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The Best Of Sacramento-


Posted on October 31

Editor's Picks

Photography by Roy Wilcox

Best Guitarist Without a Driver’s License
Shane Tiller Jr.
Carmichael resident Shane Tiller is a shredder on the guitar. “Well, of course he’s good—he’s been playing since he was 6 years old.” But here’s the twist—the blues prodigy is only 10 years old now. It all started when he asked his dad to show him a run on the guitar, which he mastered overnight. Next stop was a guitar teacher. With just 30 minutes’ instruction and one day of practice, the wunderkind could belt out two tunes. He now amazes audiences by fronting a band of journeymen musicians who have opened for such notables as Elvin Bishop and Pablo Cruise.

Don of Sacramento Track and Field
Al Baeta  
Al Baeta was born in Sacramento. We’re guessing he hit the ground running. As a McClatchy Lion (Class of ’51), Baeta ran the mile and 880-yard race. He was good enough to compete at the state level. In college, he was a member of Cal Berkeley’s two-mile relay team, which beat the world’s record, but, unfortunately, came in second that day to Fordham University. As track coach for American River College, Baeta mentored teams that consistently distinguished themselves statewide for a period spanning four decades. Because he was instrumental in bringing the Olympic Trials to California State University, Sacramento, he’s considered by many to be the don of Sacramento track and field, and will always be known as the well-loved coach and teacher to thousands who were lucky enough to come under his tutelage.

Best Strumming Ensemble
Sacramento Banjo Band
Fifty strummers and pickers make up the Sacramento Banjo Band. It all started in 1960, when an ad in The Sacramento Union solicited banjo players. More than 100 people showed up. A band was formed. Throughout the years, they’ve raised thousands of dollars for local charities while raising the roof at senior homes, private parties and special events playing ragtime, Dixieland, traditionals and standards.

Best Looking in a Bathing Suit
Folsom Fitness Extravaganza Winners     
At the Drug-Free Fitness Extravaganza held in Folsom this past August, four buffed locals took home the gold. Carrie Brown of El Dorado Hills won Fitness Northern California Champion (Female), Joan Lopez won Natural Miss California Body Building Champion, DeWayne Warner of Sacramento won Natural Novice Mr. California and Arlene Lurey won Miss Bikini Northern California. As the name implies, these fitness folks do it the hard way—no performance-enhancing drugs and not much life outside the gym.

Best Big Band From “The Era”
Bill Rase Orchestra
The Bill Rase Orchestra has been rocking the house for more than half a century. This big band, which features ’30s and ’40s swing music, is fronted by former radio and TV personality Bill Rase. With more than 7,500 engagements notched on his baton, Rase and company have delighted audiences all around Northern California.

Best Volume of Local Programming
UPN 31 Cable 12
Someone recently did the math: Channel 31 produces 31 hours of local programming per week. Unusual for any TV station . . . remarkable for an indie, which typically leans heavily on syndicated product. UPN 31’s “Good Day” Sacramento, which recently celebrated its ninth anniversary, broadcasts five hours each weekday, three on weekends. It’s a tribute to the talented on-air staff and hard-working behind-the-scenes crew.

Best Cheerleading Team
El Dorado Hills Jr. Trojans Competition Team
For the second year in a row, El Dorado Hills Jr. Trojans Competition Team took first place at the USA Jr. National Competition held at Disneyland in February, making the team back-to-back champions for 2004 and 2003. The girls, ages 11 to 14, competed against thousands of other teams from around the country. The secret to their success? Practice! Five days a week, two or three hours a day, for nine months.

Best Elvis of Asian Descent
Jim Yee
In 1980, real estate agent Jim Yee stumbled backward into show biz, when he auditioned as a soloist for his church choir. The choir director didn’t bite because he said Yee sounded like Elvis. Although Yee thought he sounded like Johnny Mathis, he heeded the input of the choir director and buried any traces of The King. But once outside the church doors, in 1990, Yee revived his Elvis pipes and book his act on the secular road, winning a karaoke contest as Elvis. The rest is rock and roll history. Dressed in his white jumpsuit, Yee has performed at local parties and events, and did a gig at Hot August Nights in Reno in 1990.

