The Lazy J's
Wrong Way Down a One-Way Street
“What do you care if your friends think you suck?” —bassist Jason Patrone
While searching the internet for good new music in 2009, I stumbled on an outdated looking blog that included two songs that slayed me: the rocking “She’s So Refined” and the pained, slow, love song “Each Day.” A Sacramento band called The Lazy J’s wrote them in the mid-90s, and I played them over and over. They contained so much emotion but had a rough, garage abandon. I wondered: Who is this incredible band? Googling gave me next to no info. Turns out, a guitarist named Micah Kennedy led this band and wrote those songs, and Kennedy passed away in April 2009, a few months shy of his fortieth birthday, the same year I found these songs. Someone posted them in tribute to their friend. The story goes:
In 1994, four years after Sacramento guitarist Micah Kennedy ended up in his childhood friends’ punk band Nar, Kennedy and drummer Ed Carroll found themselves back in a band where their musical tastes cohered. It wasn’t a punk band like Nar. It was a loud, catchy one that mixed punk energy with oldies like Del Shannon’s “Runaway,” to create something unique. They called themselves The Lazy J’s after a ranch in the nearby Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. They released one song on vinyl and broke up after three or four years. No one remembers exactly. They drank a lot of beer. But in their brief hazy life, when the beer didn’t interfere, The Lazy J’s played some of the fiercest music in Sacramento’s ’90s underground, even though most of their songs were covers.
Writer and impresario Scott Soriano called them “Raw as fuck and catchy as the clap, the Lazy J’s are the best band you have never heard of.” He ran a pivotal underground club named The Loft and released The J’s one song, “She’s So Refined, on the 1998 seven-inch compilation Sacramento: City of a Beer. With Carroll on drums, Kennedy on lead guitar, a versatile, soulful guitarist named Tristan Tozer on rhythm, and Jason Patrone on bass, their punk take on the Golden Oldies embodied Midtown Sacramento’s shabby, mid-century, thrift store character: vintage but not chic, punk but slow-moving, old but not precious. By the time the record came out on Soriano’s label, The J’s had quit playing.
Kennedy wrote “She’s So Refined.” It’s a fast, catchy, 1950s sounding burner loaded with feeling. Midtown Monthly described it as “a stuttering adrenaline chug of garage-isms and great big hooks both vocally and musically” that sounds “both retro and contempo at the same time …a cross between Biff Bang Pow!, Rubber Soul-era Beatles and the Undertones.” Somehow the song had only three likes and no comments on YouTube four years after Sac drummer Matt K. Shrugg posted it. It’s the kind of song that makes you wonder what other incredible things Kennedy might have written, had alcohol not ended his life in 2009 at age 39. The song’s so good that it’s hard to believe so few people have heard of this band.
“It was the mid-90s, man,” drummer Ed Carroll told me. “Now there’d be a lot of digital footage online. There’d be documentation. Back then it was half an hour on stage and it was gone to the universe. You were either there or you weren’t. And nobody’s gonna remember—except someone who may have taken a picture.” He laughed at his band’s fate.
Bassist Jason Patrone laughed, too. “The Lazy J’s were a band that eight people knew about. And four of those people were in the band.”
Their crew produced bands at the pace of horny rabbits. Groups formed and unformed quickly. Members moved freely. One musician called this sharing “inbreeding.” Some might say their bands had the lifespans of gnats. Since this group of friends played for fun, few were concerned about longevity. For them, The Lazy J’s was simply one of many short-lived units in an endless series that composed a musical life, so when The J’s dissolved without even releasing their own seven-inch record, let alone an album, it didn’t seem unusual. Everyone just did what they’d always done: formed new bands, saw more shows, drank more beer. But the songs The J’s did play were really good, and no matter what The J’s were to its members, to listeners like me hearing them in hindsight, it’s hard not to see it as a shame that they didn’t release more music.
“I don’t know what it meant to anybody or what they thought about The J’s,” Carroll told me. “The live shows were fun, but it just kind of passes, these moments in time, moments in everyone’s lives.” I knew what they meant to me from the moment I first heard “She’s So Refined” and “Each Day”: beauty, heartbreak, true emotion. Listeners recognize the special stuff when they hear it.
“Each Day” was never officially released. It was posted in tribute after Kennedy died. The band never released their cover of The Boys’ perfect, 1950s style pop song “First Time” either, but Kennedy did record hours of 4-track tape while the band jammed in his warehouse loft. They recorded numerous covers, two or three of Kennedy’s other originals, and an original Soul-type instrumental that guitarist Tristan Tozer wrote called “The Straighten Up.” Carroll found a copy on a cassette in a box in his basement after we talked. Other originals like “Apache Freakout” and “North Beach Rag” never got recorded. Because Kennedy enjoyed the art of mixing, he mixed some of those recordings, but mainly for friends to listen to, not for proper release. At that point, releasing didn’t interest him as much as mixing and playing. So when he died, Kennedy’s Lazy J’s recordings and his solo, home recordings ended up in the care of his last girlfriend, where they presumably ended up in a box in her garage, or maybe the proverbial closet, locked away where no one, not even Kennedy’s bandmates, could hear them. A decade after Kennedy’s death, they still hadn’t heard them. “I haven’t seen her in 10 years,” said Carroll of Kennedy’s girlfriend. “I don’t know what she did with that stuff.”
“There weren’t hard feelings,” Patrone said. “She lost her friend, too.”
His friends didn’t haggle about Kennedy’s stuff because it seemed petty when they were all mourning, and time marched on. Thankfully Soriano got six songs when he requested some for his compilation, and he released the remaining five on a CD-R called Unsung Sounds of Sacramento, which he gave out at shows in the late-90s. “When I put together comps,” Soriano told me, “I always ask a band for three to five songs, so I can pick something that will fit into the comp (and to guarantee that the band doesn’t give me a toss off).” The songs he got sounded labored over, not tossed off. Maybe Kennedy’s many unreleased mixes did, too. Soriano only made 50 copies of that CD-R, so it’s not as if many people heard the music. But if more people could, they would dig it like I do, a random outsider who never lived in Sac and who happened to stumble on the band online during the course of their endless quest to hear new powerful music. I wanted to know more. Better yet, to hear more.
When I contacted guitarist Tristan Tozer and Ed Carroll in the summer of 2020, they worked together in the California Office of Historic Preservation, using their Master’s in Public History to help a range of federal agencies manage, renovate, and demolish historic properties.
“For 11 years,” said Carroll, “I sat on the other side of the cubicle from Tristan, until COVID. Plus, we went to grad school together. We go way back.”
Tozer was 46, Carroll 50. They’d first worked together at the Tower magazine warehouse in the early 1990s, alongside Scott Miller, Micah Kennedy, and what seemed like half of Sac’s musicians. “They distributed all the magazines for Tower stores throughout the world,” said Carroll. “You could name like every musician in Sac who worked there. It was a total nuthouse.” That nuthouse was the classic underground musician dichotomy: regular jobs by day, exciting weird lives by night. And in a way that everyone describes as “very Sacramento,” a well-known local historian named William Burg, author of such books as Midtown Sacramento: Creative Soul of the City and Sacramento’s K Street: Where Our City Was Born, also worked in their Historic Preservation office.
“It’s funny,” said Carroll, “Bill was the first person who ever interviewed me in a band. He interviewed Nar for a zine of his, No Scene Anywhere, right when we started and then, what, however many years later, we’re workin’ in the same office. Life is so weird.” Especially around here.
Kennedy, Miller, and musician Jason Dezember grew up together as kids in Sacramento’s upper middle class Land Park neighborhood. “Jason and I have known each other since we can remember knowing people,” said Miller. “We met at age two, I guess.” They lived two doors down from each other on 12th Street. Miller and Kennedy went to preschool together and lived two blocks apart. In 1982, at age 12, Ed Carroll returned to his native Sac from the small California mountain town of Shingle Springs and, by chance, his family moved into a house on 12th right between Miller and Dezember. “He was into The Kinks, The Who, J. Geils, Hendrix,” Miller said. “He turned me on to a lot of good stuff, and he had a waterbed and his mom smoked pot and he had a hip older sister into punk, so he seemed very cool to me.” They became more than friends. They were brothers. They still are. “It was weird for a while, because I was friends with both of them but they were not friends with each other, and we could all see each other if we looked out our front door! Then inevitably we all became friends, and we all influenced each other’s music tastes a lot.”
Thanks to the radio, a nearby Tower Records, and those hip older sisters, by high school, the three’s combined musical taste included The Kinks along with The Fall, The English Beat, Spacemen 3, Big Star, Jesus & Mary Chain, Aztec Camera, Buddy Holly, Daniel Johnson, The Church, The Police, and punk rock. Like so many of the people who ended up in their social circle, the guys’ relationship centered on playing and listening to music. “That’s the way we hang out and do things together here,” Carroll told me. “Music’s really important here.”
Naturally, the friends formed the kind of short-lived teenage bands that musicians form before finding the combination of members that really gels. From 1984 to 85 they played in Rigor Mortis Acid Bath, where Miller plucked a one-string guitar and Carroll banged a snare in a basement after school. In 1985, Miller, Carroll, and Dezember formed Janked, a punk band whose intake of LSD surpassed their output of music during their one-year existence and produced lots of cramps. Then there was Miller and Dezember’s lo-fi pop band Bagpipe Operation, which they formed in 1989 when Miller was 19. In the late-80s, Miller and Dezember’s band Sunlight Release made a serious attempt to write music like the hypnotic English psychedelic band Spacemen 3. Weed had a profound effect on Miller’s guitar-playing. As with any musical life, there were joke bands like Torture, Miller and Carroll’s fake speed metal band that they formed in high school in 1988. (Carroll: “It was a real sight.”) In adulthood they had a non-existent band named IJQ, or Incompetent Jazz Quartet, who may have only played in a tunnel, and the Ski Instructors who, for years, only released band buttons. From the helicopter view of history, this is all an artistic progression, teenage games as points mapping a musical life. You can’t write tight pop songs if you don’t make a mess first. You can’t last in bands for 30 years if you don’t love to play. And that’s what music is: playing.
Micah Kennedy’s mom’s job with British Petroleum had taken the family to Anchorage, Alaska in 1980, so during this time, Carroll only heard about Kennedy from Miller and Dezember’s stories. When Kennedy moved back to Sac in 1986, the summer before their junior year of high school, he slid back in with their crew. “We were into goth and Jesus & Mary Chain and punk,” Miller said, “and we all smoked a lot of weed, and I would say that was the beginning of what you could call musical influences on our bands. But the three of us being friends on 12th Street was the start of what feels like all three of us sharing one brain.”
In 1990, the four friends formed the punk band Nar. They lasted 10 years as a trio and gained a cult following that reached into punk circles far beyond Sacramento. It started as a four-piece. It was the first band that Kennedy played in with his childhood friends. He only lasted a few months.
“We were sitting around my old apartment one day and said, ‘Let’s start a band,’” Carroll remembered. “No joke. We went over and picked out instruments. I played drums. …By the end of our first day of practice we had, I think, five songs. We were like, ‘We wrote those songs really quick, wow!’” Carroll still owned a cassette recording of that first practice, which took place at Miller’s old apartment.
“Nar was just a laugh when it started,” said Miller. “Jason was already pretty good at guitar, so I was always stuck on bass. Jason went to pee or some such and I grabbed the guitar. I wrote mostly stoney Spacemen 3 rip-off riffs whenever I tried playing guitar in my room. Ed, being the one into punk, was playing a fast beat, so I played one of my riffs at like four times the speed, and Nar was basically born at that moment. Spacemen 3 and Loop—not exactly the bands people would guess were a jumping off point for Nar.” Kennedy joined because he was always around, but he couldn’t play the songs consistently. Meaning, he wouldn’t.
“He couldn’t be confined,” said Carroll. Even at age 20, Kennedy wanted to jam, to explore, change things up, keep them fresh, and improvise. The others wanted short punk songs. He preferred fluidity.
“[F]unnily enough, his big problem was he could not follow a song structure and could never hit changes,” said Miller. “I think he also didn’t quite see the humor in it that the rest of us did and had less patience for practice and learning stuff. Personally, it totally freed me. I was ostensibly writing songs that I didn’t take seriously, which removed all hangups, and we were writing shit like crazy. Super fun time. Micah did leave us with one song ‘Greaser’ which still will occasionally get stuck in my head to this day!”
Concentration wasn’t Kennedy’s main issue. He had no problem mixing recordings for hours and hours. His issue was aesthetic. He didn’t enjoy the laborious process of songwriting, which took a song idea and the infinite sense of creative possibility that a new song represented, and then narrowed it down into a finished structure. He wanted openness, the moment, beginnings and long middles, not endings. Instead of practice, he preferred playing.
“So we eventually had to practice without him,” said Carroll, “without telling him!” They never kicked him out. They didn’t want to hurt his feelings. When they practiced, he didn’t know. When they played shows, he wasn’t on stage. “It was a weird thing to do,” Carroll admitted with a laugh. “I’ve never kicked anybody out of a band. It’s always my friends before anything. He couldn’t do it. We knew he couldn’t do it. So the three of us just kind of moved on without him.” That’s how guys in this crew approached things: friends first, band second. “It’s the only way to keep going, because you don’t wanna lose your friends over it,” said Carroll. “No song’s worth that.” Back in 1990, Kennedy didn’t care much. He wasn’t hurt by it. Even when protecting friendships, the songs are important, too. “Dude. Band practice is like a religion for us.” It’s another way to drink beer and socialize, which is how these guys spent the entire 1990s and both decades of the 2000s.
