SAN DIEGO — When songwriter Paul Kamanski goes to work, he just walks into a spare bedroom in his Mission Hills house. The converted room is not just Kamanski's office, but a $10,000 recording studio.
Album covers, a Marilyn Monroe poster and a framed check adorn the walls of Kamanski's world. He uses the room to "'just fool around in."
He pushes the keys on his synthesizer, strums some notes on his guitar, turns on the drum machine, pops a tape into his 12-track recorder, and little by little Kamanski gives birth to a song.
A catalogue of all his tunes is kept at Bug Music, a large independent publishing company in Los Angeles and Nashville, where they are available to singers and bands interested in recording them.
Recently, a Kamanski song, "Hollywood Hills," charted in the top 100 in Billboard magazine and has been made into a video that has received national air play on MTV. The anthem-like tune, performed by San Diego's own Curb recording artists the Beat Farmers, is one of six Kamanski songs recorded by the local rock band. It was "Bigger Stones," on the Beat Farmers' first album, "Tales of the New West," that caught the attention of Fred Bourgoise, co-owner of Bug Music.
"I remember seeing the Beat Farmers at the Music Machine in L.A. and hearing them do 'Bigger Stones,' Bourgoise said. "After the show I went backstage and went up to Country Dick and said, 'Who wrote that song? It's great.' After that night, Paul got signed with us."
According to Kamanski, the song received critical acclaim in England, and Melody magazine called it the youth anthem of the 1980s.
The songwriter, who now has a dependable but small income from his music, receiving royalties checks every five or six months ranging from $100 to $5,000, has seen many hard times. Several of his songs, in fact, are about the ups and downs of rock 'n' roll.
Kamanski, now in his early 30s, dropped out of school at 16 and moved from his mother's home to live with his father in Arizona, where he picked fruit, drove a tractor and spent his free time playing in rock 'n' roll bands.
"As far back as I can remember, there was always music in my house," said the long-haired, soft-spoken artist. "My father always played guitar. His friends used to come over and play the banjo and they would sing Kingston Trio and Hank Williams songs. I look back at old pictures of my dad, and in everyone of them there is whisky and guitars."
Kamanski eventually returned to high school but never attended college. He said that once he made up his mind to stay in music, there was no need to go back to school for an alternative career. Ever since, he's been working at his craft, hoping someday other major artists will record his songs.
"It all takes time," he said. "A lot of it is your success rate--who have you written hits for? I'm probably still at poverty level, but I know there's a lot of folks out there who would like to come as far as I already have."
Though Kamanski's long-time friends in the Beat Farmers band are the only ones to have recorded his tunes, Bourgoise has high hopes for the artist.
"He's a top writer," he said. "Not many people can tell a story as visual as Paul can. He just takes an every day occurrence and turns it into poetry. We just have to be at the right place at the right moment and with a little luck we'll get there."
Bourgoise said Bug is shopping a lot of Kamanski's pieces around Nashville to country singers. The composer sometimes writes four to five songs a month, when he's on a roll. But there have been dry periods where he didn't write for six months, Kamanski said.
"After I write a song I'm really proud of, I say that's it, there's nothing left, I can't write any more," he said. "You learn a lot about yourself from writing a song. I often look back at them and just think, "God, this is so personal, but here it is for everyone to see.'
"It's great to sit down with a pen or pencil and draw a picture with words. A lot of my songs draw on moods that influence and inspire me.