Goodbye to a free spirit

Lesa Katani

Lesa Katani

Lesa Katani is dead.

That piece of news showed up in my e-mail a week ago, from former local bass player Michael Gregory. Both names looked familiar, but I couldn’t place either one of them them. Katani’s name, however, looked really familiar.

It turns out she was a founding member of Mercy Me!, a local soul cover band that plays Harlow’s fairly often. Before that, she was a fixture at local open-mike nights, specifically the Tuesday-night open mikes at the now-defunct Café Montreal on K Street in the early ’90s. Katani also played there before that, when the joint was called Drago’s.

I’m guessing I remember her because of her voice. She wasn’t a big-mama blues-gospel goddess, but she could sing like one when she wanted to. When big voices like that come out of petite white women, you tend to react the same way you did the first time you heard that Michael Jackson speaking voice come out of Mike Tyson: Your jaw drops; you rub your eyes to make sure you’re seeing correctly.

Katani’s original songs, if I recall, may not have been commensurate with her voice, but it’s a rarity when you find the gift of songwriting and traffic-stopping vocals in one package.

On Friday, June 21, Katani, 32, was murdered in the backyard of her Arcata duplex by a former boyfriend, Donald Peeler, 38. Peeler then turned the gun on himself.

Katani, who grew up in Lincoln as Lisa Ann Thomas, left Sacramento a few years ago and moved to Arcata. There she continued to sing; she’d formed a band called Bliss Cookie, and seemed to be working through what an account in the weekly Arcata Eye described as “alcohol and other self-destructive behaviors.”

Unfortunately, in a now-too-familiar scenario, someone from her past who could not let go followed her—in this case from Sacramento to Arcata—and continued to terrorize her.

As Gregory, who once played with Katani in Sacramento and now lives in Florida, put it, “Lesa was a free spirit”—ironically, a concept that guys like Peeler never seem to grasp.

A memorial service was held in Arcata on July 2; a memorial Web site is planned. The Arcata Eye story is posted at .