Carroll often wonders what his life would have been like had his parents moved to 13th or 14th Street instead of 12th and he hadn’t started drumming. “Maybe I would’ve become a heart surgeon or something,” he said with a laugh. He was glad he hadn’t. “I got to do a lot of good stuff with a lot of people who are really talented.” People like Miller, Patrone, Tristan Tozer, and Kennedy. “I mean those three: Patrone, Tristan, and Micah? Damn, man. That’s a dream team!”
“I’m the outsider,” Patrone told me. “All those guys grew up together since they were babies!” When we spoke in October 2020, the 47-year-old Patrone had just earned his Master’s in Library Science and was working as a library aide in the Bay Area while searching for a full-time librarian position. That meant three of the four Lazy J’s had master’s degrees. Carroll also had a BA in English.
Three years younger than Carroll, Patrone grew up in L.A. and moved to Davis for college. Located 15 miles east of Sacramento and on the way to San Francisco, Davis is a college town. It abuts the coastal mountains, is surrounded by farmland, and is well known for the university’s veterinary medicine and agriculture programs. Davis is where he first started playing in bands. Unfortunately, lots of Davis people liked what was called college rock back then—bands like Pavement. “I wanted to do older ragged rock ‘n’ roll like Swell Maps and The Fall,” he said. “Davis was all these shaggy-haired guys into Thin White Rope and Kyuss type bands—like desert rock.” While Patrone attended college classes, he shared a house with a friend who decided that, despite his lack of experience, he was going to deal drugs. He discovered that drug dealing isn’t something you quickly learn. “He thought he could outsmart everyone. This required the kind of smarts that neither of us had,” Patrone said. “We were hanging out with people we shouldn’t have been hanging out with.”
Patrone moved to Sacramento in 1994 because his girlfriend lived there. She knew all the Sac punk guys—all 10 of them—and could take their shit and dish it back. Patrone met everyone through her. “When you meet one person here,” he said, “you meet them all.” Patrone was the weird X-factor. “People moved from the suburbs like Rancho to the city center,” he said, “but they didn’t move there from places like LA.” When he arrived, people were intrigued. “I was like an alien that everybody wanted to understand.” Any new person had inherent novelty, but he and his girlfriend also looked alike, so people wondered what was up with this couple who looked like brother and sister. “I walk funny too, with this big stupid lope,” Patrone said. “I always had a black eye from getting my ass kicked. I just got on the radar.” Being on their radar meant keeping up with a rough, comical, quick-witted crowd.
“I was really shy and scared,” he said. Fortunately, his brilliant, caustic girlfriend taught him the fine art of talking shit. As her acerbic demeanor brought the sensitive bassist out of his shell, she drew out his natural intelligence and lacerating wit, and that built his confidence. So did the crew’s welcoming nature.
Unlike in Davis, these Sac people were nice. They harassed each other. Made fun of each other. Laughed and drank and played bratty tricks on each other. But only because they liked each other. People with no senses of humor became easy targets. There were few of them.
“It’s hard to convey how funny Ed, Tristan, and Mike R Mike from The Bananas are,” said Patrone. “I can kind of keep up with them, but fuck, those guys are so funny it’s ridiculous. Everyone’s either really nice or really funny. It’s amazing to find that.”
Musically, this corner of Sacramento was also extremely creative and supportive, even while spraying all that piss and vinegar. Soriano’s underground club The Loft provided a place to see shows and hang out. Old Ironsides gave bands another venue to play at and gave punks like Patrone something to feel superior to. This scene wasn’t passive. They didn’t stand around staring at bands on stage. They danced all night. They sang catchy choruses. “If you could write a melodic song, you were cool with us,” Patrone said. “It was the greatest thing to go to shows where people danced instead of just nodding their heads.” Patrone had found his people. These people still surprised him. All these talented musicians with unpretentious, approachable, laisse faire attitudes welcomed him into the fold and broke down the kind of barriers he was used to in Davis. “In Sac, you had geniuses like Mike from The Bananas asking you to play with ’em. That’s how it’s supposed to be!” he said. “They had every right to be snobs for how talented they were, but they were all really nice.” They had a strong sense of community, a general lack of ego, excitement buoyed by lightheartedness. And the music was loose. “It helps your confidence when you don’t think of yourselves as being in ‘real bands.’ We didn’t give a fuck! Since we never thought of music as a career, we were free. What do you care if your friends think you suck?” The scene’s small size was both its strength and weakness. “It was really wholesome in a twisted kind of way. There were only so many people you could make out with. But the group was so small that things would blow over really quickly.”
People supported each other musically and went to each other’s shows. As Ed Carroll will tell you, the first rule is: “You can like your friends, but you don’t have to like your friends’ bands.”
Naturally, Patrone and his girlfriend started seeing their friends’ bands play at The Loft and Old Ironsides. While Carroll, Dezember, and Miller’s band Nar played around Northern California as a trio, Miller also played with Kennedy in a four-piece instrumental band called the Tiki Men. They got pretty popular around Sacramento and the Bay Area. People loved them. Except Patrone and his girlfriend. “I fucking hated the Tiki Men at first,” he said with a snicker. To him, the band looked too straight.
At the time, the surf and garage revival was going strong, especially in California, so clubs and record bins were flooded with many interchangeable bands who dressed up as Rat Finks or astronauts or whatever. Many were more image than substance. “We hated San Francisco,” said Patrone. “So many of those bands during the garage era were all costumes, no songs. There were The Mummies and Trashwomen, who were great. Then there were the costume bands, all those Mummies spin-offs that called themselves things like The Pharaohs and wore Pharaoh hats. We thought they were lame.” He initially thought the Tiki Men were cut from that same cloth.
Wearing vaguely matching outfits, with silky Hawaiian type shirts that they often tucked in, two of the members looked like Beaver Cleaver and My Three Sons kind of guys, with a squeaky clean, 1950s, puritan mamma’s boy appearance. “Those tucked-in shirts killed us,” Patrone remembered. Even after he and his girlfriend’s romance ended, they remained tight enough to sit at the bar at Old Ironsides and pantomime patronizing dialogue about the Tiki Men, like “Gee willikers, Tim, I broke a string!” and “They look like they’re meeting each other’s parents tonight!” He would’ve mistaken them for narcs. “I mean, Miller looked real cool, like he was in the Swell Maps or Scottish or something, but the rest of them? Jesus. I grew up in L.A., so I thought bands were supposed to look like Izzy Stradlin, you know? I was baffled.” Then there was their handsome lead guitarist Micah Kennedy.
Kennedy performed in whatever he was already wearing: thrift store corduroy pants with a striped vintage tee; a white shirt, leather jacket, and torn jeans. No silky shirts. No Tiki-themed stuff. “He just looked like a fuckin’ rock ‘n’ roll rebel,” said Patrone. “It was so natural on him. He cut a very romantic figure. He looked like an outsider. He was the fuckin’ Ponyboy of it all.” Kennedy’s outfits weren’t contrived or corny. You couldn’t picture him any other way. “There’s a big difference between classic and contrived. You can’t fake classic.” Kennedy had an aura of mystery about him, a slight mischievous quality. He cracked jokes and was often laughing. And his dark curls, brown hawkish eyes, and boyish charm drove women crazy. “I was like, ‘Fuck this good-looking guy Micah!’ This dude doesn’t know what it’s like to suffer. All us ugly fuckers hated guys like that.” As smart, witty, and passionate as Patrone is, Patrone was wounded, sensitive, and insecure. Looking at Kennedy, he doubted Kennedy understood anything about life, because in Patrone’s mind, you couldn’t understand life if you were that good looking. It took some time, but he came around.
Patrone went from an outsider to an insider when he and Carroll both somehow ended up playing in a lame, popular oi! band named Deep Six. Even though they loathed the band, they enjoyed each other’s quick, twisted wit and mutual love of the band Dexy’s Midnight Runners, and they learned to anticipate each other’s playing as a tight rhythm section.
Lots of people around Sac played multiple instruments, switching freely from guitar to drums, or drums to vocals. “Micah played spoons a lot,” said Carroll. “Had a great percussion instinct. He could just pick something up and wail anytime he wanted. He was amazing.” Years later, Patrone would sing in the band FM Knives. Initially, he stuck to bass. He considers himself capable but not great. The social circle where he landed, and Carroll’s approval, gave him the green light to keep playing. So did the music. It was a hobby, sounding alternately tight and sloppy, seriously good but not serious in tone. No one wanted to be pro. People who acted pro didn’t fit here.
“My baselines were all over the place,” Patrone said. “But I could kind of fool people who weren’t bass players. They’re like ‘Well, you do all this stuff that’s pretty neat.’ They don’t really notice if you’re keeping the beat or not. So I think I fooled my way into bands, just being able to be noodley and weird on my instrument. …You can make a mess on bass and people will think you’re good. Because you pick a note and stick with it and hold shit down. I was also lucky because Ed, who I teamed up with early, is a very steady drummer, and we played really well together.” People respected Carroll for being in Nar and other bands, he’d earned his place, so when he vouched for the newbie, nobody argued. “He basically got me in.”
When the oi! band kicked them out for being longhairs, the two stuck together as a rhythm section and searched for something else. In a city of bands, something always came along.
1994, the year Patrone moved to Sac, was the first year that Sac’s underground venue The Loft hosted what became its infamous annual Halloween show. The tradition lasted 20 years—twice as long as The Loft. Musicians who didn’t normally play together formed a one-off band to do a full set of covers for the show’s theme. Themes changed each year: metal; New Wave; trios; cocaine bands (think 1980s bands like Peter Murphy). The Loft Halloween Show inadvertently started when some young punks asked Soriano to book a Halloween cover show. The savvy elder agreed but only after imposing three rules: It happened in December to keep the cops away on Halloween; there had to be a theme; and, as the SN&R reported, “No more than two people in an existing band can perform together. This rule pushed people to step out of their friend circles and, as a result, created lasting friendships among many of the participants who would continue crafting the show for decades to come.” As a long-time punk rocker, Soriano chose punk as the theme. SN&R described the screening process: “Find Soriano, walk up to him, let him know which band you want to emulate, and he would give you a yes or no, right then and there.”
One night Soriano started telling musicians at The Loft that they should do a set of covers by their favorite punk bands. “Since he’s in charge, we tell him what a lame fucking idea it is,” said Patrone, “but as soon as he walks away, we get really stoked planning it.” Some people wanted to do a Subhumans set. The opinionated Patrone found that way off base. “Ed and I start pitching The Boys or The Adverts, but Micah walks over and asks if we wanna do The Saints. He asks me too, so now he’s like the best dude.” Patrone stopped himself: “I don’t know if he really asked me. I was just standing next to Ed. But he was like, Okay you’re in.”
With that, Kennedy and Carroll found themselves back in a band together four years after Nar, and Patrone recognized Kennedy’s good taste. They got Scott Miller to sing. Eight bands played. Some people did Undertones songs, some did The Germs, The Damned, and Black Flag. Their Saints band slayed, so the guys decided to keep playing together. “A bunch of bands started as cover bands for the Halloween show,” Patrone said. “You’d get together, play the show, and have so much fun you’d keep going under a different name.” The show’s third rule ultimately gave birth to The Lazy J’s, because it fused the Carroll-Patrone rhythm section with Kennedy the leader.
Playing with Kennedy also got Patrone over his reservations, but it was quiet time hanging out that truly showed the guitarist’s character. “I think the night I really got it was when just me and him were driving in his vintage, rust-colored Dodge Dart, going the wrong way on 19th, which is a one-way street.”
Kennedy’s old car got only AM stations. The presets all seemed programmed to static. So many people remember driving around Sacramento in his Dart, watching Kennedy frantically push radio buttons, getting nothing but static.
“He’d be changing the station constantly without lookin’ at the road,” said Carroll. “He was a terrible driver. Scared the hell out of me. We’d always be like, ‘Dude, will you look at the road?’”
“Then some ghostly rock ‘n’ roll would come in on a faint signal,” Patrone remembered, “or some perfect song like ‘Sleepwalk’ would come through while we were driving around, kind of drunk, and a magic moment would happen.” That night while he and Kennedy drove the wrong way down a one-way street, Patrone thought, “Oh, this guy does get it. He’s not just some dumb pretty boy. He’s an ugly fuck up deep down.”
“This sounds messed up,” Patrone said, “but I thought, ‘There’s something wrong with this guy, okay, cool. I can trust him now.’ I didn’t feel as intimidated.” Once Patrone recognized Kennedy’s imperfection, he let him in. “He didn’t have a bad heart. He was just damaged goods. That’s it. Fucking damaged goods. He didn’t have shit under control, and there were somethings he could not get right. Those are the boxes I need checked in a friend.” They started hanging out.
Driving the wrong way down a one-way street—the memory made Patrone laugh. “All those streets downtown are one-way. He had a sick sense of humor.” He also seemed doomed. “He was haunted like an old Blues song. He knew he wasn’t long for this world.”
What became The Lazy J’s coalesced in 1994.
After the Halloween Show, Kennedy, Carroll, and Patrone kept playing. Kennedy wanted to sing. He had a great voice, and his musical tastes ranged farther than his instrumental band could accommodate. He wanted to play rawer music. “Tiki Men were so polished,” said Patrone. “They were more of a cruise ship band. Micah wanted something that was falling apart, shambolic.” He may also have tired of the band’s Old Ironsides audience, which Patrone remembers could include a lot of square, corny people in swing type dresses and those bowling shirts that were popular in the ’90s. “Lots of guys came to shows in those,” said Patrone. “It was like your weird work friend—lots and lots of that weird guy from work—and they’d be all hanging over Micah afterwards, talking about gear and they’d, like, shake your hand. Micah started getting sick of that.”
