By Steven T. Jones, Sacramento News & Review
His name is Harrington King, but he probably won’t tell you that. Ask him his name, and he’ll tell you One Man Band — Mr. Band to strangers, but you can call him One. But only once you get to know him. And you’ll get to know him one evening by happenstance, as you wander past some random parking lot in downtown Sacramento.
You’ll see his Acoustic Sanctuary, a truck with modified camper shell. The back looks like an inviting front porch, with lots of greenery and an arrow that reads “Piano Bar” pointing inside.
So you go inside, sit down at the piano and scan the dozens of other instruments assembled around the maestro. Since pulling into Sacramento from Florida 15 years ago, the 45-year-old King has been entertaining hundreds of local guests just like you. And then he starts to play, maybe some blues number, and you quickly realize that Mr. Band is no novelty act. This guy can play!
How many instruments can you play at once?
It depends on what you call an instrument. I don’t know, maybe five on the feet. There’s the bass pedal and bass drum on the left foot, and then on the right foot, there’s a high hat, cow bell and snare drum. Are drums a bunch of instruments or just one? See, I don’t know. And then maybe three with the hands. So, say, eight.
How did you get into the one-man band concept?
I’ve just been playin’ forever. I don’t really look at it as a concept; I’m just trying to get the texture of sound that I’m looking for.
What was the first instrument you played?
The very first instrument I ever played was a French horn. My dad was a French horn player, and so I messed with his old horn. Then my aunt was a piano player. So I’ve always had music around me, but none of them were professionals or really played.
Did you focus on one instrument before going to multiple ones?
I’ve never looked at myself as trying to be a particular instrument player. Maybe it’s because not a lot of musicians are real dependable. You got the drug culture and other things. So I think I’m a one-man band by default. The other players just don’t show up [he laughs], like they’re too fucked up to play the gig or something.
When did you get the idea to bring it all together in a set-up like this?
First of all, it’s not an idea. I couldn’t come up with an idea like this. It’s just an evolution of a little bit coming at a time, and it’s constantly changing. It’s not a concept as much as it is an evolution of after 40 years of playing, different things come and go.
OK, but when did you first go mobile with your act like this?
Oh, gosh, maybe late ’70s.
So since then, you’ve had a rolling piano bar?
Yeah. I went from a trailer to a flatbed truck and built a box on the back. Then I went to a school bus, about 35 feet long, which was a real pain in the ass because you can’t turn, you can’t park, and you can’t be discreet in a big bus. Not that this is any better, but at least I can park in a parking place. So it’s gone through several transformations. I’ve had this truck maybe 15 years.
Is it still evolving?
Oh, yeah. Things are constantly changing, and as I change stuff around, different instruments don’t fit where they need to fit. The biggest thing is space. I have so much space, and everything has to be within reach and accessible so I can grab it without looking at it.
Is that the hardest part of this?
The hardest part is balance. Different instruments are louder than other instruments. Everything is acoustic, nothing is amplified, so that means that the trumpet has to be softer than the guitar. This piano has two inches of foam rubber under it and there’s felt between every other string. There’s a constant state of design, with different mutes for the different horns, so it’s a constant battle. That, and keeping everything in tune with itself. If you just play one instrument, then you’re playing that all the time and constantly keeping it in tune. But with me, I need to grab something and it has to be in tune, so it’s a little tougher to play like that. And instruments are seasonal.
Yeah, you have some instruments that won’t play in humidity. When it gets real cold like it is today, all the horns are gonna be flat; all the strings are going to go sharp. So the piano and guitar and fiddle and all these are sharp, and the sax, trumpet, recorders, trombones, French horns, those things are going flat. There’s some instruments where I have to wait for the temperature to get right to play them.
What’s your favorite winter instrument?
When it gets really cold, and I’m outside of the Sanctuary, if it’s really cold and extremely foggy, a horn sounds like heaven.
What kind of horn?
Any horn, because there’s just something about the molecules of the air, the fog and the cold, there’s some kind of acoustic quality that’s the Utopia of the musical moment.
So, how much have you spent on this place?
Every cent I’ve ever had.