In times of difficulty, two choices usually present themselves before a person: should I give up, or should I keep going? In May 2007, Sacramento punk legend Kepi Ghoulie faced this dilemma. After globetrotting for more than 15 years as a band and releasing numerous albums, the Groovie Ghoulies decided to hang up their guitars for good.
For many, that could have been the end; after all, breaking up is hard to do. But Kepi, who is still trying to decide if he will keep the Ghoulie moniker attached to his name, decided to take a page out of Johnny Thunders’ book and go acoustic.
Armed with nothing but a guitar and a deep catalogue of songs, Kepi’s familiar Mick Jagger-meets-Joey Ramone voice has been filling independent coffee shops and bars in the Sacramento area ever since.
One spot in particular, the Javalounge, has become a residency of sorts for the musician, resurrecting a dying breed in the process: the all-ages show. On the evening of St. Patrick’s Day, Kepi took the stage flanked by a sea of teenagers — some sitting on the floor, others slouching in the cushy orange sofas aligned neatly in the shop — all sharing laughs and a bit of St. Patrick’s Day spirit. One fan brought a mint-colored cake to share, and Kepi, midway through his set, stopped to toss candy out to everyone with a green shirt on. It felt like some kind of punk rock clubhouse.
“I like the attitude of the younger crowd, and there’s more energy,” said Kepi, a smile growing across his face. “I really like all-ages shows; they’re fun. Anyone can go…you have the kids and the drinkers. There are [fewer] rules.”
The solo shows might not include the familiar crunch of electric guitars and pounding drums of Groovie Ghoulie concerts past, but the DIY aesthetic continues to drive Kepi’s playing. The shows have a familiar feel of many of the basement shows that sparked several punk bands in the 1980s. Crowd participation is constant. Audience members are urged to sing along after making requests, virtually driving Kepi’s set list for the night; the barrier between audience and performer is not only being taken down, it’s being shattered.
Longtime friend and fellow Sacramento punk rocker Danny Secretion was devastated when the Groovie Ghoulies broke up, but is clearly excited about Kepi’s current endeavors.
“He still makes Sacramento punks proud. I think his acoustic sets are a great treat for fans of his music and a wonderful sneak peak at what’s going to be hitting your CD shelves and MP3 players soon,” said Secretion. “Don’t ever count Kepi out.”
Kepi’s acoustic fans, however, shouldn’t be the only ones salivating over a new album. Asian Man Records is simultaneously releasing both a rock record (Hanging Out) and an unplugged one (American Gothic) on May 6.
The double album release has earned Kepi a spot on the 2008 Asian Man Records tour, where he’s taking his solo act out on the road with labelmates the Queers, Lemuria, Bomb The Music Industry, and Andrew Jackson Jihad.
Between what seems like an endless schedule of acoustic dates, Kepi has managed to add one more item to his musical resume: drummer. The veteran punker has taken a back seat and is playing the backbeat for the Little Medusa’s. Bassist DinoGirl and singer/guitar player Whitless were regulars at Groovie Ghoulie shows and, after teaching themselves to play, recorded a demo and tossed it Kepi’s way.
“They needed a drummer and I loved their songs,” said Kepi with a smile.
The trio has since played shows as far away as Germany and Denmark and recently finished their second recording session.
Whether it’s playing shows with the Little Medusa’s or strumming his guitar for the next generation of Sacramento punks, Kepi continues his rein at the top of the same music scene he jumped into over a decade ago.
“There is no such thing as a stay-at-home Kepi,” said Secretion. “He is the Energizer Bunny of Do-It-Yourself punk. He just never lets up.”