Kennedy mentioned how much he wanted to play with a local guitarist named Tristan Tozer. At the time, Tozer played in the punk band Yah Mos and the instrumental Boulevard Park Trio, and Kennedy loved his style. Although The Yah Mos were definitely punk, Tozer’s guitar style was as influenced by R&B, jazz, surf, and soul as it was by Minor Threat, creating a style that Patrone described as “hard soul” rather than hardcore. Tozer’s guitar playing family, and his music-loving mother, steeped him in Golden Oldies—not the sort of new wave, white-boy version of soul you hear in a band like Nation of Ulysses, but authentic, vintage, Black American music. “You didn’t find a lot of punk kids who liked Black music back then,” said Patrone. It wasn’t cool. But somehow, it was a love that many white Sacramento punks shared.
“Soul music was such a big part of the Sacramento scene, it was always kind of funny to meet other punks that didn’t have that same foundation,” said Nic Offer, Tozer’s Yah Mos bandmate. “That Sacto punk scene was cool because it was so small, and you kind of had to accept everyone’s different styles. We all could agree to dance to Stevie Wonder or Jackie Wilson, if you put that on.”
It makes sense. This scene loved catchy songs. Punk bands like Nar didn’t write hardcore. They were often jangly and catchy, influenced by English music and power pop. The connection between pop, oldies, and punk was obvious to many of these musicians.
“The first time I realized the connection between punk and old rock ‘n’ roll was listening to Rodney on the ROQ, DJ Rodney Bingenheimer’s popular KROQ Sunday night radio show,” said Patrone. “He always played music like the Shangri-Las and Love and then The Adolescents. I found it so weird that he played these things together, then I started realizing the connection. My high school girlfriend was a really good musician, and she showed me how to play a Ramones song; I was like 15 or 16. When I asked her to teach me, she said, ‘Oh, this is just like’60s chord progressions.’ Of course I was like, ‘What’s a chord progression?’ Then I realized it was all the same. I’d already made that connection that I liked the punk that sounded more rock ‘n’ roll—stuff like The Boys and The Damned. I liked things more melodic than hardcore.”
The Yah Mos listened to everything, but their love soul music and R&B came through Tozer’s guitar, which cranked out a style Patrone called “more Chet Atkins than Greg Ginn.” Kennedy heard it, so he wanted to play to him.
When they pulled Tozer into the fold, they jammed at the warehouse loft where Kennedy lived, called the Bean Sprout.
Originally the Sing Hing Bean Sprout Factory, this spacious had been converted into three residential lofts. The Tiki Men practiced and recorded there. Bands occasionally played there, including riot girrrl bands Bratmobile, and Sacramento’s brilliant Tiger Trap. And because the Bean Sprout’s thick cement walls created incredible natural fidelity, Kennedy recorded other bands like Lil Bunnies and The Boulevard Park Trio there, too.
“We’d just jam, and jam, and jam,” said Carroll. “We’d meet at the Bean Sprout and play for hours, like reaaaaallllly long practices. It was so fun. Drink tons of beer and hang out and work things out.”
“It felt like hours,” said Patrone. “It was more like: play for an hour, drink for half an hour, play some more. We couldn’t last for hours. Tristan and I are super fucking lazy.”
Tozer didn’t really start drinking until he was 21 or 22. Contrary to the stereotype of the nihilistic, self-destructive punk, he’d spent his entire adolescence playing loud, raw music stone cold sober. Like the other Yah Mos, Tozer’s drug of choice was sugary soda. Instead of partiers, The Yah Mos were shoplifters. They stole records, tapes, CDs, drinks, candy bars, cookies, and random items within reach at grocery and convenience stores. One Halloween day in 1995, singer Nic Offer stole hundreds of dollars of music from a downtown record store while dressed as a clown. A newspaper editor intercepted him, creating an easy story for the paper, but by then, shoplifting had already built him a huge library of music that shaped his artistic life. When Patrone accompanied The Yah Mos to play a Bay Area show, he marveled at the way they filled their pockets with snacks inside an am/pm minimarket. Naturally, when the other J’s got Tozer drinking socially, he started stealing booze.
“We led him down that dark path!” said Patrone. But Tozer didn’t understand how drinking worked, not how to pace yourself, not mixing cocktails. Before one practice, he stole a bottle of Vermouth from a Lucky’s grocery store—“for us,” he told his friends—and Patrone laughed. “That’s great if you’re an old Italian man,” Patrone told him. “You need to steal Vodka or something.”
Despite the booze, those hours at the Bean Sprout were productive. With no windows or cell phones, there were no distractions. And with no outside intrusions, the friends could immerse themselves in a world of their own making.
Tozer and Kennedy hit it off.
“Because Micah and I played lead guitar, we had more of a connection,” Tozer remembered. “Micah and I would get together and go for drives—I didn’t drive at the time—in his old ’60s car. We’d go to thrift stores or the dump looking for records and what have you, just hang out at his house, listening to music. We liked a lot of the same music.”
Those Golden Oldies became The Lazy J’s sound.
By then, the Tiki Men were coming to an end. Kennedy’s guitar playing had progressed and his tastes expanded beyond rock instrumentals, turning his focus back toward the oldies that he loved: Bo Diddley, R&B, Bluesmen like Jimmy Reed, ’60s soul, and vocal oldies like the Everly Brothers and Dion, famous for “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer.” It was music Tozer dug, too. When Tiki Men broke up in 1995, Kennedy focused his attention entirely on The J’s, where the guys could combine their shared musical tastes into what you might call punk oldies.
“Those guys had a lot in common,” Miller told me. “They were learning from each other and really enjoyed playing together. With The Lazy J’s, Micah was just going where he wanted to go [musically].”
“He had some ideas,” said Tozer, “and songs that he wanted to try that wouldn’t fit with the Tiki Men—R&B-ish and punk, too.”
That love of oldies is why The Lazy J’s, unlike Nar, The Bananas, and Los Huevos, wrote few original songs and instead mined the early 20th century for masterpieces. “I’ve never done so many covers in a band,” said Carroll.
“If a song came on the radio when we’d all be driving around, we’d all be like, ‘Oh fuck yeah, this song!” Patrone explained. “We covered AM radio kind of songs. ‘You got your troubles, I’ve got mine’ kind of songs. Linda Ronstadt’s ‘Different Drum.’ Songs that most people knew but weren’t totally sick of. We weren’t gonna do ‘Rock Around the Clock.’ It had to be pretty cool. If you hear ‘Different Drum’ come on, you’re always stoked.” They’d each throw out suggestions: Let’s try this song. Let’s try this song. And certain ones made the cut.
Their repertoire included The Equals’ “Michael and the Slipper Tree;” Tennessee Ernie Ford’s 1955 hit “16 Tons;” The Small Faces’ 1966 instrumental “Grow Your Own;” John Fogerty’s “Almost Saturday Night;” The Who’s “Good’s Gone;” Bo Diddley’s “I’m Sorry,” since Patrone was obsessed with Diddley; Johnny Cash’s “I Got Stripes;” and The Kinks’ “Sitting on My Sofa.” “I remember thinking to myself there were probably 90 better Kinks songs than that one,” said Patrone, “why did we do it? But that’s the bass player’s lament in every band—doing a two-chord song where you just go ‘bomp, pa-domp’ forever.” They covered The Kinks’ “Revenge,” “I’m on an Island,” and “You’re Looking Fine,” too. Even though Tozer didn’t like the sound of his voice, he sang lead on a cover of The Rolling Stone’s “Surprise, Surprise,” and sang another Small Faces song called “Sorry She’s Mine,” which was Patrone’s favorite song to play. Some got recorded, others not. Some never moved beyond the planning stages. They talked about doing Doris Troy’s 1963 hit “Just One Look” but never did.
Del Shannon’s 1961 hit “Runaway” was a no-brainer. “We all liked that song,” said Patrone. “It has that spooky organ solo in it.” They loved old rock ‘n’ roll and loved sad songs. But for Kennedy, songs of heartbreak resonated.
“He was a tortured guy,” Miller said of his childhood friend. “He was always in some heartbreak with some woman. Shit was always topsy-turvy. He was drawn to trouble, loved Richard Brautigan and guys who died young like that. I hate to say this, and of course I very much wish he hadn’t died, but he was one of those people where it was really hard to imagine what Micah would be like as an old guy. He lived in the moment. He wanted to have fun.”
In “Runaway,” the crying singer walks alone in the rain, feeling the pain, wondering what went wrong with their love, and wishing his lost love was there to end his misery. But she ran away, his little runaway, she’d run-run-run-run-run-runaway. Nearly 40 years had lapsed between Del Shannon recording the song and Kennedy inhabiting it, but with all the right motifs, and the impossibly catchy melancholic melody, it was his song.
“Micah made everything his own,” said Carroll, “so covers don’t sound like much of a cover. People didn’t know if they were or not. Honestly, I was never sure.”
“You’d watch him sing ‘Runaway’ in The Lazy J’s and pour his heart out,” Miller said. “Everybody’s memory of The Lazy J’s is watching him singing that song. He had this heartbreak in him. He liked music because it spoke to him, and he sang stuff that meant something to him. He’d deliver that performance like he wrote the song. With songs like ‘Runaway,’ he could relate.”
“Love of Del Shannon was how I bonded with Micah,” Soriano told me, “one drunken night in his studio apartment over Old Ironsides. That night Micah turned me onto the great Dion b-side ‘Born to Cry,’ that he played about 10 times in a row. I hear that song and think of him.”
But “Runaway” became a centerpiece. “We played that probably every time we practiced or played live,” said Carroll. “That had to be in there. ‘16 Tons,’ too, for some reason. We used to play this superfast version of it that was total chaos.”
A vein of sadness shot through so much of what Kennedy came up with. Not simply minor chords or blue phrases, but blue lyrics with tragic motifs. Sad oldies were often catchy pop songs with memorable hooks and choruses about lost love, struggle, sadness, loneliness. Even their cover of The Boys’ 1977 song “First Time” pulled heavily from the ’50s playbook, stylistically and lyrically, using the mid-century vocabulary that was usually the domain of appreciative impressions or films like Stand By Me: “I met her last Friday / At the local dance. / She was sittin’ next to me / So I took a chance.” What dance were those UK punks going to in 1977? Those lines sound like something you’d hear at an American sock hop, but the music The J’s behind it is pure modern power pop. With Carroll doing fast snare rolls to a fast beat, and Kennedy’s pained soulful voice, it’s faster, rawer, more power pop than The Boys’ original. It’s an incredible song, and so few people have heard it.
As The J’s repertoire grew, they started performing. “We just blasted into playing shows,” said Carroll, “and kind of fell in where the Tiki Men left off—certainly not the same band as the Tiki Men or with the same kind of force or notoriety, but the same kind of shows and folks.”
The J’s played their first show at either a garage sale or house party that Tim Foster and Tim White threw at their house downtown.
After that, Kennedy’s great musical reputation got them most of their shows. They played a few times at The Loft. After making fun of Old Ironsides, Patrone found himself playing there, too. It makes a strong case for the idea that the universe has a sense of humor. “I’m sure I thought, ‘Of course they wouldn’t like us,’” said Patrone, “‘we’re so over their heads.’”
They mostly played at San Francisco’s Purple Onion. The famous ’60s comedy club had taken to hosting garage and rock shows during the ’90s, and the owner, Tom Guido, liked Kennedy so much from his Tiki Men days that he frequently called Kennedy personally to invite him to play. “Ah, Micah,” Guido would tell him, fawning as he did, “you’re the best. You must come!” Guido also just called them to talk. “He called once to say, ‘I have this cat that would be great for you guys!’ He wanted to give us, as a band, a cat,” said Tozer. “We never took him up on that.”
Patrone appreciated that eccentricity. “Guido was an extraordinary nut who’d yell shit like, ‘And YOU, Little Miss Speed Eyes,’ arbitrarily kicking out innocent patrons.”
Guido infamously posted his misspelled house rules on a piece of paper outside the venue. It said:
1. MEMBERS ONLY (Unless accompanied by a member.)
2. ALL MEMBERS MUST PAY INITIAL FEE. UNTIL ALL LEGAL BACK payment dues are paid.
3. YOU will behave in the club!
4. BE Careful. and take care of others.
5. when finished with your beverage or food deposit the empty in appropriate
recepticl cans in can holder, glass in glass etc. i don’t think i have to
explain that subject any further.
6. new members must be approved by the entire group. majority rules.
7. chief has power to veto all group decisions.
8. wait for more rules.....
The J’s never played more than 25 shows total, though at one point Micah’s credentials got them Purple Onion gigs seemingly every other weekend. “It was the era of all those marked-down garage bands, so it didn’t matter if you ruled it or not,” said Patrone. There were The Demolition Doll Rods, The Hentchmen, The Bobbiteens, The Dukes of Hamburg, The Drags, The Fallouts, The Hi-Fives, and on and on.
