The Piano Men – Jimmy Porter and Ronnie Smith
In April of 2008 National Harbor opened cross the Potomac River in Maryland. Bobby McKey’s Dueling Piano Bar was an immediate hit. The rotating piano players and entertainers brought an incredible show to the stage every night. A few years ago we wrote about Tattoo Slover…an amazing entertainer. This month I am writing about two of the main guys, who happen to be locals…James “Jimmy” Porter and Ronnie Smith. Jimmy is the musical director at McKey’s while Ronnie is the audio tech guy responsible for sound and lighting. Although they started on opposite sides of the Potomac River, today they head up one of most entertaining venues in the region.
Jimmy grew up in Alexandria and attended T. C. Williams High School and graduated in 1982. When the movie Remember the Titans came out, he was in the 4th grade but does remember it. At the age of 4 Jimmy was playing the drums and the piano by age 6. After graduating he attended West Texas University to study music. Jimmy and a few of his friends got together and formed a band. They played the college venues and became quite popular. After graduation the band decided to stay together and moved their act to Columbus, Ohio so they could be centrally located near cities like Chicago and Pittsburgh. After a few years some of the band members missed home so the band broke up and Jimmy moved to Myrtle Beach and embarked on a 10-year career at Crocodile Rocks. Liking the area, Jimmy bought a home in Myrtle Beach which he maintains today.
Ronnie grew up across the river in Clinton, Maryland where he attended Surrattsville High School. His dad played the organ in a band called the Tin Suit Band. At age 8 Ronnie learned to play his dad’s organ. Tin Suit played at Chasons and later Joe Theismann’s in Camp Springs, Maryland. A few years later Ronnie would begin his stage career by sitting in with the band. In high school Ronnie had his own band called The Midnight Special from 1987 to 1990 and graduated in 1989. In 1994 he moved to Nashville “where all the action was”. “I made the rounds of all the clubs and recording studios. There seemed to be someone playing on every street corner and every bar. There were some crazy people back then, and I was finding gigs playing keyboards. I was with a band and we were on a flight to play somewhere and one of the band members produced a gun on the plane. This was a turning point for me…time to move on,” Ronnie tells me. Ronnie also moved to Myrtle Beach where he met Jimmy, Tattoo and Danny who are all still friends today. Crocodile Rocks was, and still is, the premier dueling pianos location and all four were playing nightly.
This brings us back to Maryland. Bob Hanson, owner of Bobby McKey’s, went to Myrtle Beach and talked with Jimmy about moving his act north. With a chance to get in on the ground floor of a brand new club, Jimmy jumped at the chance. Grabbing some of his buddies, they brought their act to Maryland. That was a little over 7 years ago. Tattoo is now playing in Pennsylvania but the others are rocking McKey’s.
When I interviewed Jimmy, he wasn’t able to sing because he had recently bruised his vocal chord from singing too much…he had to rest. Ronnie was still fighting a cold that was two months old. As they said, “This is not just piano playing, it is a workout. No matter what, the show must go on.” To me, Bobby McKeys is a place to go to have a great time and get away from the real world. These guys are very talented and can sing just about anything, and sing it well. These are two personalities that you don’t want to miss!
Bobby McKey’s is located on Fleet Street in National Harbor, just 7 minutes from Old Town.
Written by: Bob Tagert