There was something I just couldn’t quite put my finger on — the reason I have always enjoyed listening to Kai & Paddy perform at Sacramento’s open mic venues. Turns out there were actually three reasons.
This cover duo, Kekai (Kai) Kanae and Paddy O’Neill, has a ready playlist of close to 70 songs that can be played from memory at any time. They exclusively select new songs to learn that meet three simple criteria: they must be upbeat, about relationships, and tell a compelling story. Come to think of it, that also describes the personalities of Kai and Paddy. Two upbeat guys who both love playing upbeat music, find musical inspiration in relationships, and are both chock-full of good stories.
Both are California natives, born in Santa Clara (Kai,1978) and Hollister (Paddy, 1962). Kai was transplanted to this area with his family at around age 5-6 and has been a Sacramento local ever since. Paddy moved here as a husband and student, following his then-wife, who had accepted a new government job in Sacramento. Kai now lives with his brother in Carmichael. Paddy lives the solitary life in Del Paso Heights.
The story of how they gravitated together is a familiar one to any musician who has wanted to organize a new band. Let’s face it: trying to get a group of musicians together on a regular rehearsal schedule can often be a job similar to herding cats. In their case, Paddy recognized Kai’s growing frustration with that challenge and one day made him a simple offer — he let Kai know he would like to back Kai up, and could be relied upon to do so on a continuing basis. It was that simple. From that point on they have remained a two-man act, and their musical relationship has been rewarding for both.
Kai describes his musical contribution as mostly playing rhythm piano to Paddy’s vocals, and Paddy adds percussion to Kai’s own music and vocals. To set the time-period for the bulk of their music, the songs in their playlist are rooted firmly in the songs of the 60s and 70s.
Music was in the Kanae family’s genes. At an early age, Kai’s father, who played the ukulele, and sang and played Hawaiian music, gave him a book on how to read choral music. That provided the inspiration to learn to play the piano. Kai had a limited period of formal music education before launching off on his own as he developed a love for being able to play music that communicated emotional expressions. Hitting the target for Kai means finding a song with a rich chord structure and many chord changes that he finds pleasing to his ear. That ear has been heavily influenced by Harry Chapin, Jim Croce, Sam Smith, and John Legend, among others.
Paddy’s musical inspiration came from his late brother Michael, as well as his two sons, who one day flabbergasted him with a thoroughly unexpected and impromptu piano duet that immediately lit a fire under him musically. Musical influences? Meatloaf and Freddie Mercury for Paddy, because of their voices and vocal ranges. Oh, and don’t forget Desi Arnaz, the renowned Cuban/Latin music bandleader.
Songwriting? That question produces a laugh from Paddy. “The last time I tried to write a song was in high school and it was embarrassing.” Both guys prefer to select the songs they cover from thousands of songs that already exist, because doing so greatly simplifies the task of finding a musical expression that will allow them to connect with their audience. In contrast, the process of attempting to write music which satisfies their key criteria can be frustratingly time-consuming and tedious, with no guarantees of ever making the emotional connection their ears want to hear.
Kai & Paddy have been regulars at open mics around town for close to 2-1/2 years now. Kai went first, then invited Paddy to join him. It’s been a satisfying ride ever since. Although Sacramento’s open mics are attended by many, many aspiring songwriter/performers whose musical aspirations may not be fully realized for years, Kai & Paddy are doing exactly what they want to do — right now. They are casually playing for open mic audiences around town, enjoying themselves thoroughly, and generally living the life. They have found the secret.
Following this blog are several photos of other musicians who performed at the Metro Kitchen & Drinkery Open Mic on Oct. 10.