The J’s played the Purple Onion because the chance to travel to San Francisco with friends was too fun to pass up. The club paid for gas. SF’s temperature was cooler than Sacramento’s. And it gave them a reason to get wasted. To Patrone it was: “Oh, but we’re playing a gig. We have to. Can’t disappoint the people!’” Not that they needed a reason to drink. “We knew the shows weren’t going to be great, but fuck it. It’s San Francisco. Guido didn’t care if we made money or not. We were yokels but appreciative, thanking him for having us. We didn’t show up with a bunch of requests in a rider like prima donnas. I think he liked that we were regular dudes showing up and not demanding a guarantee or a green room. We were easy. For being a bunch of nobodies, we were good musicians, especially compared to these jive ass Bay Area dress-up bands who couldn’t sing their way out of a paper bag.” Even buzzed, The J’s were polite, wholesome, educated kids from California’s wholesome interior, raising hell without harming anyone but themselves. The fancy-ass Makers didn’t even show up for one headlining gig.
The J’s opened for a few of the Japanese punk garage bands that toured back then—not Guitar Wolf or Teengenerate level. Those bands played big SF venues. Bands on Rip Off Records rather than Sympathy for the Record Industry, like The Registrators. “Those Japanese bands always loved us. They were always super tight and fucking nuts. I think they appreciated that we were playing actual rock ‘n’ roll and thought the guitar stuff we were doing was real interesting.” Patrone remembers how those bands played like it was their last night on Earth and blew the paint off the walls. “If we got to open for one of them, we’d stay up buzzing all night talking about it.”
Riding high after one Purple Onion show, The J’s roamed North Beach and Tozer the klepto stole a dildo from a sex shop for no reason. Late at night, they found themselves at Coit Tower at the top of Telegraph Hill, with no place to sleep. They looked where they stood and decided to sleep on the ground at the foot of the famous tower. “You can do that when you’re young. You can sleep on a bed of nails. Now I can’t even get a good night’s sleep on a comfortable couch. We just had each other and our dildo.” In classic Kennedy fashion, he slept in a Volvo station wagon with his talented musician girlfriend Tatiana Latour, whose band Daisy Spot was impressing everyone from locals to the Modern Lovers’ leader Jonathan Richman. At one point in the middle of the night, Carroll held his bass drum like he was in a marching band and banged it with Tozer’s dildo. Kennedy and Tozer scatted and played air trombone along to it. Then they curled up on the cement. “I was so happy,” said Patrone. “It was like being around the Marx Brothers. They never ever let up.”
Their wild personalities infused their music with a raw, charismatic abandon. It also made it uneven.
“J’s were either/or,” said musician and fan Tim Foster, “transcendent or unwatchable, depending on how drunk they were.”
“We would have some shows that went really well, and some that were total disasters,” Tozer said. “I don’t even remember specific shows, just fleeting fun moments. When it worked, it really worked.”
Patrone remembers more shit-shows than not. Most, he said, were terrible. “I’m not saying that to be punk, like ‘We keep it nice and loose, maaaan,’ I mean bad like recital bad. I’m sure people were bummed. They came to see Micah tearing it up and were wondering who the fuck these guys on stage with him were. Can you picture getting all hyped to see the hot new rock combo and they open with ‘16 Tons’ out of tune?” Although Tennessee Ernie Ford made “16 Tons” famous in 1955, Merle Travis wrote the beautiful, depressing song in 1946 based on Kentucky coal miners’ difficult lives. Travis borrowed certain lines from his miner father and brother. Lyrics include: “You load sixteen tons, what do you get? / Another day older and deeper in debt / Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go / I owe my soul to the company store.” What 20-something garage punk wants to hear a drunken version of that on a Friday night? “People came to see Micah, because of the Tiki Men. Then we’d come out and sound like shit and play oldies. People were confused.” Patrone laughed. “We were ruining his reputation, dragging him down!”
Scott Soriano from The Loft was a fan. “I saw The Lazy J’s play twice,’ he wrote in the 1998 compilation insert. “I sat in on a practice at the Loft when they were starting out and I saw their last show at Tim & Tim’s Garage last Fourth of July. I have no idea what happened in between. But that doesn’t seem to matter because when I saw them on the 4th they were so great that they blew every bit of jeeze-I-wish-I-could-have-seen-them-before out of my mind.”
When listeners raved, it was never more than a few. “You’d have like five people at shows who’d love us,” Patrone said. The rest would probably turn to get more beer before the set ended. After one sloppy show, one of Patrone’s Davis friends told him, “I drove up for this?” “It was a little too punk sometimes. Not even punk, just messy. And drunk.” He blames himself for being so inept and out of tune on bass, his excited fingers hammering the strings in different times, probably leaving people in the crowd thinking, Pick a note, Patrone! “You’ve gotta understand, I’m really not a good bass player. My heart’s in the right place, because I try to come up with melodic shit, but I forget that I’m supposed to be keeping time or the beat or whatever. I guess they could’ve done worse.”
These J’s were lazy, after all.
The volume didn’t help. They were loud.
“I’m not much of a guitar tech guy,” said Carroll. Kennedy played the same beautiful, red, vintage Guild Starfire guitar that he’d played in the Tiki Men—the one Ray Davies is playing on the cover of The Kinks’ The Kink Kontroversy LP—through a Bandmaster head amp that was so loud and slightly bassy. “I had some ’60s drum kit that I could barely hear myself on with them. So our live shows were just like, ‘Whoa, what’s going on?’”
Carroll’s memory amused Patrone. “Tristan’s amp? Yeah right. I mean, that’s what was so great about Tristan. You had all these nü Metal guitarists around town with $13,000 worth of ESP guitars for playing a pizza parlor on a Tuesday, and the guy that can destroy all of them has been borrowing gear for the past five years. That’s the funny thing—of the best guitarists in town, who I’d say were Tozer, Kendon Smith, [singer-guitarist in the band Qore], and Mike Farrell, I’m pretty sure only Kendon owned a complete setup. But I can’t talk. I had this big galloot of a Peavey cab with only three wheels that would just lean like a drunk onstage. I also had this beat-to-shit ’65 Hofner my mom got me when I was 15. The neck was filled with tension cracks because I didn’t know about cutting your strings when you put new ones on, so there was like 40 feet of string wrapped around each tuning peg threatening to snap that fucker into a taco.” Fortunately for them, Kennedy owned a lot of nice old gear, most of which he’d found at the dump and refurbished, because he liked a particular guitar sound. “He used to lend Tristan this great Gibson S-1.” Tozer had to borrow an amp for every show.
Alcohol wasn’t the only cause of The J’s inconsistency. It was their seat-of-the-pants approach. No so much an artistic vision as a way of life.
“It was a looser band,” said Carroll.
After picking a song to cover, they sometimes got on stage without planning much out, which was rare for bands Carroll had played in. They knew the songs because they were established oldies, and the members had a rapport, but in place of arrangements about how fast to play, where they’d stretch it out, or any changes, they followed their guts, which were often stewed in beer. “Not because we’re great musicians,” Carroll said. “I don’t know why we did it that way. It was the nature of that band. The Lazy J’s were just like that.” Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t. But it always made things fun.
“Micah was hands off,” Carroll said. “He would play and let you play. There was no, ‘Try doing this,’ or ‘No, don’t do that.’ He just wanted to play.”
Each member contributed their individual parts to songs, and they suggested songs to cover, but it was Kennedy’s band artistically, his vision. As Patrone put it: “This was definitely the Micah show.”
“A lot of times I just felt like it was all his vehicle,” Carroll said. “It was what he wanted to do with music at the time, and anytime he wanted to say ‘Alright, you’re not drumming anymore,’ I’d be like, ‘Alright.’ We were a band, but he was in charge. It was his stuff, his sound, that we all contributed to.”
Kennedy’s song “She’s So Refined” embodied the dynamic. He had the song ready to go when the band formed. He played his friends a solo demo. Everyone wrote their parts around that. “Tristan busted out that rad Velvet Underground sounding solo,” said Patrone. That’s how it went with everything. “Micah never showed us what to play. He didn’t give me a baseline. …The most he would do was say ‘Tristan, solo here.’ He trusted our instincts. He knew me and Ed could play together, and he knew Tristan would come up with the perfect thing. He didn’t sweat it, you know? And he didn’t correct you. He didn’t say things like, ‘Tristan, I don’t know about that solo. Try this.’ It was just: whatever happened happened. The way we tried something the first time stuck. That was it. We didn’t change anything after the first time.” Everyone liked it that way. “We loved how Micah sang. We loved his voice. No one was really singing like that—that plaintive, growly sound. It’s really hard to do that without sounding emo or corny. We just loved backing him up.”
Compare that to the version of “She’s So Refined” the full band recorded the following year:
Just as Kennedy couldn’t stand to be confined back in his Nar days, he didn’t want to confine anyone else. Because no one got hung up on how they wanted things to go, no egos clashed. Kennedy didn’t need to be the center. He didn’t need acknowledgement for his sound or songwriting. The other members didn’t either. Everybody had room to sound like themselves.
“Tristan really liked it because he could just go to different shows and practice and tear shit up,” Patrone said. “He didn’t have to worry about booking shows. He didn’t wanna do any of the work. He just wanted to get out there and play. Me and Ed are the least concerned about that shit in the world. We just want to get out of town and play some shows with our friends and get free drinks. We have, like, no artistic integrity—still play good music, but we weren’t like, ‘Where’s my name on the credits? Why is my picture not on here?’ Same with Tristan.” Even for a huge talent like Tozer, being the second guitarist was a lot like not owning equipment. “He knows he’s good and doesn’t need to prove it. Tristan plays because he enjoys it. He didn’t need to come to practice to say ‘Here, I wrote this song.’ He didn’t care about doing the guitar solo. He was happy with Micah as the leader and him getting to hang out in the background.”
In a sense, not releasing much music assured The J’s always remained in the background.
Carroll wasn’t sure how many original songs they had—maybe four of their ten regular repertoire? “But Micah wasn’t Mr. Original Songwriter. He didn’t have the patience for it, has always been my theory. He liked to really mess with covers, but he didn’t have the patience to stick through the writing of an original song. He’s the exact opposite of Scott in Nar, who says, ‘Okay, I have the song. It’s a minute and 45. We’re gonna do this. Here’s the structure. Here we go, boom boom.’ And we all kind of know what we’re doing—not to say that there’s not a lot of nitpicking afterwards. Micah was different. He wasn’t disciplined. He just wanted to keep going. Not to say that he’s the same caliber, but I keep thinking of Jimi Hendrix. There’s Axis Bold As Love, which is this great, poppy, psychedelic album, where the playing is perfect and the songs are perfect. And there’s other times where the guy just goes off and doesn’t come back. He jams out and there’s no structure. Later on he got further and further away from those more coherent, earlier musical ideas. He just wanted to keep stretching. I always thought that was Micah’s mindset. He didn’t want to be restrained by structure.” I seems like Kennedy liked to explore possibilities, to see where different musical routes could take them, to see what he was capable of as a musician. Finishing a song is the end of the creative process because, unless you’re like the Velvet Underground and never play the same song twice, composing locks in the song’s structure. In a sense, refining a song is the end of the song. “Exactly,” Ed said. We never talked about it at all. I was just like, cool.”
Thankfully, Kennedy constantly ran his four-track while they jammed, capturing hours and hours of music, including practices, improvisation, polished songs, and rehearsal.
“Micah recorded so much shit,” Patrone remembered. Then Kennedy spent hours alone at the Bean Sprout, pulling the best takes of songs and laboriously mixing them. Then most of the tapes would disappear, or, at least, Carroll would wonder where they went.
“Micah would be four-trackin’,” said Carroll, “then you’d never hear any of it. At all. When the little bit that’s been released came out, I was like, ‘Oh, I forgot we did that.’”
Kennedy recorded so many sessions that included multiple versions of the same songs like “Bella Mae” and “I’m Sorry,” and it’s hard to tell which were which if he and Carroll weren’t so good at labeling tapes. After we talked, Carroll found a tape in his basement where they play “She’s So Refined” for the first time. “It has to be the first try because none of us have a clue what to play and the next version is a big improvement.”
Sometimes Kennedy even rerecorded his own versions of songs, where he played each instrument. Carroll wasn’t initially sure if he or Kennedy was drumming on the version of “She’s So Refined” on the City of a Beer comp, because multiple versions of that song existed. Same with other songs, too. “Drumming, you can usually tell if it’s you or not,” said Carroll. “Sometimes I’d hear something and think, ‘Oh, I can’t believe I played this so smoothly. Are you sure that’s me?’” It didn’t matter. “It wasn’t a thing where I felt territorial or like Oh, man. He was just always working on his stuff.”
Carroll wasn’t sure about the origins of the six songs on Soriano’s Unsung Sounds of Sacramento CD-R either, if they came from a Bean Sprout jam session that Kennedy mixed or what. To jog his memory, he decided to check some cassettes he’d saved in a big box somewhere in a cool, dark, dry corner of his basement—a box full of flyers, setlists, and ephemera—once he could locate them. As a working historian who’d written an entire book about the history of Sacramento beer brewing, he appreciated people’s efforts to document music culture, and he documented it himself. “That’s why I have all the flyers and why I wrote the dates on the setlists. I save everything, man: receipts and tickets, all kinds of crazy stuff. That’s why I’m down in my basement now. I’m always going through boxes. My wife’s like ‘Oh man.’ Me, I’m like, ‘I didn’t know I had this! I didn’t know I had that!’ So much of those years are just in my head. Then I see pictures. I took a number of photos of Tiki Men and Lazy J’s just hanging out, but not playing of course.”
Sometimes, but not often, the band would listen to Kennedy’s mixes in someone’s house. They sounded good. “Micah would take his time mixing parts of those tapes,” said Patrone. “I never stuck around. I hated mixing. I didn’t understand the appeal. Something about it was so irritating. Micah would sit there for hours and days going over the sound until it sounded perfect to him. He really put a lot of effort into it.”
