Eddie Tobin, 59, showed a talent for music as a child and got his first piano at 11. After traveling the world in several bands, he landed in Sarasota, where he’s become a popular lounge pianist. We asked him about his music, the local piano bar scene and more.
“When I was born, my mom put a radio next to my bed. At 4, I showed a musical instinct playing spoons, and my uncle bought me an accordion when I was 5. I learned piano at 11, and I studied music at the University of Miami. My parents owned a nightclub [when I was young], so I’d listen to music there or [later] I’d help on the weekends. I never thought of becoming [a lounge pianist], it just developed.
“I can sing like Kermit the Frog. I used to record customized tapes for friends’ kids back in the ’80s. The parents loved it because the kids loved it. It was fun.
“The most common requests I get are New York, New York or Sweet Caroline, [but] my two favorites to sing are Hallelujah, I Love Her So by Ray Charles—I love that song, the way it plays and the way he sings it—and City of New Orleans by Steve Goodman. I do this elaborate rendition of that one, do a little solo and change keys. Everyone who comes in loves it. I also like singing ballads Nat King Cole style. I don’t mimic him—I sing an Eddie Tobin adaptation. I [generally] play what I want but I play off the audience; I [can tell] whether the people are hyped up.
“Sarasota is a wonderful, cultural place. We have so many places to play and [people respond] to a mixture of different songs and styles. [I play] to people of all different ages, and I can’t believe what a fan base I’ve developed. I’m very friendly. I enjoy the people who come in. When they come to hear you they have an idea of what you’re going to do, [but] I have a responsibility to myself and the audience, so I don’t play the same songs all the time.
“I never call it a “show,” I always say I’m ‘playing my job.’ And the best job I played was last year with the Jazz Club of Sarasota. The musicians I played with provided a wonderful sound. It was a jazzy thing but it was exhilarating and fun.
“One time I was singing a Johnny Cash song and when we finished this lady said, “You sound just like [him]!” And [I found out] Johnny Cash is her uncle.
“[If you sing karaoke] you should learn at least five tunes that you could sing for God or Barbra Streisand or whoever it is you respect. And know your keys! The most important thing is just to have fun.
“You have to metamorphose when you’re a pianist. I play a lot of tunes that aren’t run-of-the-mill piano bar. If you’re an artist, you do your thing, but I’m a melting pot [every night]. Any time you [perform] it’s a communication; [you find] most people can speak your language.
Tobin plays at Euphemia Haye on Mondays and Tuesdays, Amore on Wednesdays and Fridays, and Mattison’s Grille with The Venturas on Thursdays.