Tennessee Kamanski lives life of traveling minstrel

Tennessee Kamanski hid her musical talent from her folks.

Whether on the road or self-isolating during a viral pandemic, Tennessee Kamanski is happiest when she’s making music.

A free spirit born in San Diego to musical parents, alternative folk songwriter Kamanski, 23, spent a lot of time in the Eastern Sierra and the California desert as a child.

“Having grown up in those places has shaped a huge part of me,” Kamanski said.

“My dad would bring us up there any time he had the chance. We would usually camp out near the west fork of the Carson River. He did a lot of fishing, I did a lot of swimming in cold lakes and rivers, hiking and tree climbing. When I was very little, my favorite thing to do was build little villages out of sticks and rocks and leaves.”

The road is definitely a part of Kamanski’s soul. One of her favorite stories is from Bend, Oregon.

“It was so crazy. We played at this little bar called The Velvet. There were all these Marines in there, drunk and beating the crap out of each other while we played. People would yell ‘You suck!’ but we also made about $400 in tips that night, so both were great.”

“We were staying at this awesome little Motel 6 with four beds (overkill) and a pool in the middle of the parking lot that the Hell’s Angels and their wives were all parked around and swimming in. At 4 a.m. we heard someone yell ‘Choke my son and I’ll strangle you!’ and then about six people ran out of the room next to ours and proceeded to fight in the street.”

Tennessee’s father, Paul, also a San Diego singer-songwriter, penned songs for The Beat Farmers, his own band Comanche Moon, and before that, The Heard and The Fingers.

Her mother, Caren, sang with Paul Kamanski while the couple toured in two bands of Country Dick Montana’s — The Snuggle Bunnies and The Pleasure Barons, in which they opened for themselves!

“Tennessee grew up enjoying so many genres, and had always been a grand music appreciator,” Caren Kamanski said.

Parents ‘blown away’

“She hid her passion for writing and playing from her dad and me, I believe to stay away from our ‘direction and advice.’ It was not until she believed she was good enough to come out into the open with her own music .. and we were blown away.”

“My dad played guitar and sang in the chorus,” Tennessee Kamanski said of The Pleasure Barons “It was a full band with a horn section and everything, and my mom was ‘The Baroness.’ There’s a video somewhere of them both, my mom’s playing tambourine in this huge white wig, and my dad looks like he’s about 15 years old, and they’re both singing like crazy, and at one point their eyes catch and it’s the cutest thing.”

For his part, Paul Kamanski is blown away by Tennessee’s “amazing ability to bend words around any corner.”

Raised and surrounded by great music, Kamanski said that she’d always figured it was the most important thing in the world, and that “writing songs was just what you did and were supposed to do. It’s communication, and nothing’s more important than that.”

Songwriting inspirations

Kamanski says that Gram Parsons, Neil Young and Hank Williams were the artists who first made her excited about “the transporting storytelling aspect of songwriting.

Kamanski left school at 16 and drove an old car into the ground before moving up to Los Angeles with her boyfriend.

“We lived right on Sunset, then in an old chili pepper factory on the L.A. River, then across the street from a cement processing plant.”

Kamanski’s maternal grandfather was born in Whiting, Indiana, and is Scottish and Potawatomi. Her paternal grandfather was born in 1923 in Eagle Rock, California, where she lives now.

“I think about lineage a lot. Ancestry and DNA and geography and synchronicity are fascinating to me,” Kamanski said.

“My mom’s dad is the best. He’s incredibly thoughtful and grateful to the inner workings of the universe,” Kamanski said. “He was a pilot for American Airlines, he always says, ‘I can’t believe they paid me to fly!’ He and I laugh because we both cry at EVERYTHING. He always notices small miracles. He has this beautiful picture of his own grandmother on the wall in his office, and whenever anything works out perfectly, he goes, ‘Thank you, Gram.’ ”

Perseverance and  hope

Kamanski released her debut record, “Cool Is The Will” last June. The EP’s name, she says, is about perseverance and tough hope, saying down with apathy, dare to care a lot, and be eager.

“The album cover is a collage using a photo of a family during the Great Depression,” Kamanski said. “The mom and dad look so wary, but their son is just getting through, eating his soup like a trooper, moving forward. I like to imagine it’s alphabet soup and the letters are spelling out the album’s title,” Kamanski said, with another laugh.

“Cool is the Will” was recorded at the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles and produced by Aaron Dennis, “my best friend and true love,” Kamanski said.

“I was surrounded by the incredible community I’ve found here in Los Angeles. Because of the pandemic and everyone’s gigs getting canceled, it feels like we’re all now a part of a virtual global scene where everything is super accessible! We can be a part of Nashville or Istanbul! I’m being super optimistic,” Kamanski said with a laugh.

Kamanski added that she’s been working on a bunch of new songs, and has been really invested in the simplicity of a great acoustic guitar or two, and vocal harmonies.

‘Safe With Me’

Kamanski has a new single that comes out on all platforms on April 8, called “Safe With Me.” People can listen to it early, starting March 31, if they sponsor Kamanski on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/tennesseekamanski

Kamanski said that being a musician is challenging, but the tradeoffs make it all worthwhile,

“especially during this shelter in place order! Lots of time to write.”

“The things that are most important to me are family and songs,” Kamanski said. “All I want is to be a career musician, with the end result being playing guitar on my back porch, watching my grandkids run around in the grass.”

Where might that be?

“I’ll know it when I see it,” Kamanski said. “Somewhere off The 395, above 7,500 feet elevation, near glacial lakes. Maybe I haven’t been there yet, though. I’ve got a lot of exploring to do.”

Musically and otherwise!

— Richard Neil Graham, LINK

Related stories:
– “Cool as the Will” album review
– “Derailed” Paul Kamanski’s album of a lifetime
– The legend of Country Dick Montana lives on

ABOUT Richard Neil Graham

Richard Neil Graham
A writer, photographer and sometimes stand-up comedian, Richard Neil Graham has written one book about professional roller hockey and four joke books.

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