Kennedy was loose when playing, and he may not have had the patience to write many songs, but he had patience to mix. He loved mixing, and he taught himself to be an incredible engineer. “It’s kind of weird,” said Patrone. “He was so hands-off. At the same time, he was meticulous. Those recordings don’t sound labored over. They sound like he just pushed record and that was it. He spent a lot of time making it sound off-the-cuff and primitive. But he definitely worked to get that sound. It wasn’t just that he had a good room. You can have a good room, but you need to do some serious shit mixing, too.”
Sac musician Chris Woodhouse’s work recording bands on a four-track inspired Kennedy to try it himself in the early ’90s. He got the best sound out of most rooms, but his Bean Sprout loft was exceptionally reverby, creating a rich, overdriven quality that could sound beautiful if the right engineer knew how to control and amplify it. Through frequent experimentation and time spent tinkering, Kennedy developed a signature sound there that Patrone described as having “atmosphere, character, presence, kind of spooky, ghostly.” Woodhouse gets a lot of deserving credit for his savvy, scrappy engineering with a four-track, and later an eight-track reel-to-reel, and for being able to record everywhere from a legit studio to Beer’s Books downtown. But as great an engineer as Woodhouse was, on the same four-track, Kennedy gave him a run for his money. “I’m not saying Micah was a better engineer,” said Patrone. “Woodhouse was more versatile. Woodhouse could give you a professional sound for cheap. I think even Woodhouse would say this, but nobody could give you that same primitive sound that Micah could.”
Which is why it boggles the mind that Kennedy put all that work into mixing J’s songs they never pressed to vinyl.
Patrone laughed. “He wasn’t doing it for other people. It was his own thing. And yet I couldn’t imagine him sitting around and listening to it. That’s the difference. Me and Ed, if we record something, we will listen to that shit a hundred times, by ourselves, play it for friends, like, ‘Hey, that’s me.’ We get a kick out of it. I don’t think Tristan or Micah ever listened to things they did. They just lay it down. I doubt Tristan even owns copies of records he’s played on. Micah had all these tapes that would sit there; it’s not like he would play them for people so they could hear his shit. Just doing it was the reward for them. Here’s me and Ed, playing it for every person that comes in our house, a captive audience!”
Tozer wrote an instrumental called “The Straighten Up” that ended up on a tape in a box in Carroll’s basement. It was a fun rip-off of Archie Bell & The Drells’ 1968 song “Tighten Up” and all those kind of throwaway Soul songs, like Joe Tex’s “Skinny Legs and All,” where the singer talks for a while then goes into the chorus. “Tighten it up drummer! Tighten up on that bass, now. Tighten up! Oh yeah, you do ‘the tighten up.’” “We’d start,” said Patrone, “and Tristan would talk over us like: ‘Hi everyone! How you all doing tonight? I’m Tristan Tozer! And this is a song called ‘The Straighten Up!’ You ready?’ He can be quiet, but he can also talk and talk like that.” And he was perfectly happy losing track of the song.
Ed found a copy in his basement.
“Tristan and Micah were just so confident in their abilities,” said Patrone. “Tristan knew it was good, he was just modest about it. He didn’t need that external validation.” Tozer’s own confidence in his abilities coupled with the reward of just making something with your friends, meant that he didn’t need to listen to his recordings, or even own his own records. He probably wondered what the point is: to sit around and listen to himself play? Why would he do that?
“I think that’s cool,” said Patrone. “I’m way too shallow to do that. I listen to shit I do so much. I’m insecure. I need to remember a time when I did something right! Those two are just like, ‘Okay, what’s next?’” Sure, music is a way to connect with other people. It’s also a way to show, ‘Look, I’m not a total fuck up guys. Look what I’m part of!’ I think Ed really likes to hear what other musicians did around his drum parts. He’s like the supportive encouraging one who compliments people on what they did in the song.”
I can understand how doing certain things, like creating something out of nothing the way musicians do, is the reward. It’s that way with writing. The act of creation, the process of refining, is such a gratifying experience while you’re doing it that releasing or publishing a finished item often feels anticlimactic. So you start to make more things and get back in that stimulating, all-consuming, euphoric creative zone. That said, listeners know that music creates a powerful connection between the creator and the audience. Music is a form of communication whose other reward is reaching beyond the musician’s experience and moving another human being, even if the musician never sees that human being in person. Releasing music facilitates connection. Maybe Kennedy preferred the creative act, and by living in the creative moment, he and others were able to leave all those tapes—what Tozer calls “Micah’s slew of tapes”—in various boxes and move on to the next thing.
And yet, something ate at Kennedy.
He rolled tape like that for the rest of his life, Carroll said. “I don’t know what he was looking for.”
“Micah was looking for something,” said Patrone. “I think he wanted some peace. Or solace. He heard these other guys in bands and I think it made him really sad.” He had all this talent, these great friends, clubs, access, equipment, and bands. People respected him, but he couldn’t make certain things happen, and something always remained out of reach. “Although he had achieved all these things artists look for—a place to create in peace, love and respect of great people—he was still sad.”
You can hear the sadness in songs like “Each Day” and “Runaway.” It’s part of their power. They’re also a reminder that what seems like a keg party is often a funeral in disguise.
Wild drinking isn’t always fun youthful hijinks. It’s often running, dodging, hiding, avoiding. It’s propping up sagging spirits, medicating a condition, filling some void. I know. I’ve been there, with an arrest record and years at a methadone program to show for it, though I managed to stop before I did permanent damage. Some of my friends could not. They’re gone now. Beyond the power of the music, maybe that shared sense of friendship and loss is partly why this crews’ story compelled me so. But first and foremost is the music. It’s just good music. Listening to Kennedy sing “I’m Sorry” now feels like eavesdropping on a person apologizing for various mistakes he’s made while drinking, a person even apologizing to themselves.
Before leaving Sacramento for college in San Francisco, Kennedy moved from the Bean Sprout into a rock flophouse, nicknamed The U. Street Gentleman’s Club.
Scott Miller and photographer Ella Cross were a couple at the time, and they were living in a Midtown rental house around 18th Street, off Q. While Miller was away on a month-long tour with Nar, Cross saw the owner of an unusually roomy, historic rental about to put a for rent sign up and basically got it on the spot. The house had a huge porch and huge living room to fit band equipment. Miller said, “[It] was pretty incredible to return from a month-long tour to this house as my new home!”
“She’s the most resourceful, most interesting person I know in Sac,” said Patrone, “hands down. She is so talented and worldly. She gets things done. Of course she was the one who found that incredible house. She’s the kind of person who knows everything. Once I asked her, ‘Hey Ella, in Henry James novels, why do they all drink out of the saucers instead of the cups?’ And of course she knows the answer!”
After Miller and Cross broke up, she moved out, and a series of Tower Records employees moved in. Tozer moved in in 1995, and Dave Branum and Jay Four Eyes, from the band The Four Eyes. “It was a place that housed four, five, or six people at a time who’d live there for a few years or months,” said Tozer. “It became generational. Finally, around 2015, the house got sold. But until that time, people would live there, and then their little brother and sister would live there 10 years later or something.” Kennedy got a room there for a while, then Patrone took it over in 1998 when Kennedy moved into a studio apartment above the club that made his name, Old Ironsides.
“We were poor,” said Patrone, “but in Sac we could afford these huge old houses with big porches and big rooms where we could play whenever we wanted. Bands on tour would visit from out of town and marvel at the kind of houses we had. They’d come to U. Street and go: ‘Look at this place!’” Those visitors probably lived in tiny apartments in Oakland.
This particular house got its name when a certain renowned liar—not a harmful liar, just a guy who amused himself by fibbing—told a group of female visitors, “This is a gentlemen’s club. Women are not allowed. They run it like a fraternal organization.” Which, of course, wasn’t the case. Women lived there too eventually. But the place, like this crew, was a very dude-y guy’s scene, and became known as the U. Street Gentlemen’s Club.
Maybe Tozer named it. “Tristan is a grade-A bullshitter who’s really great at making up stories that sound convincing because he inserts so much detail,” said Patrone. “One time he convinced Soriano that the See’s Candy women were all raised on this remote island community where they were indoctrinated to be fanatic candy experts. It had all these strange details, like they were given the white uniforms once they achieved mastery. Scott totally bought it.”
Soriano remembers it differently. “Actually, Tristan, Nic, James, and I were driving to Jackson,” Soriano told me,” this shitty record store. Tristan or I pointed to a spot out in the hills and started spinning about how that’s where See’s Candy is made by a commune of young women who age out to See’s Candy ladies. I am not sure who started the spoof, but we both built on it, and Nic and James bought it.”
Okay. But who named The U-Street Gentlemen’s Club?
“No, I don’t know who named it,” said Carroll, “but I certainly wasted a lot of time there. Classic place. Palace of fun! We recorded a loot of Cassingles there and the first Bright Ideas 45, among other things. I live four blocks from there now.”
The Gentleman’s Club was in a neighborhood were a lot of older Chinese immigrants lived, and they didn’t call the cops on the musicians. “They didn’t care what we were doing,” said Patrone. “It was funny, because we’d be out on our porch smoking, and these old Chinese guys would be on their porch smoking, and we’d just be staring at each other. And we all kind of wore the same clothes, like 60s pants and busted up sweaters from thrift stores. I think they kind of informed our style. You’d go to the thrift store and be like ‘Oh man, this shirt looks like what our neighbors would wear. This is rad!’ It was a very mellow area, which was nice.”
“It became a hang out,” said Soriano. “Sometimes they had parties. Not ragers but gatherings of friends. While other houses did shows or had band practices, U. Street didn’t—well, not as a feature. There were occasional band practices and one, maybe two low key shows a year. Never too loud, as there were neighbors. There was, however, a lot of music being made there, which led to makeshift bands, which turned into real bands. During The Loft years, it was one of several different houses or spaces that defined the Sacto punk scene, so it is difficult to say it was a central fixture, but more of a web of houses and spaces, each one having its own flavor. …Also, although the Gentlemen’s Club had a limited open door policy (it wasn’t a crash pad, but people and bands did get invited to stay over), people did meet there and scheme projects.”
Like everyone else, Patrone started working for Tower Records. Unlike Miller, Kennedy, and Tozer, he didn’t work in the relatively posh magazine warehouse, whose famous, legendarily supportive boss, the artist Doug Biggert, was written about in The New Yorker, bought his employees kegs on Fridays, and appreciated the many working artists he employed. Patrone worked in the books warehouse. “My boss was this polo-shirted maniac Ray Matucci who, legend had it, one time was so coked out he shit himself on the golf course and absolutely relished that I was a college grad making $3.75 an hour. I’d come out to the parking lot all bedraggled trying to smoke a Winston in peace, and those fuckers in mags would be enjoying their fifth hour at lunch and start yelling across the way, ‘Hey Patrone, get fucked! Ha ha ha!’”
Kennedy worked with them at Tower for a while. “He made money doing carpentry, fixing things, laboring,” said Patrone. “He could work on cars and do shit with his hands—manly shit. We were data entry type guys. But he was always just squeaking by.”
Kennedy was a bohemian. He spent his time making things and enjoying a slower place of life. At U. Street he never seemed to wear a shirt. “Most dudes who hang out with their shirts off, you’re like, ‘Give me a fucking break,’” said Patrone. “For him it was totally natural. It wasn’t like when your weird uncle who did that. He wasn’t trying to be cool or anything. That’s just what he was fucking doing. It was really funny.”
In the ’80s and ’90s, you could afford to be an artist in Sacramento. One problem with Sacramento’s low cost of living was that you didn’t have to work a so-called “real job” to get by, so you could be as self-destructive as you wanted.
“It wasn’t a big druggy scene,” said Patrone. “There was some of that later. We were a drinking scene. We drank beer. There was always lots and lots of really cheap beer.”
“Sadly, The Lazy J’s became a drinking club,” said Tozer. “Then it became just hanging out and drinking lots of beer.”
Kennedy developed an alcohol dependence. It was easy to do. Sac was a working class town with an old school drinking culture. And these guy’s musical world was a beery one. “Everybody was drinking at The Loft. You stood out if you weren’t drinking,” said Patrone. “Your friends wouldn’t casually say, ‘Yeah, I’ve been drinking a little too much, I’m gonna take a break.’ It didn’t happen.” If someone wasn’t drinking, they were either hardcore straight edge or they preferred weed. “Everybody was on something. It always seems like people are either drinkers or stoners. Micah was both. He wouldn’t drink hard liquor a lot. When he would, he‘d quit and say ‘I need to stick to beer. No more hard liquor.’ I think he could see where it was gettin’ him sometimes. Maybe it made him mean and he needed to take a break from that.” Whatever it was, he drank a lot, like the city drank a lot. He just didn’t stop.
Kennedy would wake up, drink a Heineken, play some music, maybe a Chet Atkins style riff, or try to pluck an old Blues song, then throw down the guitar, rub his forehead, smoke some weed, then he would go to work, or work on his car, or go to the dump to search for records or an old dresser or vintage musical equipment to refurbish.
“It’s not like he would wake up and watch TV or anything,” said Patrone. “He was a lot more interesting than that.” Instead of rapping with you about pop culture, he liked talking about deep things, music he loved, books he’d read, films that got him thinking. “He was always talking about interesting shit. It made me feel like a dumbass for being so concerned with mundane shit like TV.”
When he talked, he didn’t lecture or talk down to you. He excited you.
