In the first installment of this article we met guitar prodigy and ultimate Beatles fan King Tobias and his family, and learned how Todd Rundgren facilitated King meeting one of his idols. In Part 2, King’s dreams come true.
KING MEETS RINGO STARR
Richard Kerris describes the meeting between King and Ringo Starr:
“As soon as Ringo met King, he shook his hand and asked him to play. Like everyone else, he was taken aback by how well this 5-year-old was playing and loving the Beatles. Ringo asked him why he loved the band, and again King told him of the importance of peace and love and being kind to people. Ringo was hooked. He called him his ‘brother’ and gave him a hug.”
Kerris said management contacted with Cali to keep them in touch, and then everyone went to the All Starr show.
“Every time I looked over at King during the concert, he had the biggest smile; he was happy. He was watching one of his idols,” he said.
After the show, Kerris encouraged King to look into Rundgren’s music, as well.
“King had gone home from that first show and discovered Todd. He was hooked; he loved his music and started learning it, just like he did with the Beatles songs,” Kerris said.
CALI’S MEMORY OF EVENTS
Cali’s take on the evening’s events is chronicled on two videos she posted to YouTube. She recalls how quickly the meeting happened:
“Richard, a great photographer and friends with Todd and Ringo, told Todd he had to hear this little boy play guitar. I had no idea who (Todd) was at the time. He walked over and my mom and family members were all star struck. He said, ‘Let me hear something’, so King started playing. Todd told us to stay right there, and that ‘The Boss’ needs to hear this. The next thing you know, he’s waving us back to the gates, and we followed him. Richard is taking pictures the whole way, and Todd stops and said, ‘Do you know whose drums these are? Those are Ringo’s drums’. King got up and played the drums, which he had never done in his life.”
As the group made their way backstage, Cali describes how surreal it was to see famous musicians up close.
“I was a little shocked; all the guys sitting there (the All-Starr Band) were on the Grammy’s that year. King was just all cool and looking around. Ringo wanted to meet with King privately in his own room. We walked to the door, and saw his name on the door. Todd opened the door and said, ‘Ringo, this is King,” and Ringo said, ‘Hey Brother, what’s up?’ and gives him a hug. I told him King would start crying if he ever met Ringo, but King had a huge smile on his face. Ringo said, ‘I heard you know all the Beatles songs,’ and King started playing and singing.”
KING MEETS PAUL MCCARTNEY
It wasn’t long before King would realize another dream: Meeting the other ex-Beatle, Paul McCartney.
Cali said, “Ringo told Paul about King, and the next thing you know, I’m getting a call on my cell phone from Paul McCartney, saying he’d love to meet King, and invited us to the Candlestick show. We already had tickets but didn’t have great seats. Paul wanted us there early, at 1:30 p.m., and invited us for the sound check. We listened to his whole sound check; maybe a total of 75-100 people were allowed for sound check.”
King was urged closer to the stage.
Cali said, “Everyone else was behind a rope, and here’s this 5-year-old walking up there with his little guitar on his back, bobbing his head. He was in shock. Next thing you know, Paul’s manager told us to stay. Everyone else left except my mother, King and me. We waited and when the door closed to the stadium, we walked backstage and Paul was with someone, so King played for some of Paul’s friends.
“A lady came out and she said, ‘Are you ready to meet Paul? ‘, and she grabbed King by the hand and we followed her backstage. There were these tables set up and we sat down. Paul walked over to us and said, ‘You’re King and you are my brother,’ and King said, ‘Yes, I am.’ King started playing music for Paul, and he and King were sitting there playing together and we had dinner with him. The show was an hour-and-a-half late because he spent so much time with King.”
KING’S STORY SPREADS; MUSIC EDUCATION A PRIORITY
Soon, media outlets began covering the King’s story.
“Everybody started doing stories: ABC, CNN, Good Morning America,” Cali said. In fact, Liz Harrison from ABC ACTION NEWS 30 in Fresno has been nominated for an Emmy award for the story she did on King that was picked up by CNN, and made national news and led to appearances on Good morning America and countless interviews.
Closer to home, King plays the music of his heroes at school, although there is no formal music education program available to students his age.
“His school has marching band, but the marching band starts in 5th grade,” Cali said. “He’ll bring his guitar in and perform for show and tell. The teachers will come in from other classrooms to listen to him. There is a talent show at the end of the year. This year, King will be doing the Beatles’ song ‘Get Back.’ They want them to perform twice this year; at the second show he’s going to do two songs in one without stopping, performing for the younger kids, and for the fourth, fifth, and sixth graders. Now, his classmates know who The Beatles are and who Todd Rundgren is, and they sing along with King.”
Cali said she is talking with the school principal and The Spirit of Harmony Foundation about getting music introduced to kindergarten students. She hopes there will be a formal music education outlet for King and his guitar at the school.
Meanwhile, Cali said her son is continuing to tune his musical ear to previous generations.
“He just keeps on getting better and better,” she said. “He’s met Beatles tribute bands, and is really getting into Todd’s music. He also likes Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and jazzy, bluesy music like Al Green. The only newer artist he likes is Norah Jones. King is really an old soul.”
