Photo by JC Amberlyn.
As it turns out, the world’s most interesting man is not the character in the Dos Equis beer commercial.
It’s James Zyla, the bearded fellow who wanders up and down Stockton Hill Road wearing a Santa Claus hat and toting his worldly belongings in a couple of shopping carts.
The potholes of New York City have nothing on Kingman, which is like “walking on the moon” north of the I-Hop and Golden Corral, he said.
An accomplished and talented piano player, Zyla claims to have played on the same stage as Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Thin Lizzy and The Animals. His band opened for The Troggs at the famous Marquee Club in London when the scene was smoking in the early ’60s.
Not in the literal sense, of course, for Zyla.
“I don’t smoke or do drugs,” he said during an interview at The Gardens Rehab Center, where he plays regularly on Wednesday afternoon. “I had my last beer in 2008 and I’m going to have my next one in 2019.”
Zyla said he did studio work with Malcolm Evans, road manager for the Beatles, and became a friend of George Harrison.
He entertained an intimate crowd of elderly ladies in wheelchairs and a few visitors with a two-hour solo set heavily laden with Beatles tunes, including an instrumental medley of “Yesterday,” “Eleanor Rigby” and “Rocky Raccoon.”
He sang a couple of his own songs (“Has Anybody Seen My iPod?”) and told fascinating stories during breaks about following his crazy dreams and his ambitions left unfilled, such as projects like “Harry Scary,” a movie he’s working on and the soundtrack that goes with it. He’s trying to get his hands on a Nord Stage 2 keyboard.
“That’s what I’m trying to accomplish right now. It’s portable,” said the nomad who kicked around California before rolling into Kingman about two years ago. “For years I’ve wanted an internet piano bar. You know how piano bars went away with drinking and driving.”
Zyla said he worked in Hollywood, making cameo appearances in “Independence Day,” “Waterworld” and other films.
With a long, gray beard and bushy eyebrows, Zyla could easily pass for Kingman’s own version of Kris Kringle.
He’s not easily forthcoming with personal information, and he answered several questions in Dylan-esque style.
When did you learn to play the piano?
“When I find out, I’ll let you know.”
You have a slight English accent. Where are you originally from?
“Wherever I need to be from. I’m in transition on my way to where I’m going. Let’s say I live in Kingman, and I need to be in Golden Valley. I’m always called to be somewhere else.”
How old are you?
“I don’t know. My parents told me three lies: Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. If I can’t trust them with fundamental truths, how can I trust them with my birthdate?”
What brought you to Kingman?
“Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame, but it’s the serpent’s fault.” Then he added, “I came to dig up friends I played music with, but some of those people aren’t around.”
Zyla has a lot going on under that Santa hat.
He recites a poem he wrote about the “Running Hare” sculpture overlooking Andy Devine Avenue in downtown Kingman, and one called “Paula Put Your Gun Down” about the woman who was killed by Kingman police in August.
Along with music, he knows quite a bit about technology, and says he’s a certified systems analyst.
He worked on voice recognition for Apple computers in the 1980s, attending the Comdex show in Las Vegas.
“We’ve gone in a strange direction with voice recognition. Now it’s all connected to satellite,” he commented.
This week, Zyla wrote a stage play in three acts that he calls “Sheriffs,” though it has nothing to do with law enforcement. It’s an interactive play based on the election of President Donald Trump and addresses the good and bad in everyone’s opinions.
The first act is the “Loud Man,” the second act is the “Quiet Man” and the third act is the “Silent Man,” the writer explained.
“Try to find the good in bad people, you can’t do it.
“So if you elect a bad sheriff, it’ll come back to bite you. We’re seeing that in society. Bad people running around everywhere. We may want to bring back Old Sparky,” he said.
“I want to build this play organically. Just imagine you walk into a bar and you become part of it. It’s like if you sit in your own home, it doesn’t seem like you have much impact, but your actions and words can be a ripple effect.”
After playing The Gardens, Zyla gathers his stuff – a can of root beer, four dollar bills and a Starbucks gift card placed on the piano as a tip – and hits the streets.
“That’s my wagon train over here,” he says, pointing to his carts stuffed with blankets, coats, a loaf of bread and other items given to him by the good people of Kingman.
Zyla’s life doesn’t follow Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs. A song in his heart is more important than a bed to sleep in.