“He wasn’t boring when he talked about records,” said Patrone. “He wasn’t a fake when he talked about cars. He wasn’t trying to be tough. He read and watched movies. He was just a cultured motherfucker, but he wasn’t trying to score points off it. It’s like what I was saying: You either have class or you don’t. And he had class. Part of having class is being well cultured and humble. Being able to talk about foreign films without lookin’ like a fuckin’ asshole. Being genuinely enthusiastic and curious. He was just curious still about shit. He was interested in stuff. I distinctly remember him discussing ZZ Top’s Tres Hombres. I don’t even remember what he said, but he was describing how brilliant it is. This is Tres Hombres. He made it sound like a fucking dissertation.” Patrone laughed at the memory.
Tres Hombres is ZZ Top’s Bluesy third studio album, the popular one with “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers” on it. A few other cool bands knew ZZ Top tunes were cool, most importantly, The Meat Puppets. That genre-breaking, psychedelic band whose songs Nirvana covered actually made their 1987 album Huevos sound like a ZZ Top tribute album. Most people criticized them for it, but they didn’t care. Neither did Kennedy.
“He could talk about anything,” said Patrone, “and you would go ‘Wow, he’s so into this, I’m into this now, too. I hadn’t uncovered the beauty of this until now.’ You know, you see a kid being a kid and you’re like, man whatever this kid is doing, like running around chasing his own tail and being so into it, it’s the thing to do now. I’m gonna do that now. That looks great! It was just so natural, and Micah was not ashamed of being curious and interested in shit. Obviously that’s something we miss. The older you get the more you stop seeing and feeling that raw curiosity. He always had it. There’s two kinds of people. There’s people who marvel that you’ve never heard of something and make you feel like an idiot. And there’s the people who get really excited because they get to be the one who shows you it, and how it’s gonna be so good to see you happy about this. He was the latter. He wasn’t doing it put you down and make you feel bad. He was so excited to show you something beautiful. Ed, Tristan, Micah—they were all like that. Ed introduced me to The Kinks. I didn’t know them. I remember the night Ed made me this tape and he was going through the whole Kinks catalog, and he was so stoked that I didn’t know the Kinks, and they were his favorite band. He wasn’t disgusted like, ‘Oh, why am I wasting my time with this idiot?’ He was like, ‘Oh, this is so cool that I get to show you this shit because I know you will like it.’ They were all like that. It was all truth and beauty to them and wanting to share it.”
That’s a beautiful thing.
But Kennedy was complicated. “He was pretty, but he could throw a punch,” said Patrone. “I can’t think of specific times he scrapped. If someone looked at him sideways or muttered under their breath he’d go ‘What the fuck did you say?’ He say, ‘Oh, we need to get out of here.’ He wasn’t a big guy. He was a small, slight dude, but he was definitely comfortable being confrontational. If someone talked shit, he got in their face.” And yet, he was the sensitive one. “He cried when squirrels got hit by cars. He’d cry, just cry. It was sweet, but it was confusing for 20-year-olds. It’s like, are you the fucked up one or am I? I’m just not feeling it that deeply.”
This seemingly contradictory quality was another thing that bonded Kennedy and Patrone. “I think the reason I’d get so angry and he’d get so angry is because we wondered why the world wasn’t like we thought it should be. As kids we were really sensitive. The shitty-ness of the world made us sad. Instead of being sad, you want to protect your shit, to cover your ass, and that becomes anger. We were both real hotheads. That was another thing that made me really trust him. I didn’t know other hotheads. I was really bad, especially back then. I’d take swings at people for real or perceived slights. It’s why I always had black eyes. Him and I both were real hotheads. We’d wonder ‘How can someone be like that? How can someone be a bully like that?’ It bugged us so much how shitty people could be. Not that we weren’t shitty, but you know. We wanted shit to be beautiful and that made us sad. It was a lot safer to be angry about it than sad. It was nice to see someone with a little lack of control like I had. Because everyone around me seemed stable in a way. That’s what really made me trust him: Seeing that he was fucked up in a similar way.”
Just as he could talk about foreign films without sounding like a patronizing ass, he could talk about feeling sad, too.
Where Patrone turned to humor to deal with his sadness or anger, Kennedy turned to alcohol but was also secure enough to tell friends “I feel sad right now.” “He was not afraid to show his sensitive side,” said Patrone. “He wasn’t handing out roses. He wore his sensitivity on his sleeve. How is that not attractive to anybody: somebody who’s super sensitive, artistic, and would take a swing? That’s pretty universally hot.”
Everyone loved Kennedy. He was just broken.
“The first time I ever went drinking with Micah was at that bowling alley [in Del Paso Heights] at like 10 in the morning or something obscene,” Patrone said. “That’s the thing about Micah: He stayed loaded but maintained.” He went to work. He worked on his car. He played music and dated women, and alcohol didn’t initially seem to ruffle him as it did many others. Of course, not showing the alcohol’s effects is usually a significant sign of dependence, but when you’re a rock ‘n’ roller in your twenties, you also respect the ability to conceal the effects. Maintaining is enviable. It adds cachet. Maybe you wish you could handle it so well, too. “The rest of us got much sloppier. He was put together. So he made it seem like he was doing alright. And I hate to say this, but at that age it seemed cool to stay so loaded and keep it together. It was like, ‘Fuck yeah.’”
One morning, a few of the guys went to a bar called The Flame Club at 6 a.m. It was just a working class dive near U. Street. Few young people had started going there yet. Kennedy arrived so drunk he could only squawk like a bird. The guys drank. The sun rose. Then they went to work. They acted like that was normal. Telling that story, Patrone questioned whether he was even there. “Maybe I just heard about it from Tristan? Now I’m wondering.” That’s alcohol for you. That was also the thing about Sacramento back then. “A lot of bars opened at 6 a.m. But who does that? These were regular people going there. These weren’t breakfast hours for ravers or something. It’s so crazy how that can just be normal. All these bars around town would advertise ‘Open at 6 a.m.!’ As if that was not a weird thing. I wasn’t like we would go any pizza or something.”
“There was always some elegance about him,” said Tozer, “even when he was in a bad way. He would have, like, some nice Italian sandwich from Corti Brothers and a San Pelegrino soda or something, wearing a nice jacket. You’d think ‘Oh, Micah. You’re still alright!’ He was always put together.”
“We tried to record,” said Tozer, “once at Tim White’s and Tim Foster’s live/work warehouse space, called the Pet & Puppy Center, Tim, the Tiki Men’s bassist, wanted to record us. I barely remember the session. The results were really sloppy. We just never did anything with it. It was really unrepresentative, or, unfortunately, highly representative, of what we were at the time.”
“Pet & Puppy Center was the name of the former tenant,” said Soriano, “a pet store formerly called Pet & Pigeon Center and Pet & Poodle Center. When Foster moved in, the sign was still out front. The building was owned by a guy named Johnny Crash-o-Rama, an old-time stunt driver, who would do illegal shows in front of his house in a semi-rural part of the city, by juvenile hall. Sometimes there would be a flatbed truck where bands like the Trouble Makers and the Flakes would play. The crowd was really cool, hundreds of Hell’s Angels, lowriders, punk rockers, and weirdos. Sacramento was once a very cool town.”
Life at the Pet & Puppy Center was such a blur of music, college, art shows, and vintage cars that Foster didn’t remember any more than the fact that The J’s recorded at his place. White didn’t remember that they recorded there at all. Kennedy wanted to see if the Center’s acoustics sounded better for their loud band than the Bean Sprout’s did. “He figured out how to make [the Bean Sprout] work beautifully for the Tiki Men,” said White, “but Ed is a louder drummer than Scott, and because all of those guys cranked their amps, it probably just didn’t work, especially with vocals. The Pet & Puppy Center sounded pretty good.” You can hear it in Th’ Losin Streaks first LP, which Chris Woodhouse engineered there in 2004. You can hear it in the few A-Frames songs Woodhouse engineered there, and the unreleased 6-song session he engineered by the Italian surf band The Introducers in 2004, whose sound reminded Foster of the Tiki Men.
The session took place on a very hot Sunday and was the usual marathon session of beer. In the middle of the marathon they walked to get burritos. “I don’t know why I remember that detail,” Carroll said, but he did. To his ears, the versions of “Runaway,” “First Time,” and “I’m Sorry” from that day sound better than the versions of the CD-R compilation. They also recorded Tozer’s “The Straighten Up” there.
Patrone didn’t remember anything about the Pet & Puppy session. “I’m a bassist. Just tell me where to stand and I’m there. I don’t make the big decisions.”
There is another recording.
A few years ago, Tozer found a cassette in his house, of them playing live at Davis’s college radio station, KDVS. “They had a live show. We went in to record, and there’s a board recording of that. It’s halfway decent. It’s very flat. Everything is muffled. There’s no space between anything. That’s the only recorded document other than the song ‘She’s So Refined’ on that comp.”
Outsiders poo poo Davis the same way they do Sacramento—a boring interior city whose university trains farmers to raise cows—but thanks to KDVS, it was a hotbed of music culture! “Alumni and Davis locals have also made it big in the music industry,” writes UC Davis Magazine, “often crediting KDVS for inspiration. New wave band Suspects began playing around the region in 1979, and was comprised of KDVS staffers Steve Wynn, Kendra Scott and Russ Tolman ’79. Wynn and Scott went on to be in The Dream Syndicate, which had some success in the 1980s and reunited in 2012. Tolman was in True West, which opened for R.E.M. in the 1980s and also recently reunited. Musician Michael Franti has said growing up in Davis, he would visit KDVS on weekends as a teen, taking music from the free bin and discovering groups like Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream.”
Soriano explained how important KDVS was for both early independent music and Sacramento punk. “They rebroadcasted Maximum Rock & Roll’s radio show and had early hardcore punk shows, Dr Demento, Joe Frank, etc in the early ’80s,” Soriano said. “That was the lifeline for every misfit and weirdo in the area. Bands would also play on the air—Live in Studio A (or LISA). The station would record almost everything, including shows at the UC Davis Coffee House. The archives are crazy—Gang of Four, Elvis Costello, Dead Kennedys, up to Green Day, Op Ivy, Melvins, jazz guys like John Tchicai who taught at Davis, William Parker, Charles Gayle, etc. Unfortunately, a lot was recorded on reels which rotted due to shitty storage (when I started doing a show on KDVS in the 90s, I opened a closet with hundreds of tapes just thrown in there, tape spooling off the reels, outside boxes, unlabeled—I saw a Gang of Four session completely destroyed. There was stuff that said one thing (Police, Coffee House, 1978) but was recorded over. Tragic. And a lot of stuff got recorded on DAT or minidisc. So much of it was lost, though one DJ started to salvage and catalog it. What is left of the collection resides with an engineer, but there are very few gems. At one point I was going to do a series of benefit albums for the station with those recordings but the pickings were very slim and the good stuff was damaged. Anyway....doing a radio show on KDVS was one way Sacto bands (especially punk bands in the ’80s) could get a decent recording. Lots of demos from the ’80s and ’90s are sourced from LISA sessions. The full sessions also tend to be pretty funny, as band members were drunk used the opportunity to talk shit about their friends or Davis. In the punk scene at least, there was a long tradition of insult culture.”
In that small-world-way you expect of Sac, Patrone worked at that station, too. “It was WFMU level, but it was Davis so they underestimated themselves, like Uh, we’re in Davis, here we are. All these famous to mid-level people worked there, like that hip-hop dude Paris and Kendra Smith, [one of the co-founders of the Paisley Underground band Dream Syndicate, with Steven Wynn]. It never got a lot of exposure because it was in a bum fuck town. A lot of things went to waste there. Like the reels that Scott Soriano mentioned.”
The KDVS live shows ran for two or three hours, which made them both fun and challenging for bands to play on. “What do you do for that long?” said Patrone. “Bust out weird random covers? Those DJ guys would start bantering. You had to fill up a whole radio slot. It was always kind of a joke; what band do you want to hear play for two hours that’s not, like, Can? You don’t listen to some pop band play for two hours. People didn’t want to hear us for 15 minutes!” A cover band that was struggling to fill an hour set was asked to play a two- or three-hour radio slot? “Oddly enough we weren’t asked back.”
Thankfully, Soriano, who’d watched The J’s practice at The Loft early on, saw them play again in 1997, at a July 4th party at the Pet & Puppy Center. At the time, he was assembling a local compilation called Sacramento: City of a Beer and needed another track to fill it. “When I saw them, I knew they were it.”
“When I put together comps,” he told me, “I always ask a band for three to five songs, so I can pick something that will fit into the comp (and to guarantee that the band doesn’t give me a toss off).” They gave him six songs: “She’s So Refined,” “16 Tons,” “First Time,” “Runaway,” two versions of Kennedy’s sad solo “Each Day.” They recorded the songs at the Bean Sprout around 1996.
As Soriano wrote in the record’s introduction, he didn’t want bands’ castoffs, or songs leftover from album sessions. He wanted their best. “Plus,” he wrote, “I wanted a comp that would show the world how great Sacto punk bands are. That meant giving people specific songs. And when the first song didn’t work finding another.” His comp did just that. But he didn’t realize that all J’s songs were castoffs in a sense, because that the songs The J’s gave him were the only ones they’d ever release.
For the part of 12 pages of liner notes for Sacramento: City of a Beer, Soriano printed a beautiful, hand-drawn Sacramento band family tree on the back of Peter Keat Rare Books paper, filched from the store where he worked.