SPREADING ‘PEACE AND LOVE’ THROUGH MUSIC
Cali said that she is proud of her son and what he has accomplished at such a young age:
“When King plays guitar for the chemotherapy patients, he puts a smile on everybody’s face, so it cheers everyone up. When you see him and hear him in person, and he’s feeling the music, he gets into it. He’s not trying—it just comes naturally and it amazes everyone.
“Thanks to Kyle Chapman and his guitar lessons. King is learning to read music, which is a challenge for him because he is dyslexic. Without knowing Jim Nichols, we wouldn’t have gotten King a guitar. Richard Kerris has photographed a lot of famous people, and his photos of King are absolutely amazing, and if he hadn’t brought Todd out to meet King, none of this would have happened.”
She said, “It’s a dream for King to be like The Beatles, and for him to meet them, it’s just amazing. King has a purpose and is truly an old soul. I expect him to go further, because he is determined to be just like his ‘brothers’. He wants to make music that spreads love.
“I wake up every morning to him practicing; he never puts his guitar down. He always gives 100 percent.”
Cali added that King has played for Grammy award winners Tuck and Patti, and also will be playing with guitarist Tommy Emmanuel this summer in Cambria, California.
“His whole summer is filled with performances and shows he has lined up,” she said.
KING’S GUITAR TEACHER: ‘I’M THE LUCKIEST GUY IN THE WORLD’
King has another supporter in his guitar teacher, Kyle Chapman of Los Banos, California. Currently a college student, Chapman started teaching guitar as a way to earn extra money, but it soon came to mean something more to him:
“I’ve played guitar for nine years now,” Chapman said. “I started when I was 11 years old and was taught by a family friend. I started teaching initially as a way to pay for my car, but it ended up turning into a passion of mine. There’s a huge need for art instruction of all sorts here in this community and I really feel like I’m making a difference in some kids’ lives, as cliché as that may sound. After this semester I will have my AA degree in Psychology from Merced Community College and will be attending San Francisco State University to study music this fall.”
Chapman first began teaching King guitar lessons last year.
“I started teaching King about a year ago. That kid has massive amounts of talent and he’s super funny. We sometimes get distracted during the lessons because we end up joking around too much. I love watching him grow as a person and musician. I feel like the luckiest guy in the entire world when I get to go to work and teach young musical prodigies. Most of my friends wash dishes,” he said.
Chapman quickly recognized his young student’s talent.
“The moment I really realized his talent was when I taught him a couple notes from a blues scale and he came back the next week playing it up and down the neck in different positions at 5 years old. That’s pure musical intuition.”
Teaching an avid Beatles fan like King meant Chapman had to expand his musical repertoire a bit.
“I had already known quite a few Beatles tunes because those were a lot of the songs I was taught as a kid myself,” he said. “The one I had to learn for him was “In My Life”. Great song; I’m glad he introduced me to it.”
CHAPMAN: ‘MUSIC SHOULD BE THE BASIS OF ALL ACADEMIC WORK’
As he teaches King in the boy’s formative years, Chapman said his feeling is that musical education should be the cornerstone for education:
“I’m obviously a biased party on the matter, but in my humble opinion music should be the basis of all academic work. The fast thought processes, ability to pick up on patterns, and the rote memory that is required to play music are transferable to any intellectual discipline. There are many psychological and neurological studies out there now supporting this. Playing music is essentially the equivalent of a vigorous workout for the brain. Why state and federal education programs don’t fund it, I have no clue. It’s completely irrational.”
As for King, Chapman said he’s already well on his way:
“He’s learned a lot of songs and keeps learning more each week. He’s probably going to know hundreds of songs before he’s even 12,” Chapman said.
‘HE IS AN OLD SOUL AND IT’S A BEAUTIFUL THING’
Kerris, meanwhile, has enjoyed getting to know the Tobias family since the All-Starr tour; it turns out he lives near members of King’s extended family:
“I got to know King’s Mom, Cali, and she is wonderful. She has had challenges in her life that no one could imagine, and her husband and family support her love for the children and ensure that King has all the opportunities to get out there and see these shows. She is one strong and determined woman and so full of love for her kids.”
He continued, “I love to do photography and have for years. It turns out they have family just down the road from where I live, so we agreed to meet up during one of her visits and I would snap some pictures. I got my usual bunch of King and then I met his little sister, Brooklyn, who is just a cutie pie, and the two of them together are adorable. I’m honored to know them all; a wonderful family and so full of love. They are a joy to be around, ” Kerris said.
“I feel lucky to have met him and to help in some small way to connect him to the organization. It probably would have happened eventually by itself; he really is special and it would just be a matter of time. Now that he is, I am just a fan like everyone else. What he has done beyond the introductions, he has done on his own. His playing, his love for the music and his spirit: He is an old soul and it is a beautiful one.
“On our last visit, I gave him a guitar pick I got from Keith Richards, and told him he should start checking out The Rolling Stones. I have a feeling we’ll be hearing some songs of theirs from him soon. I also gave him a blank notebook, and told him I would hope to hear some of his own songs someday. I expect we will.”
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.