John Kikugawa didn’t live his life in the limelight, whether he was surrounded by friends in a Columbia bar or playing bass on stage.
Kikugawa was killed Saturday at age 67 after he turned into the path of an SUV on Highway 49.
His life partner, Gwynn Popovac, of Sonora, said he always likened his own death to the 1956 version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” which he watched as a child.
It would be quiet, dark, and he would be lulled to sleep by his parents, who would say, “it’s OK, you can close your eyes now,” she said. “He wished it would be that easy, but it wasn’t.”
About 5:40 p.m. on Saturday, Kikugawa was riding his Rad Power Bike brand “Rad City” electric bicycle along the narrow white line of southbound Highway 49.
Near the intersection with Old Sonora Columbia Road and Jack Page Road, Kikugawa turned abruptly, causing the right front corner of a 2006 Buick Rendezvous, driven by Shawn Williams, to strike him and the bike, CHP Officer Faustino Pulido said.
Kikugawa was not wearing a helmet and was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics, Pulido said.
There was no indication that Williams was under the influence, Pulido said, and a toxicology report was not yet available.
Kikugawa leaves behind a legacy of musicianship, artistry and the endearment of the many friends he met over his many decades in Tuolumne County, Popovac said.
“He always used to say, “music is friends playing with friends for friends. He didn't want to be showman. He didn't want to be an out-front man. His ego was not there. He was just about being with the people. It was a very important phrase for him and he lived by it, too.”
Kikugawa, who primarily played stand-up and electric bass but was also an accomplished guitarist, “loved everybody from Coltrane to Pat Metheny” as well as Aretha Franklin, blues, soul, rock and r&b, Popovac said.
His last public show was Wednesday at Emberz restaurant in downtown Sonora, with Now You Hazz Jazz, with whom he played stand-up bass.
“His standup was pretty much a student grade one because it's all he could afford, but he was getting good sounds out of it. It didn't matter to him if he was playing,” Popovac said.
Former bandmate Dave Friedman, a guitar player from Groveland, remembered in the early 1990s introducing Kikugawa to the bass during a guitar lesson.
“He was interested in jazz, so I said why don’t you get a bass? Now I had a bass player,” Friedman said. “Over the years he got better and better at it. John and I were very like minded in that respect because he liked what I liked.”
Kikugawa is survived by his three children.
His daughter, Nicole Kikugawa, 42, of Sonora, said he moved to the area in 1975 from the Bay Area and made a living as a contractor, designing and building homes throughout Tuolumne County.
“Above and beyond a contractor he was an artist,” she said, and noted that his philosophical character always lent creative influence to his designs.
Kikugawa was known for his freewheeling and magnanimous spirit, and was always willing to share stories and insights with the people close to him, she said.
“My dad has a very fantastic sense of humor and sometimes to quote him would not come across in the same way. My memory of my father that he was always surrounded by friends and people who always wanted to be around him,” Nicole Kikugawa said.
Nicole Kikugawa said an unofficial celebration of life would be held on Saturday at the City Hotel in Columbia, and an official event would be held at Popovac’s residence on Oct. 13.
Popovac said he would be remembered by his closest friends as someone who never accepted anything at face value.
“He was very principled. His morals were very high. There was no lying no beating around the bush, and he didn't allow it in other people, either.”