“The notes to City of a Beer are fictitious,” said Soriano. “I went to Ed’s apartment and asked him to write notes about the history of beer in Sacramento, because he had a folksy local history writing style. Problem was that neither of us had a deep knowledge of the history, so we made it up. The Great Beer Flood story was one of my ideas, inspired by the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919. Ed had ideas. We made a list, he wrote it and I edited it. That inspired him, a few years later, to do actual research and do a thesis.”
The rest of the insert includes band bios and a page where musician Dave Smith summarized their little circle of friends: “You see, Sacramento ain’t like your town. We’re a bunch of geeks. We’ve got a magic recipe of beer, boredom, inbreeding and delinquency trapped in the Central Valley heat. Oh yeah, and there’s a dash of violence. This home. But mostly we’re just geeks and outcasts. Ain’t no other place like it on earth. There’s almost half a dozen King Geeks that are in every band.” Smith listed them: Chris, Scott Miller, Ed Carroll, Mike R Mike, and Jason Patrone. “Then there’s another 20 or so Other Geeks that fill out the rest of the hive (Tim, Jay, Dave, Brian, John, Tristan and Lisa—the Lone Girl),” and then he listed brands of cheap beer that flowed at most shows: Schaefer, Blatz, Burgie, Oly, Hamm’s and Pabst. “A loving product of inbreeding we are. Beer make us dumb, but it also makes us beautiful. And if there’s one thing you can say about Sacramento, it’s we’re The Home of Beautiful People.”
By the time the record came out, The J’s was mostly done performing.
That left Soriano with five unreleased songs. In the late-90s, he released the others on a CD-R he called Unsung Sounds of Sacramento comp. He made about 50 copies and handed them out at shows. Thank the stars Soriano got those songs. But it left a lot of material still unreleased. “I am surprised Miller didn’t do a Lazy J’s 7”s,” Soriano told me. “I wanted to, but by the time City of a Beer came out, they broke up. Hard enough selling records by active bands. Impossible with newly broken up groups.”
Miller didn’t do a J’s record because he didn’t have any J’s recordings. He also questioned the amount of material. “My guess is it was a LOT of takes of the same songs,” Miller told me. “They didn’t have a large repertoire, at least not that they played live.” Miller was also too close to the music-maker. “Also I have more tied up in it since this is the time he started getting pretty bad with drinking, so a lot of his late night four-track stuff is really heartfelt and pained vocal takes on things, but I think maybe someone who wasn’t so close to him would get a more positive feeling about the vibe of a lot of it. I guess it was just weird hearing him go from so energetic to really slow material for the most part.” For Miller, The Lazy J’s is darker music. Unless you’ve had someone you knew from preschool fall ill and die in middle age, it’s hard to fathom the ongoing sense of loss.
Despite the debauchery, U. Street was a creative place. Musical equipment was set up in the living room: drums, amps, a microphone. Residents were in bands, so people jammed all the time.
Playing on their house’s name and the gendered idea of bachelorhood and freedom, the newly single Scott Miller came up with idea for a goofy side-label called Cassingle And Lovin’ It! As Miller told a music blogger:
I generally consider the cassingle label to be the best idea I’ve ever had. The inspiration hit me some time in 1996 a few days before the Bananas headed to Cupertino to play a show. After the show, I mentioned it to Gavin and Hutch – two Cupertino guys I’d become friends with through playing shows and doing Secret Center Records. Hutch was in a rad band called Buncha Losers, whose tape I distro-ed (now he’s in The Thermals) and Gavin was in The Nards, who were one of my favorite bands to play with. He was also just one of the nicest guys ever. He played in a great band called The Fevers later on and is currently in an AWESOME band called The Rantouls, who play way too infrequently. Anyway, I told them about the label idea at the show and they were like “We like have the perfect thing for you!,” which ended up being The Carnies cassingle (which sadly other than one song, is lost at the moment.) A few days later, The Carnies master tape and artwork showed up in my mailbox, so I figured “Cassingle and Lovin’ It!” had been officially born. I couldn't even believe how perfect The Carnies stuff was – they had just done it one bored weekend but it was the ideal cassingle music. To me, it seemed like a sign that I had to do the label.
The first one we did was at U Street (aka The Gentlemen’s Club and basically cassingle headquarters) was The Ice Bucket Heads, which is me, Tristan, Davey and Jay. We all lived there and were sitting around talking about doing a cassingle & there was this styrofoam ice bucket that had been lying around in the front room & we were sort of discussing how rad it was that a cassingle could just be any stupid idea that you could possibly think of. I think originally, we were going to make a band called The Quesadilla Makers (I believe Jay was making a quesadilla at the time) & then somebody put the ice bucket on their head, so we did that instead. It’s amazing how freeing it is to write songs for a fake band. I sat down and wrote “Everybody Loves The IBH” the next morning in like 10 minutes and Davey wrote “Stay Cool” which came out pretty bad because he’s the worst at articulating how he thinks something should sound. But it was a great start.
“Dude With The Shirt With The Dude On It” was an inside joke from Bananas / Four Eyes tour where some guy walked in to the house we were staying at in Chattanooga at like 3am looking for someone (the guy was wasted) and he just kept saying “I’m...looking for the dude...with the shirt....with the dude on it!!” So, we sort of wrote that one in the van & recorded it when we got back home. That was the funnest one because we had a party to provide the backing vocals & party sounds. This one is Jay, Joel, Mike and me.
“The rule was anybody could make one,” Miller told the Sacramento News & Review. “The rule was you had to make like 10 copies of a tape, and you had to drop some off in this bowl which is where you could buy them. They were a quarter.”
The rules also required tapes have a cover; and materials for both the tapes and covers were often repurposed from “real” cassingles, often “rescued” from the Tower Records warehouse where seemingly half of Sacramento worked at some point in the ’90s.
“I think it’s one of the best things [about] local music to me,” Dezember remembers. “I’m so glad it existed. [Instruments were] permanently set up in the front room…There’s drums, and at one point there was a freaking xylophone. I don’t know how, why it got there. So you could just be hanging out at the house and [decide] ‘Let’s make a cassingle band!’ And write a song, record it in the same night, then you’d make covers and drop ’em in the bowl. And there are these cassingles, random bands, a lot of them are just the same people with different band names.”
Even people who weren’t normally musicians were encouraged to participate: “[We’d] be like, “Hey!…why don’t you just write the lyrics and we’ll back you up,” Miller says.
It was one more avenue for light-hearted creativity and a way to pass the time. Tozer and friends had so much fun making the artwork for a single by the Sac Town Players that they never actually made any music.
“It was like the Wrecking Crew,” said Patrone. “You’d be sleeping in your room, and someone would barge in at, like, 2 and go, ‘Wake up. We need you to play tambourine!’ You could either be in this quote unquote band or you could sit and drink in the living room and hang out. There were 100s of songs on those tapes. I wish I’d had the foresight to keep some of those tapes, but they disappeared into obscurity.”
Miller couldn’t remember the names or total number of cassingles, but it was vast. “Sometimes they were numbered and sometimes they weren’t,” said Miller, “and no one kept track of the numbers. I could sit down and probably figure out 75% of them, maybe, but not in order.” There were one-off bands named The Ninjas, The Veruca Salt Fan Club, The Ice Bucket Heads, and The Film Music Bros. The Cassingle Classics Volume 1 cassette shows song-titles with a sense of humor that equaled their ingenuity: The Roms recorded the song “Rominiscing.” The Similar Guys recorded “We’re Similar Guys” and “We’re Similar.” Man Fighting Dummy did “I Hate The Govt, Now Dance.” Music From The Hit T.V. Series “Jimmy” did “The Dude With The Shirt With The Dude On In,” but Jimmie’s Theme” is the real jewel: a highly listenable, minute-long instrumental fit for a 70s Soul Show Theme Song. The Carnies recorded “The Carnival’s Closed.”
It must’ve been hard for bands to sing with their tongues in their cheeks.
In 2000, The Yawning Mushroom got back into Cassingle mode and spliced together a bizarre soundscape called “Trip Out!” and other acoustic tunes simply named “1” and “2” that play on hippie culture. Recordings are lo-fi but hi-comedy. Tozer’s The Fancy Lads sang in faux British accents: “When they spy our lavish clothes, they say, ‘Fancy lads!’ When they see my aristocratic nose, they say ‘Fancy lads!” In the background glasses clink at a fancy dinner party. “Fancy Lands was written by Tristan in the middle of our house-wide obsession with the Television Personalities,” Miller told a blogger. “No B-side was ever written, so this one is ‘unreleased,’ but it’s always been one of my favorites. I remember being in my room when he and Jay started working on it and being totally jealous that I wasn’t involved.” It is catchy. They recorded it and essentially threw it away. These aren’t songs. They’re the notes friends passed in middle school. They’re the sketches you scribble in school notebooks during class.
“‘Forever Nursing Brew’ is another unreleased one thanks to no B-side,” Miller said. “I’ve always loved this song and its absurd stance that someone was trying to ‘stop us from drinking our brew.’ It’s like the ‘Legalize It’ of beer! This one always reminds me of Eric Copeland because we used to quote it to each other whenever we were drinking brews on Black Dice tour, which was most of the time.”
Honey…I Shrunk The Band is one of my favs. The title track builds a hilarious scenario of rock exploitation over repurposed Kinks riffs in a real comic keeper [that speaks to attitudes about commercial music] economics: “Honey I shrunk the band / They fit in the palm of my hand / Before you get real mad / Baby, I’ve got a plan / Here’s what we do know, honey / Everybody thinks little people are cute / Especially when they’re wearing their little matching suits. Put ’em on stage and they’ll play their tunes / They’ll be the biggest little stars in the world!” “Hip to Be Small” is a riffy, Ramones-inspired punk song, but knowing the makers, the title registers as a statement of ethics. It’s not about shrinking bodies. It’s about shrinking from view, reversing bands’ trajectories, returning not to the shadows, but to the living room where the fun is, away from the bullshit. I can imagine a drunken conversation on a couch: “If you make it big, can’t you shrink yourself again?” I’m probably thinking too much. That’s kind of my job.
“The Honey…I Shrunk the Band cassingle was the last of the golden era of cassingles,” Miller said, “and it’s one of my favorites for sure. Mike wrote ‘Hip To Be Small’ and we sang it with the 4 track on slow speed so it would sound like munchkins. I wrote the theme song based on that annoying riff, which is something I used to play whenever I picked up a guitar for a while. I was dating the girl who talks on it and she used to live in Berkeley, so we only hung out on weekends. She already didn’t like Sac that much but this particular weekend I was in a fit of cassingle fever so I was totally distracted with working on HISTB. She was super annoyed, hanging out in my room, when I was like ‘Hey, will you do this talking part?’ She immediately got all psyched and into it—the magic of the cassingle.”
“Sometimes people from out of town or touring bands would participate,” said Tozer. In October, 1996 a couple visiting from Japan recorded one. Naomi Hirakawa and Kei Okamoto were fans of The Bananas and Secret Center Records and wanted to see the city where this music came from. They lived in the Miyamae neighborhood of the part of Tokyo called Suginami City and had mail-ordered a few batches of Secret Center releases from Scott. The couple flew from Tokyo to San Francisco and stayed with Dave Smith’s old college roommate Devon Morf, singer of the punk band All You Can Eat. Morf toured so much he always had people from all over the world crashing on his floor.
“I had been roommates with Devon at SFSU,” Smith told me. “He really didn’t like it when I walked into the apartment with a running chainsaw. You can’t defend yourself from getting punched when you’re holding a running chainsaw because you have to put all your effort into keeping the chainsaw away from touching anyone.” That seems true. “Anyhoo, this Japanese couple were really excited about Sacramento and wanted to come here. …I thought they were kidding, but nope, so I drove ’em up.” They talked about Morf and Sacramento on the drive.
The visitors only stayed a few days and wanted to see a show. No shows were scheduled that Sunday. “For a while, there was a lot of Sunday afternoon shows,” Smith said. So he and his friends asked what Secret Center bands the couple liked, and they put on what he called “a very last minute show together to no one, for them.” Musicians Mike Cinciripino, Lisa Towles, Jay Onyskin, Keri Muentz, and Dave Downey lived across the street from the venerable club Old Ironsides, but they were moving, which meant they had an empty house at their disposal. So Hirakawa and Okamoto hung out there, drank beer, and watched an ad hoc concert by The Bananas, Lil Bunnies, possibly Los Hueveos, and No Kill I on this warm fall day. “We might’ve guilted the Sacto Apes into playing their songs,” said Smith. “Maybe Nar played a few songs, or was it Bagpipe Operation?” He couldn’t remember. “My memory sucks,” Smith said.
“Ice Bucket Heads played,” Miller said. “We did the cassingle and a cover of ‘Never Understand.’” It was probably the only Cassingle band to ever perform live.
After that, Miller said, “these kids were completely sold on Sac.” Naturally, the couple went at U. Street to see Secret Center HQ and ended up crashing there for a few days. They got so excited about the Cassingles that they made one. Hirakawa played bass. Okamoto played guitar. Tozer played drums. They called themselves The Sacto Apes. Their two songs were “Viva La Sacto!” and “Sacto Rules!” Drunk people sang the chorus.
“That was part of how it was,” Tozer remembered. “I don’t know how unique Sacramento was in many respects, but there was very much a do-it-yourself, get-out-the-scissors-and-make-a-cover, make-something-out-of-nothing, it’s-just-fun-to-do kind of approach.”
“One day, I came home and they had written a cassingle about liking Sacramento,” Miller said. “Their lyrics are the sweetest. They’re printed on the cassingle cover.”
“I hate San Francisco / Los Angeles is no fun at all,” they sang in one song. “Sacramento rules / It’s the City of Beer.”