Best Philanthro-Guitarist
Craig Chaquico
When he was 12, Craig Chaquico spent two months in the hospital recovering from a devastating car accident. Thankfully for his fans, his doctor prescribed a program of guitar therapy. It’s no surprise Chaquico performs nearly one free hospital concert a week, on behalf of the American Music Therapy Association. He’s even performed for ill children at Sacramento’s Ronald McDonald House. At age 16 (after a stint with the Sacramento band Steelwind), this graduate of La Sierra High School was invited to join Jefferson Starship as lead guitarist. After leaving the Starship, Chaquico ventured into contemporary instrumental music. His recordings have sold more than 1 million units and his CD, Acoustic Highway—Billboard magazine’s top New Age Indie Album for 1993—reached No. 1 on the chart and garnered him a Grammy nomination. “When I was growing up in Sacramento, I had pictures of my guitar heroes on my wall,” says Chaquico, who currently lives in Oregon. “The real heroes were my parents, the doctors who cared for me and my art teachers. Now that I’m a parent, I realize I had divine intervention in the form of great mentors.”

Best Performing Painter
David Garibaldi
He calls his performances “Rhythm and Hue.” On many Friday nights this past summer, you could find Garibaldi at the Empire nightclub, with music thumping, legs pumping, crowd jumping and brushes dumping paint onto a canvas the size of a large area rug. It takes Garibaldi less than seven minutes to complete a piece, the subjects of which have ranged from Jimi Hendrix to Beethoven. For a more studied piece, check out his mural at Ink restaurant. Garibaldi currently is taking his performance art on the road for a combination of shows and poster signings.

Best-Tasting Scones
Fat Cat Scones
In a universe chock-full of hockey pucks posing as scones, Fat Cat Scones defy conventional wisdom. They’re great-tasting, moist, creative scones. When Erik Finnerty and Tony Van Rees set up shop in West Sacramento in September 2002, they had one commercial customer and were knocking out 500 scones per month. This past April, they sent out 180,000. These frozen, ready-to-bake delights can be found throughout the Western states, in such outlets as Whole Foods and Nugget markets. (They also are sold ready baked at some outlets.) Fat Cat recently won “Best in Aisle” at the National Association for the Specialty Food trade show in San Francisco.

Golf Pro With the Biggest Heart
Ruben Samaniego
After watching a frustrated golf pro give up on two students who were deaf, Ruben Samaniego declared “something ought to be done about that.” Luckily for the disabled community, his wife, Milita, who was within earshot, challenged him. “If you don’t do something about it, you’re no better than they are.” Fast-forward two decades. Samaniego, a teaching pro at Haggin Oaks, has brought in adaptive carts and other training devices. His program now instructs more than 350 disabled golfers a year, including people who have had limbs amputated, and stroke and cancer survivors. If that wasn’t remarkable enough, the well-loved pro, who has faced his own battle with cancer, continues to teach. “People ask, ‘How do you do it?’” says Samaniego. “I tell them, ‘What would I do without it?’ My students have taught me a lot about perseverance.”

Best Place To Turn Your Idea Into Groovy Movies
The Idea Factory
“Everyone has pots and pans. Not everyone can cook.” When Peter Holmes says this, he’s speaking metaphorically about the hardware used in video production. At The Idea Factory, where high production value is Job One, they’ve been churning out some tasty dishes for seven years. Holmes met partner Bill Swan while both were working at KCRA Channel 3. They enticed video editor extraordinaire Jim Eckes from Channel 10, and an idea was born. They produce videos for the local and national marketplace—such notable shows as “Pulse,” and programs for Home & Garden TV—including Endless Yard Sales and Extreme Christmas—as well as commercial work for local ad agencies and independent producers.

