Keeping the beat — With a fixed heart, Columbia’s music man is back

By Jacob Luecke

This story is featured in the Fall 2012 edition of myBoone Health magazine. Click here for a free subscription.

All down Ninth Street, thousands of heads are bobbing and feet are tapping.

They’re moved by this rhythm: The kick drum thumps on the downbeat while the high-hat lightly ticks across sixteenth notes. The snare skips alongside, touching the occasional upbeat.

At the front of the stage, country musician Corey Smith plays guitar and sings his popular song, “If I Could Do It Again.”

The fans smile and sing along to Smith’s nostalgic lyrics about his wild teenage years, but it’s the rhythm that holds it all together.

Richard King is hosting this street party, which happened on Sept. 7. King owns the Blue Note music club in Columbia. He puts on more than 200 concerts each year.

He’s made a career out of understanding what makes people groove to live music — a catchy beat.

But this year, good rhythm took on an even more important meaning for King when he was diagnosed with severe stenosis of the aortic valve.

“When the words ‘open heart surgery’ came out of my doctor’s mouth, my jaw just dropped,” he said.

For the first time in years, the always-moving King was forced to skip a beat — and refocus on his own rhythm.

 Unpredictable Rhythm

A good beat needs to be just a little unpredictable — you need to throw out something new to keep it fresh.

King’s life took an unexpected turn in August 1975. That month, King drove away from his native Pennsylvania, heading west for a new beginning. His eyes were on California.

Along the way, he stopped at a friend’s place in Columbia. Needing money to continue his trip, he got a job.

As sometimes happens, one thing rolled into another. Years passed. Before long it was 1980, and King and a partner were opening the Blue Note.

This would become King’s career. Over time, the Blue Note became the top music club in mid-Missouri, bringing in both major national acts and up-and-coming musicians.

In the early days, King remembers spending late nights working at his club, hanging out with bands and going to parties.

“It was my whole life as far as I was concerned,” he said.

As the years went by, he married and had two sons. While he remained devoted to music and the Blue Note, he also began trying to find a more balanced life.

He took up exercise and became serious about it. He competed in triathlons and ran a marathon.

“Once you learn how to exercise and you get it into your lifestyle it becomes a very addictive hobby,” King said.

But last year, during his regular runs, King, 58, began to feel pain in his shoulder and chest. Doctors removed bone spurs from his shoulder, but the chest pain persisted. Additional testing revealed King’s heart condition. His aortic valve had narrowed, obstructing blood flow. He would need open heart surgery.

King’s cardiologist, James Elliott, MD, FACC, said that King’s work to keep his body in shape made him more likely to have a strong recovery.

“The healthier you are going in, the more able you are to recover from the rigors of surgery,” Dr. Elliott said.

King realized now was the best time to confront this problem.

“I thought, ‘Let’s get this over with; let’s get this done,’” King said.

His surgery was scheduled for May 22, and everything went smoothly.

“It was a great experience in terms of how they took care of me,” King said. “I couldn’t believe the great care that I got. I thought, ‘Do they do all this for everyone? Are they this good with everybody?’”

Even with the successful surgery, getting back to speed would take time. He was going to have to focus on his health.

As always, music played a part.

Several musicians heard about King’s condition and bands sent care packages with CDs. Just a little something to help get King’s heart back up to tempo.

Strong as ever

Because rhythm is so important to a live music, it’s always good to have a backup drummer.
King has a few dozen backing him up.

King spent much of the summer recuperating. That meant a diminished role for him at the Blue Note, so he relied on his roughly 50 staff members to keep tempo.

“My employees all really stepped up,” he said.

During his time away, he’s been regaining strength at Boone Hospital’s Cardiac Rehab.

“I love going to rehab,” he said. “I feel really, really good. And I don’t think I’m even 100 percent yet.”

He said his heart scare was a life-changing experience. He now tries to work from home more often, so he can be with his wife and sons.

“It’s an experience that makes you think about what you’re doing and what’s important,” he said.

But music is still his career and his passion, and he’s finding that his repaired heart is giving him a stronger beat than he’s felt in years.

Before his procedure, he would nap often, couldn’t run as far and was exhausted in the evenings. Now things are different. He has more energy than he’s had in years.

“I’m very optimistic for total recovery,” Dr. Elliott said. “Richard’s long-term prognosis is excellent.”

And that’s a good thing. The Blue Note has a number of big shows planned for the fall. And there’s King’s giant Roots N Blues N BBQ festival, which draws tens of thousands of fans.

Doctors have also given him the thumbs up to run a half marathon on Thanksgiving Day. He’s ready to go.

“Then, I’ll really be back,” he said.

His beat is back. Strong as ever.

One Response to Keeping the beat — With a fixed heart, Columbia’s music man is back

  1. […] For the first time in years, the always-moving King was forced to skip a beat — and refocus on his own rhythm. Continue reading. […]

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