Born April 9, 1957, at a young age Keith moved to Anaheim, California with his father and brother. They all played pool and they got young Keith started when he was only about 8, which explains his sidewinder stroke. Keith is proud of that side arm stroke, and considers himself in good company, pointing to the legendary Ralph Greenleaf. The gambling started early on too, including small stakes ring games on a friend’s home table – an early preview of things to come!
Southern CA at that time had a ton of great players and high action rooms that attracted players from all over the country. As Keith’s game improved he began to spend more time in the top rooms, the money got higher, and the competition tougher. Before long, and while still in his teens, he was competing with the likes of Cole Dickson, Denny Searcy and Larry Lisciotti, and getting into the toughest ring games ever – payball on a Snooker table against the best players in the world.
He was supposed to be in school for much of that time, but in his last year he missed something like 130 days, often sleeping in the poolroom. When the State of CA made moves to take him away from his father (his mother had died from cancer when he was 10 or 11), Anaheim poolroom owner Bob Wallace took Keith in and adopted him, avoiding State custody. Making all that money gambling at such a young age created an awkward problem when Keith went to gym class one day. He decided to ask the Phys Ed coach to hold his cash because he didn’t want it stolen in the locker room. With that much cash coach thought Keith was doing something like drug dealing and Keith got reported and suspended.
Keith’s brash and confident style is often compared to Ronnie Allen, and in fact Keith says, “Ronnie was like a second father to me; I learned more from him than anybody. I played the last money game with Fats; Ronnie set it up. We played for 500 a game 10-8 One Pocket and 8-7 Banks and I won 4000. Fats paid some of it in 500 dollar bills and he signed them.” Larry Lisciotti was another guy Keith really hit it off with, “We did everything together; he was a good hustler.”
Keith took his first road trip at 15 with ‘Hawaiian Brian’ Hashimoto to Oklahoma City via Arizona. He had a phony ID that helped him get in places. Brian still calls Keith the ‘Evil Doctor’ – because of the way he operated. According to Keith, “The Mexicans called me El Diablo; Scott Smith gave me the name Earthquake, because whenever I came into the poolroom it shook up the room.” Keither with the Ether was a bit of a nod to his onetime preferred mix for playing long sessions.
Keith got into tournaments and had his share of success in them, but mainly he was there just to get around players for money matches. He strongly preferred the old “roll out” rules, and would often roll out “just to see what my opponent would do.”
“How I got the Grady Seasons character in The Color of Money I was playing in Norfolk VA at Barry’s poolroom. Playing Efren One Pocket 9-7 – Efren had beat me pretty good back in CA. This time I drilled Efren, and the movie people saw that. They kept me for a few hours and tried me for several parts. But when I read for Grady Seasons they chose that. When I came to Chicago there were hundreds of people in line waiting for bit parts, and I showed up in a limo and skipped in front of the line. Paul Newman and I got along real good.”