Best Place For All Things Italian
Italian Cultural Society
In 1981, local attorney Bill Cerruti decided that the Italian-American community didn’t have a visible presence in Sacramento. He set out to build a cultural center. Two decades later, the Italian Cultural Society, temporarily housed in the Sierra 2 complex, has 2,000 members and offers language classes, travel programs, films and various cultural activities including its annual festa in August. With wife Patrizia, Cerruti has spearheaded a drive to build a permanent site in Carmichael. So far, they’ve raised more than $1 million toward that effort.

Best Painter of All Things Greens
Jim Fitzpatrick
Jim Fitzpatrick used to expend most of his energy putting on golf greens. Now he paints them—on canvas. His commissions include the U.S. Open, the PGA championship and the eighth hole at Pebble Beach. He also has painted “golfscapes” for heroes such as Jack Nicklaus, Billy Casper and Chi Chi Rodriquez. As a golfer with a 6 handicap, Fitzpatrick doesn’t get in as many rounds as he’d like, but he does receive great strokes from visitors to his J. Fitzpatrick Collection Gallery in Granite Bay. In fact, for $200 to $1,000—depending on what size and what view of yourself you seek—the hottest ticket these days is a Fitzpatrick painting of you on your favorite golf hole.

Most Creative Candy
Kimmie Candy Company
Choco Rocks, Baby Dino Eggs, Raisin Royales, Kandy Kookies and Peanut Crunchers. Edible art? Possibly. Creative candy? Absolutely. The folks at Sacramento’s Kimmie Candy Co. are on a tear, with nationwide distribution of their popular line. Last year, they won the 2003 Professional Candy Buyer Product of the Year Merit Award for their Choco Rocks. This prestigious national award is given each year to candies that have sparked the interest and votes of the $24 billion-a-year retail candy industry.

Most Colorful Marketing
King of Curls
In 1973, Jay Brown relocated from Chicago and opened a salon in North Highlands called Mr. Jay’s Beauty. Because he was so good at styling curls, customers started calling him King of Curls. In 1988, he set up shop on Freeport Boulevard with the new name. By the way, you can’t miss the place. With a color scheme derived from the Jamaican flag, it’s the only red, green, yellow and black building on Freeport Boulevard—or anywhere else that we know of. Besides curls, the King also offers dreads, braids and weaves for a clientele that he says reflects the multiracial make-up of the city. Book your appointment anytime; Brown accepts appointments for any hour a client chooses—24 hours a day.

Best Escape To Tuscany Minus the Airfare
Masque Ristorante
In Italy, the piazza is the heartbeat of the town, often with small restaurants lining the outer edges. Diners sip their wine and meander through lengthy meals, enjoying the European pastime of good food and conversation. That experience exists in El Dorado Hills. At Masque Ristorante, superstar chef Angelo Auriana makes magic behind the curtain while everyone’s favorite host with the most, manager Nikki Rivieccio, works the room like a stage he owns. The dining room menu borrows from all regions of Italy, but for those on the go, Masque features the adjoining Cantinetta Cafe, a takeout or dine-in mini-market and deli offering pastas, imported sauces, house-cured pancetta and an impressive wine selection.

Best Heavy-Metal Artist
Larry Meeks
“I’ve been an art junkie all my life. My father told me not to pursue it. You’ll starve to death.” If that wasn’t enough encouragement for metal sculptor Larry Meeks, his wife gave his first creation (some reworked brass doorplates) an honored spot on their back porch. That piece later won first place at an art show, and a career was launched. He’s done various private commissions, but his most notable work is the public art he’s installed, including the ornate gates at the Shepard Garden and Arts Center in McKinley Park, and the steel trellises at the World Peace Rose Garden in Capital Park.

