“When I was young, I always thought that if I could just write a song that would get on the radio, all the good stuff would just happen,” says Paul Kamanski, probably best known perhaps for writing hits for the Beat Farmers, a San Diego cow-punk band of national stature. Even then, he also had his own band, as well as playing in various groups with Joey Harris, including the Electric Sons and the Fingers with Billy Thompson.
“A lot of good stuff happened, and a lot of bad stuff, too, which is really interesting about the whole trip. But it really started out with the dream of if I could write some lyrics, and if I pay attention to detail and I’m not afraid, if I write and I get over the fear of saying exactly what I feel and take the criticism. I started writing songs, and the next thing I knew I had one called ‘Bigger Stones’ that the Beat Farmers picked up.”
Thus began a long and fruitful collaboration that included writing for Montana’s solo projects. “Country Dick used to come over, and he’d go, ‘Well, what else you got?’ I started writing for him...he would come over in his Falcon with a case of beer in his front seat and say, ‘Get in the car.’ And I’d ask, ‘What are we doing?’ And we’d drive to the Belly Up and we’d drink that beer and we’d party at the Belly Up and we’d come back here after the bar closed. And then we’d drink more. And we’d go through my tape archives. I recorded every single idea I could put my hands on. I wrote them down, and I made stacks and stacks of tapes organized into what I called the A drawer, the B drawer, and the C drawer.”
Not that the music biz has always been a goldmine. “I made a little bit. There were royalties for a while. When you get your first check for 700 dollars you go, ‘What? For writing music? Are you serious?’ Then one day you get a bigger check and you go, ‘Oh, my, I could actually make some money.’ But you watch it go up and down. The weirdest thing about the business is that when you go into it, you’re hyper and scared to death and excited about getting signed but what you don’t know is how you’re gonna get screwed. You know you’re gonna get screwed, you just don’t know how.”
The shoulder-length hair has turned gray, but Kamanski still makes music, most notably with ongoing side project Comanche Moon and with the Rock Trio, alongside Joey Harris and Caren Campbell.
57 years old in 2013, he also restores vintage motorcycles at the Mission Hills duplex he shares with his wife Caren, their teenage daughter Tennessee, a pair of housecats, and a mountain of music equipment.
His daughter Tennessee Kamanski was 16 years-old when she began producing a record in the same house as her father. “In my early teenage years, I was really secretive about what I was doing musically,” she told the Reader. “I didn’t even want him to know I was learning guitar… Being an only child going into the same line of work as your dad, I was embarrassed. But embarrassment is such a useless emotion. Singing with him now is my favorite thing in the whole wide world. When I make demos I always ask him what he thinks. The thing I can thank him the most for is introducing me to Gram Parsons and Emmy Lou Harris. I used to fall asleep on the cot in the backyard listening to [Parson’s] 'Grievous Angel.'”