urgency in helping make her son’s musical aspirations reality: she has battled breast cancer four times since the age of 20 over a decade ago, and is currently fighting ovarian cancer.
Today, her son is taking guitar lessons from a local college student, and is performing at his school’s show-and-tell and at the talent show at the end of the year. However, his school does not have a formal music education program for students King’s age; music lessons, Cali said, start in the fifth grade.
‘GAVE HIM THE BEST POSSIBLE FIGHTING CHANCE’
While King’s talent and dedication at 6 years of age suggest a future of limitless possibility, his entry into the world was perilous.
King, who has an older sister and younger sister, is the sole survivor of triplets. Born premature in 2008, doctors said he would have lingering health issues.
“We pushed him as hard as we could, and gave him the best possible fighting chance,” Cali said. “He was saying ‘Mama’ and ‘Dada’ by the time he was six months old; at eight months he was walking. When he almost 2 years old, he heard his first Beatles song; my mom was playing it for him. He ended up infatuated with The Beatles at 2 years old.”
Cali continued, “At 3 years old, King was writing and spelling and very advanced. He went on YouTube and listened to every Beatles song, even the songs that weren’t released. He was getting into the movies, too. I hardly knew anything about The Beatles at the time. King really pretty much introduced me to their music.”
King’s musical experience continued at The Stanford Cancer Center, where he accompanied his mother as she was getting treatments following breast cancer surgery.
“I was in the hospital for a few weeks after a radical bilateral mastectomy. After I was released, I had to go back for all my treatments. There was this man there, Jim Nichols, whose father used to play with The Rolling Stones and who had also met Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney in the past. He was sitting there, playing soft music on the guitar for the chemotherapy patients. One day, King, at age 4, walked up to him and asked if he had any Beatles music. Jim started playing “Day Tripper” and King was just belting out the words and drew this big crowd in the cancer center. Then, Jim played “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Helter Skelter” and “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” and King would start belting out all the words. Jim asked if King knew every Beatles song, and I said, ‘This kid knows everything about the Beatles.’”
As King continued to perform with Nichols at the Stanford Cancer Center, Cali realized she needed to buy her son a guitar.
“We got a child-sized guitar for $100 online,” she said. “All of a sudden, he started messing around with the chords and figured it out on his own. He’d go to YouTube and look to see how Paul (McCartney) was playing. We found a 19-year-old, Kyle Chapman, who was teaching guitar lessons. King started taking guitar lessons about nine-and-a-half months ago, and it’s only been for about 20-30 minutes per week, and we sometimes miss lessons because of my chemotherapy treatments. King had picked up so much, though, and when I found out Ringo Starr was going to be in San Jose on July 14, 2014, I thought, ‘I have to get tickets and take King there to see Ringo.’”
A serendipitous occurrence happened when Cali picked up the tickets.
“The guy at the desk said, ‘Oh, my goodness; I know who you are.’ It turns out he was battling cancer, too and we were both getting our treatments at the same cancer center.”
RICHARD KERRIS, TODD RUNDGREN SET THE STAGE FOR MEETING WITH RINGO STARR
Richard Kerris, Chief Marketing Officer for GET IT Mobile in San Jose, California, describes his connection to Todd Rundgren and how, through Rundgren’s participation in Ringo Starr & His All Starr Band, Kerris was able to help make King’s dream of meeting Ringo Starr a reality:
“I’ve known Todd Rundgren since I met with Utopia (Rundgren’s former progressive-rock band) back in 1981 in Boston,” he said. “The video company I was a partner in (RSV Productions) did a live show of theirs at The Metro club. After the show, Todd came into the edit suite to check it out; of all the bands we worked on back then, he was by far the most knowledgeable in technology and also the nicest guy. So, we stayed in contact over the years and when I moved to California I lived in Sausalito for a while, just down the road from him. As I started working at computer graphic companies I tried to always keep and his team him up to date with whatever we were working on, from Truevision to SGI to Apple.”
Kerris continued, “I love his shows with Ringo, because the songs are fun and the band is always having a great time, and it’s a calm and pleasant atmosphere backstage. This time around when they were playing San Jose last year, I went by to see him with my buddy Scott. We got there early and were going in from the back stage via the side street. As I was walking in, we saw this little kid across the street, just playing Beatles songs. He was so into them; just playing with his mom standing by and enjoying life playing songs. That’s not something you see every day, so we went across the street to check it out.”
‘I WAS A FAN ALREADY’
Kerris was not only impressed with King’s playing, but noticed he had dressed up for the occasion.
“He was dressed super sharp, vest, tie, and a hat,” Kerris said. “He was defining ‘cool’, and did I mention he was 5 years old? I asked him, ‘Do you know the Beatles songs?’ He said, ‘Yes, I love the Beatles. They are my favorite band in the world.’ I asked, ‘Why do you like the Beatles?’ King said, ‘Because they sing about peace and love and being kind to one another.’”
Kerris was won over.
“I was a fan already,” he said. “I asked if he could play something for us, and he started playing, ‘Blackbird.’”
He said he told King to stay where he was and that he was going to go talk to someone he knew backstage.
“I went in and found Todd,” Kerris said. “I told him, ‘You’ve got to hear this kid; he’s 5 years old and he’s playing Beatles songs. He’s just outside; come see him.’”
THE AUDITION; GOING BACKSTAGE
Kerris introduced Rundgren to King.
“Todd basically had him audition: ‘Ok, let’s hear you play something,’” Kerris recalled.
He continued, “King started to play ‘Blackbird’ again, and Todd was immediately taken aback; ‘I can’t even play it that way,’ he said to him. ‘Stay here; I’ll be back.’”
“Off we went again, back inside. Todd was off to find “The Boss”. When he told Ringo about King, the response was, ‘Well, where is he? Go bring him in.’”
Kerris said they went back outside, found King and Cali, and brought them backstage.
“King was beaming as we walked by the stage and he saw Ringo’s drum kit,” Kerris said. “I asked Todd if it was cool to snap a few shots; I only had my iPhone with me, but the crew and everyone saw the light in King’s eyes and let me snap a few shots of him on the stage and even a few sitting at the kit, thanks to Todd.”
King’s dream of meeting a Beatle was about to come true.
NEXT: Meet the Beatles.
MORE ON KING TOBIAS
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Sara Stromseth-Troy is a freelance newspaper feature writer and public library worker who specializes in social media and publicity. Fortunate to grow up surrounded by an extended family of music educators, she is honored to volunteer in blog writing and social media for The Spirit of Harmony Foundation. She lives in Cresco, Iowa.