Best Power-of-Tower Power Spot
Tower Corners
If it hasn’t been named such before, we’re declaring it now. The corner of South Land Park Drive and Broadway is a delicious crossroads of the best of the past and the best of the present. Start your day with a late breakfast at Eddie’s, stroll over to Joe Marty’s for a cold one, slip into the Tower Theater for a great independent film, drop into the Tower Café for a world-beat dinner, then head over to Tower Records/Video and Tower Books for some take-home. And, by the way, that little private room in the back of the Tower Café that faces Broadway . . . that’s where it all started. Tower founder Russ Solomon first started selling 45s on that small section of real estate that was part of his father’s drugstore. Someone call The History Channel.

Best Sculptor Fashioning Formidable Feats of Clay
J. Randall Smith
Neil Sedaka once sang, “Breaking up is hard to do.” Not for artist J. Randall Smith. The Auburn sculptor is making a name for himself in the ceramics world by being a crackup. Or more correctly, perhaps, a krak-up. Starting with clay, Smith creates exquisite ceramic sculptures (realistic and fantastical), which he purposely shatters. He then re-glazes and reconstructs his pieces into artistic patchwork replications of their former state. He calls the method “kraku”—a takeoff on the centuries-old Japanese ceramic art of raku. His work is popular in the Southwest, but locals can enjoy his creations at his galleries in Old Town and downtown Auburn. Smith’s next phase: translating his art into bronze.

Best Big Time Showbiz Writer
Russ Woody
Successful writer/producer Russ Woody has roots in Sacramento. He graduated from Bella Vista High School in 1974 and, as an intern at Channel 3, got his first writing job producing a nightly segment for “Weeknight,” KCRA’s local magazine program. His first gig in Tinseltown was as a gofer on the sitcom “Benson.” After selling a spec script to the show, Woody parlayed that success into writing jobs on such popular programs as “Barney Miller,” “Newhart,” “St. Elsewhere,” “Hill Street Blues,” “The Slap Maxwell Story” and “Murphy Brown,” where he won an Emmy. His next project is a book about his father’s struggle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) during Woody’s tenure on “Becker,” and how cast and crew embraced his dad as their own.

Best Collection of Singing Kids
Sacramento Children’s Chorus   
They’ve achieved the highest honor for a choral group, an honor they liken to a trip to the Olympics. In February, the Sacramento Children’s Chorus, which was launched 11 years ago by artistic director Lynn Stevens, will perform in Los Angeles for the American Choral Directors Association—all 8,000 members. There are 200 young people in the Sacramento Children’s Chorus, ages 7 to 18, in three children’s and two high school groups. They’ve toured Europe; their repertoire includes folk, classical, show tunes, sacred and secular music.

Best Museum That Rocks
The Sacramento Rock and Radio Museum
It is housed in the studios of Ray Nakamoto Productions, on the site of the former Oasis Ballroom at 20th and I streets. During the ’70s, the Oasis was home to thousands of shows featuring local and touring bands. Dennis Newhall, a staff engineer, former local disc jockey and longtime collector of rock memorabilia, started gathering Oasis artifacts, then pulled from his and others’ archives, and a museum was born. There are 2,200 items on display, including concert posters, calendars and records, in themed rooms focusing on radio or performance. The museum is open to the public on Second Saturdays during good weather. If you’ve got memorabilia you’d like to donate, Newhall says he’s still collecting.

Best Music Store
Skip’s Music
Apparently, Skip Maggiora always had good ideas. As a young rock guitarist in The Creators, he hatched a brilliant idea to gain exposure for his band: Rent halls and hire headliners so Maggiora’s band could fill the opener slot. (It’s usually the reverse.) Among those fortunate to follow The Creators were Jimi Hendrix, The Doors and Janis Joplin. Maggiora’s next brainstorm was to open a music store on Auburn Boulevard to support musicians with instrument sales, repairs and lessons. Other innovations followed, including the Stairway to Stardom program that brings together fledgling musicians and Weekend Warriors for former players. Such groundbreaking ideas have made Skip’s Music an industry leader, winning national awards for sales, education and customer service.

