Meet Nathan Temby: Dueling Pianist At Johnny Foley’s
Around 6-8 times a month patrons at Johnny Foley’s, an Irish pub which straddles the border of the Tenderloin and Union Square, can hear the musical stylings of Nathan Temby. Temby is part of a rotating roster of pianists who perform in Foley’s cellar in what are known as “dueling piano” shows.
Temby described what a dueling piano show entails.
“There are two pianos with two people playing and singing all night,” he said. “The show is driven by audience requests and audience interaction–we want the audience singing along, dancing, and having fun. We bring people up for special occasions like birthdays and have a little fun roasting them. It’s definitely a place where you have to bring a sense of humor and leave your worries outside. It’s about having a good time and being able to laugh at everything.”
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Pat O’Brien’s, a New Orleans bar dating back to 1933, is where dueling piano shows were born.
“It is still there today,” Temby said. “I’ve never played there but I did make a pilgrimage of sorts to at least go to it once. From what I understand, it literally was a competition between two players back then–two people trying to outdo each other and win. Somewhere along the way, it has evolved into audience participation and all-request. Even then, every club I play is different in what kind of show ends up happening on any given night.”
Music has always been a big part of the Tenderloin resident’s life.
“I can’t remember music not being a part of my world,” Temby said. “I grew up around it in our family. My mom always sang and she also played guitar. I have uncles who were in bands and so there were always musical instruments around. The piano was always my escape from things, it was an outlet.”
Amazingly, Temby has never had music lessons.
“It was always about just figuring it out by ear,” he said. “Growing up, I discovered Tori Amos and that drove me to really want to compose music and hone being a performer. I also wore out all of my Broadway cast albums because I was obsessed with theater as a teenager. I tend to be drawn to songs that tell a story which is why I think theater resonates so much with me.
Temby has become quite adept at playing different types of music. What he plays is often determined by the venue or platform he’s given. With the dueling piano shows Temby plays a little bit of everything–those shows are all about entertaining the audience.
“For my web series, Cover Song Fridays, I choose songs that I really feel a strong connection with,” he said. “That still covers a lot of genres. I think I enjoy both the singer-songwriter vibe and the Broadway show tunes vibe the most.”
When he’s not banging away at Johnny Foley’s or performing in other clubs around the country, the Sacramento native can often be found taking in all that his adopted city has to offer. He enjoys the convenience of living in the Tenderloin, which is centrally located and close to many of the places he frequents. But he can also be found at Trax, a bar in the Haight.
“I got married at Trax,” he said. “It’s where we met eight years earlier.”
There are many other spots around town that Temby enjoys.
“Old Siam House is a great Thai place downtown,” he said. “Spike’s Coffee in the Castro is wonderful. I enjoy Reverie Cafe on Carl and Cole and my husband and I often have date nights at Warakbune on Church. And if you can sneak in a moment on the Slides above Castro, they are super fun.”
He added that even after living in San Francisco for 19 years, he’s still discovering places which he didn’t know existed.
In addition to his hectic performance schedule, Temby has just released What I Am, a new CD. The disc came out of his love for musical theater. Tracks represent a diverse array of Broadway hits, including songs from Wicked, Dear Evan Hansen, Rent and Falsettos.
“It’s taken me the better part of a year or so to record and I hope everyone enjoys it,” he said.
Information on buying What I Am can be found by visiting Temby’s website, where his ever changing Johnny Foley’s schedule can also be found. The dueling piano shows take place in Foley’s cellar.