by Lola Rossi-Meza
Karaokie Jo celebrates 25 years as the first KJ in the Coachella Valley.
From eight tracks and cassettes to Laserdiscs and CDs to the now more sophisticated Lap Top Computer, Karaokie Jo has stood the test of time and is celebrating 25 years as the first Karaoke Disc Jockey in the Coachella Valley. She now performs in the Purple Room at Club Trinidad located at 1900 East Palm Canyon Drive, every Wednesday from 7 until 11 p.m.; in the lounge at Agua Caliente Casino Resort and Spa located at 32-250 Bob Hope Drive in Rancho Mirage, every Sunday from 7 p.m. until 1 a.m.; and at Woody’s Burgers located at 317 North Indian Canyon Drive in Palm Springs every Monday, from 6 until 10 p.m. She also performs at many private parties. For more information, please call her directly at (760) 329-7636.
Born Joann Dodgin in Poteau, Oklahoma, Karaokie Jo recalls her childhood, “When I was 5 or 6 years old, I remember listening to many practice sessions at our house when my Uncle Bill Seitz was there. He played steel guitar for Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. Lefty Frizzell and Little Jimmy Dickens were household names.” Myself, not being too familiar with these musicians, I searched and found several YouTube videos of them singing good old Country music. Her three brothers and three sisters all sang and played guitar. Although she didn’t have formal training as a singer, the love for music ran through her and her family. “Our house was always filled with music.”
She married Jim Kapella at a young age, and after raising her three sons, David, Steve and Tom, she moved to Palm Springs in 1981 as a single woman. “I had family that lived in Palm Springs and I would visit them during vacation. I loved it here because it was so clean and bright and full of movie stars. And I have met many of them, believe me.” She worked as a bartender and cocktail waitress at Indian Wells Country Club and The Nest. “I met Frankie Avalon at the Erawan Garden Hotel. (now the Miramonte Resort and Spa) I don’t know if he lived in the area, but he would visit a lot. He was like their resident entertainer along with a comedian. I also met Lawrence Welk who would invite me to the stage to dance with him.”
In 1987, she opened Top Hat Party Service. It was a catering company that gave her the opportunity to book musical acts. It was during this time she met several musicians; the late Rudy Ysiano known around the Valley as Baby Buddha, Ernie Guerrola, Sonny Evaro and his musical family. She then discovered Karaokie on eight track and cassette tapes and started selling that to her clients. Realizing she wanted to change her focus, she returned to bartending on the side at both the Tanpopo Japanese Gardens and the Erawan Gardens Hotel. She hosted Laserdisc Karaoke two nights at each venue for almost 5 years, while still operating the catering company. She would stop by the jam sessions to sing with pianist Sonny Evaro, and upon his suggestion, Karaokie Jo attended a singing class at COD because she wanted to understand and learn more about music.
In 1988, she was invited to Hugh Hefner’s 35th Anniversary Playmate Search and later that week won on The Price Is Right with Bob Barker. “I won a combination stove and microwave to get onto the stage and then I won a beautiful bedroom set that was valued at over $10,000. It is so well made, I still have it to this day.”
In the early 1990s, Clark Yamasaki with the Pioneer Corporation, brought a semi truck to Palm Springs and teamed up with Marlboro and Zelda’s to make video cassettes as the singers performed to the Karaoke tracks. “I was hooked on Karaoke and told Mr. Yamasaki, ‘I want to do this!’ So he hooked me up with my own equipment and I started selling systems and software to KJs still in business today.”
In 1995 through 2000, Kapella owned and operated Karaokie Jo’s Bluebird Cafe in downtown Palm Springs with partner Eddie Widner. It was a very successful venue that brought many families together to perform on the Micky Mouse Stage. A very busy woman, she also provided Karaoke during the summer for American Trails West Teen Tours who brought 14 bus loads of teenagers to the Valley from 1996 through 2009. For fifteen years she has performed still provides Karaoke for the families at the Smoke Tree Ranch for Chef Tony every Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Eve and Easter.
Anyone who sings Karaoke, knows Karaokie Jo. So, stop by one of the venues and say “hello” and sing a few tunes. I know I will. See you there!