Best Place To See a Concert
Sleep Train Amphitheatre
This recognition isn’t a statement about sound systems, sightlines or seat comfort. This is about people. The people at the Sleep Train (a Bill Graham Presents concert venue) treat ticketholders like welcome guests. From the parking lot to the stands, from pre-show to encore, it’s “Welcome . . . thank you for coming . . . can we help you . . . drive safely going home.” As a legacy to the great promoter Bill Graham, who respected his audiences, that attitude still trickles down to the front line employees, making this an enjoyable concert-going experience.

Best Female Swimmer
Debbie Meyer
At age 16, she became the first swimmer to win three individual gold medals at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Meyer came first in the 200-meter, 400-meter, and 800-meter freestyle events. From 1967 to 1971, the Rio Americano grad (1970) broke 20 world records and 24 American records, and has been inducted into every important swimming hall of fame. She currently owns the Debbie Meyer Swim School in Carmichael. With most of her students being beginners, Meyer’s emphasis is on waterproofing them for safety more than prepping them for competition.

Best Place To Get Your Motor Runnin’
University Automotive
What’s better than finding a good doctor? An honest mechanic, of course. Craig Heiser has owned University Automotive since 1997. “It’s easier to be a doctor,” he says. “They always deal with the same two models.” After getting greasy in Rio Americano High School’s auto shop, Heiser headed off to Wyoming Technical Institute for a degree in engine-uity. Disgusted by the dealings of one shop he worked for, he turned the owners in to the Bureau of Automotive Repair. Soon after that, he opened his own shop, where his crew works on every flavor of automobile. Borrowing from Twain, Heiser pronounced, “Be true and you’ll be lonely. Be lonely and you’ll be free.”

Best Place for Consumer Electronics Repair
Video Tech Service
Video Tech Service currently is the largest independent servicer of consumer electronics in the Sacramento area. Televisions—plasma, DLT and liquid crystal— VCRs, audio equipment, camcorders, DVDs, home theater . . . if it’s on the fritz, they can fix it. Mike Puleo bought the business in 1996, and he now has seven technicians (who constantly are getting further training) working in a large warehouse that resembles a boneyard for big-screens. And if it costs more to fix it than to replace it, they’ll tell you the truth. A rare happenstance in the business world.

Outstanding Athlete
Alejandro Albor
At the 2004 Paralympics in Athens in September, 40-year-old Alejandro Albor competed in the hand cycling event, the first time this event has been a sanctioned Olympic sport. This double amputee from Elk Grove won the silver medal. His training? Only about 250 miles a week! In his “spare time,” he’s raising his three kids (with wife Kimberly), making motivational speaking appearances at schools and building hand cycles for disabled kids. Heart of a champion.

Best Drummer
Steve Price
As the human rhythm machine behind rock groups Pablo Cruise and Stoneground, Steve Price, who now lives in Roseville, is one of the greats in rock history. Cory Lerios, pianist and composer for Pablo Cruise, praised Price’s ability on intricate arrangements (from hits such as “Ocean Breeze” to “What You Gonna Do When She Says Good-bye?”) that incorporated rock, Latin, jazz, classical, pop and funk rhythms. “Steve was always a full-range drummer,” says Lerios, “His intuition is spot on. He’s playing better and with more precision than ever.” Price attributes that to his improved attitude and dedication in the aftermath of surgery for cancer of the larynx. Fellow band member David Jenkins says of Price, “Steve colored the music with his own personality. His drumming contributed as much as any other instrument—like Ringo was to the Beatles.” But perhaps Price’s biggest compliment came from legendary jazz drummer Buddy Rich. “You’re the best f - - - ing rock drummer there is, kid.”