And in the other: “I should stay here more one week or month or year! / So I can meet more people / And I can buy more stuff / And I can have a real good time with Scott.”
Soon after, Smith drove the visitors back to SF in his sister’s borrowed car. He only had a motorcycle.
The point it: Cassingle culture wasn’t just about music. It was a whole way of thinking: Have fun. Make stuff with friends. Be creative. Embrace the moment.
The J’s ended when Kennedy moved to San Francisco for school in the late-90s.
“When he moved, it became geographically impossible to keep tabs on him or keep The Lazy J’s going,” said Carroll. “And we didn’t have anywhere to play when he left the Bean Sprout. We were still friends, but it wasn’t a band anymore. It was too unpredictable. It was time to move on to something more concrete at that point.” The band lasted from 1994 to about 97. “So we had a pretty good run.”
Micah’s declining health also solidified The J’s end. “He just couldn’t do the daily thing anymore,” said Carroll. “He got pretty bad. He became real difficult and really unpredictable. As the son of an alcoholic, I’ve seen a lot of bad drunk things from my family and friends—everyone’s seen it—but with Micah it was really uncomfortable. It was hard. He couldn’t communicate with the rest of us. He wasn’t around anymore. He wasn’t the Micah he used to be. We didn’t see him. He moved to San Francisco around that time, and he just kind of disappeared. He’d come to town and crash on Scott’s couch. But we were all workin’. He’d be like, ‘Neh, no one’s around.’ We’d be like, ‘Dude, we’ve all got jobs.’ Can’t just hang out and start drinkin’ beer at nine in the morning. That’s what he would do. The second he got up. Second he got up. Like, Ahhh, man. We’d go down to San Francisco and hang out with him a lot, but we had to go there to do it.”
In San Francisco, his best friends could no longer try to protect him from himself. “Somebody leaves town,” said Patrone, “it’s hard to keep an eye on them.”
“We didn’t lose touch,” Miller said, “but that’s how he kind of lost touch with being responsible in life. He grew up with a pretty tight group of friends here, who would keep each other in check a little bit. He didn’t have that in San Francisco. …He kept his own hours and was just responsible for himself. His friends couldn’t look out for him as much as they might have had he been in Sacramento.”
As The J’s creative center, Kennedy’s departure also dissolved the arrangement. “It was fun to be his backing band, but we were his backing band,” said Patrone. “At that point Tristan wanted to play a lot heavier rock. I was lucky enough that Tristan took me a long into that. That’s how our next band, The Pretty Girls, started. We wanted something heavier. We just kept moving.”
Life gave Kennedy a little push.
One night, he and some other wilder friends scored crack. They got back to U. Street and didn’t have anything to smoke it in. When they found Kennedy’s weed pipe, they smoked it in that. The next day when Kennedy hit it, his face soured and he howled, “This tastes like shit! What is that?” Patrone told him: crack. The way Patrone saw it, here was this sensitive, soft-spoken, romantic guy out of step with his times, and he’d become increasingly out of step with the wild guys he lived with. “No wonder he left: to get away from us assholes!”
Even as Kennedy troubles mounted, he was still evolving artistically. At that time, he was moving away from fast guitar rock and deeper into roots music, Blues, Americana, bluegrass, even folk. In San Francisco, he started playing with Chris Harvey, a rootsy, country guitarist who later played in the Sacramento country band Alkali Flats with bassist Tim White. Kennedy and Harvey called themselves the Original Sinners and played what Midtown Monthly called “whiskey-soaked hillbilly blues …channeling the spirit of the Louvin Brothers.”
“Micah wanted to find people into roots music like he was,” said Patrone, “less rock ‘n’ roll, less Brit Rock, like we were into.” This was part of Kennedy’s continuous musical evolution: from Spacemen 3 to the twangy Duane Eddy instros of his Tiki Men days to singing punk Golden Oldies, then way down deep to the slow sad picking of the Blues, R&B, and American roots music. The Original Sinners performed, though not with the frequency of Kennedy’s other bands.
But the friends stayed friends. They visited each other, and Kennedy mailed care packages from SF, including mix CDs, records he found, little inside jokes like Richard Pryor comedy albums or whatever made him laugh at the time, along with music he’d recorded alone at home. Friends never knew what they’d get. “He had hundreds of hours of recordings of stuff he recorded by himself,” said Carroll. “I have some CDs of it. He’d play bluegrass, Blues, anything. He was a madman for it.” Of course Carroll saved it all.
Kennedy had always been one of those guitarists who always had his instrument in his hand. But Carroll couldn’t believe how accomplished a guitarist his friend was. “I’d get CDs in the mail and be like ‘Holy crap.’ One time in his apartment in San Francisco, he played me some songs, I don’t know when, and when we got done listening to them I was like, ‘Cool man, that sounds like some old ’20s country gospel.’ He was like, ‘No, that’s me.’ It was no joke, dude. This sounded like some haunted song, incredible, and it was him. I had to ask. I couldn’t believe it was him. I don’t know if they were originals or traditionals he covered. It sounded like a voice from a long time ago. But that’s the kind of thing it was with him. When you have friends that are in bands you can be like, ‘Oh, that’s pretty good.’ You know. Whatever. You don’t always have to like your friends’ bands. That’s rule number one. You can like your friends, but you don’t have to like your friends’ bands. But when you have someone you’ve known for most of your life and you don’t even recognize what they were doing, that’s amazing.”
“The older I get,” Carroll said, “the more I go ‘Geez, what a loss, what a shame, what a tragedy that he couldn’t keep things a little more tempered and keep making music.’”
Patrone regrets not trying to get Micah to quit drinking, but as he drifted to San Francisco and back, the others were wrapped up in their own bands and jobs and relationships, and they didn’t—and couldn’t—keep tabs. Petron regrets not reading the signs better. “I feel bad letting him get so bad. We were all wrapped up in our own shit. I wish I hadn’t been so deep into doing my own thing that I couldn’t read the signs about how bad he was.” Not all his friends were in the position to give advice. “We got loaded. We were loaded all the time. How can you tell a guy to control his drinking when you were smoking crack in another band?”
The J’s managed to perform into the early 2000s. “I remember trying to get together to play in 2001,” said Tozer, “but it got too bad. Micah was drinking really heavily, burning bridges, and he got pretty hard to deal with. It was sad. That’s one where you wonder what you could have done differently. …Maybe it’s a men’s thing, too, acting like Oh, he’ll be alright. I should say something, but. You don’t really engage on that level, but you should be intervening. He just got really bad where people were starting to say, ‘Don’t call me ever again.’ He went over the river. That was really difficult for his family and everyone involved, but we would still try to play.” Tozer doesn’t regret some of his bands’ short lifespans. He doesn’t feel like he should have promoted his music more or done anything with his bands differently. “I think with The Lazy J’s I would’ve said ‘Dude, stop drinking.’ Or pulled out of some things that went on a little too long that should not have gone on so long. There was some of that going on.”
Kennedy passed away in April 2009, a few months shy of his fortieth birthday.]
In a short unauthored memorial, Midtown Monthly called Kennedy “Probably the best rock ‘n’ roll guitarist that Sacramento has ever produced, Micah’s work in the Tiki Men and in later groups such as the Lazy J’s cemented his reputation from nearly the moment he set foot on stage.”
“For someone who I didn’t do a lot with towards the end,” Miller said, “I think about him a lot. I dream about him a lot, in a way that’s really substantial. Nobody wants to get into life after death, or how someone lives on or talks to you from the grave, but if there’s anyone in my life like that, I would say that it’s Micah. It’s like his playing. He was a strong persona, a strong presence still. You can hear it in the music.”
“At different times of the year, I don’t know why, I’ll dream about him,” said Carroll. “He’s always really happy and smiling like he used to be. It’s crazy. Me and Scott will talk about it and be like, ‘Hey, I had a dream about Micah.’ It’s like, ‘Man, so did I!’ They’re these visiting kind of dreams where he’s popping in to hang out, and you remember the energy and his laughter. He loved to laugh, and he loved to tell jokes. So you get that feeling in your dreams, and it’s both really weird and great. I don’t know what that is. He was really important to all of us. So that’s the upshot of the dreams.” Of course, in some dreams, the friends will be driving around in Kennedy’s old Dodge Dart. “Even in these dreams he’ll be driving me somewhere, pushing buttons on the old car radio. I’m going, ‘Dude, you gotta watch the road!’ He’s just laughing. The only other person I do that with is my grandpa. Of all the people I’ve known who’ve died, friends, I dream the most about Micah. He was a real special dude. He really was. It was extremely sad when we couldn’t get him to rally for music, because playing music with him was really fun.”
Carroll marveled about the few J’s recordings that come out, because he never knew how much of those tapes Kennedy ever finished mixing. Most of Kennedy’s tapes remain in the possession of his last girlfriend.
“I don’t know what he released or not,” Carroll said, “but I know that before he died, he went out with some really great women. They just couldn’t deal with him. At all.” About a year before he died, Kennedy started seeing a local music fan named Megan. Carroll’s friends knew of her but didn’t know her well. She was more involved in the city’s garage scene than their punk scene. Unbeknownst to them, she’d been crushing on Kennedy from a distance. “She took on this obviously lost soul. She wanted to help him, and he was beyond help. He never told us that much about her or anything.” Most of Kennedy’s tapes remain in her possession. “You know, you don’t wanna get into that kind of thing when someone dies. It seems so nitpicky, so trivial. It’s stuff. It’s not that important. But man, his photos, his tapes, his guitars, his records. His record collection was incredible. All of that stuff—I don’t know what she did with it all. *I have no idea where all those recordings went. She may have them in a room somewhere, where she’s locked them up. …We didn’t wanna get into it at the time, but we all talked about it. At the time it felt like a squabble over his possessions, but at the same time we were on a lot of that stuff. I thought we had a right to have it, or at least hear it. It still may be possible.”
Would she let them hear the music she has? “That’s a good question,” said Ed. “I’m gonna have to see if I can find her and see what she’s got.” No one has directly contacted her about that.
“It is literally hundreds of tapes and reels,” said Patrone. “Many are not marked. Who wants to sift through that?” That intimidating task would require a huge amount of labor.
Even when some rando like me comes along outside their social circle and loves their music, no one seems to regret not releasing more than one song on vinyl but me.
Covering other bands’ songs provided less reason to release those recordings. “Did people need our version of ‘16 Tons’?” said Patrone. “We clearly didn’t think so. Or we didn’t care!” Also, their inconsistent performances and mixed reactions didn’t make them confident—at least not Patrone—that people needed to hear them on a J’s record. “Why release anything if your shows are mediocre? With your friends it’s like, whatever. So you suck. They don’t care. Beyond that, you don’t want to look like an ass, so why take the chance?”
“You’d make all those tapes and play them for each other,” said Patrone. “What did it matter? You didn’t plan to sell them to people in Indiana or something. It was for you and your friends, like, ‘Here’s something I did. Cool. Here’s what I did. Cool!’ You made it for each other.” He was just the bassist. He figured it was their band. If they wanted to do something with those tapes, that was fine. “It was just for fun,” said Patrone. “It was that whole Cassingle culture.”
In a sense, there was little difference between the studio recordings pressed to seven-inch records and the homemade Cassingles tossed in a bucket for 50 cents. It was all the same mode of expression, all made in passing for each other—all “of a piece,” as Tozer put it. Some were more impulsive, others more refined. But it all came from the same place. That’s how they could treat The Lazy J’s full body of work like a one-off Cassingle about hippie culture: It wasn’t for people like me—outside the circle. It was for them. You may not enjoy the silence or understand the tantalizing details, but you had to respect it.
When Carroll and I spoke in late-September, he was pawing through boxes in his basement. He’d filmed Nar’s first tour after his dad surprised him with a digital handheld camera, but he’d never even watched the footage, let alone made a copy. Our conversation made him curious what other recordings he might still have. He’d send me what he found.
As a historian, he appreciated people’s efforts to document his friends’ music. He documented it himself. “That’s why I have all the flyers and setlists. I wrote the dates on the setlists. I save everything, man: receipts and tickets, all kinds of crazy stuff. So I’m always going through boxes. My wife’s like ‘Oh man.’ Me, I’m like, ‘I don’t know I had this! I didn’t know I had that!’ So much of those years are just in my head. Then I see pictures. I took a number of photos of Tiki Men and Lazy J’s just hanging out, but not playing of course.”
When you reach that age where you can look back on your life and see the shape of it, you can also see the many different directions life could have gone. His went this musical way. He moved to that one Sacramento street where certain kids grew up to make bands together. Those guys still play in bands. People Carroll and his crew knew in high school marvel that these childhood friends still hang out together, let alone play music together—as if good friends are things you’re supposed to grow out of because they’ve been around for a while or because school is over, as if making music is for kids. Carroll tells those people, Oh yeah, still do. “I feel like it’s a curse and a blessing,” said Carroll. “I figure what it’s giving me is the people I’ve met. I don’t know if I would’ve gotten it any other way.”
When Carroll found his J’s cassettes, I had a buddy here in Portland digitize them for the first them, then I send Carroll the digital files and mailed his tapes back to Sac. The circle was complete. I’d always loved Kennedy’s guitar playing in the Tiki Men. Hearing Kennedy’s voice brought him closer.
Patrone wrote me one November afternoon.
“Oh!” he said. “And I forget to tell you this, but you’ll think it’s funny. When you asked me over the phone, ‘Why did you guys wanna do ‘Runaway?’ If we’d been doing that interview in person, I probably would’ve choked you out for asking that.”