Man with many labels

Musician who doesn't want to be pigeon-holed is collaborating with others for benefit concert.

August 12, 2010|By Candice Baker
  • Billy Kernkamp, seated, will appear with his band next weekend at South Coast Plaza Village.
Billy Kernkamp, seated, will appear with his band next… (Daily Pilot )

For Costa Mesa musician Billy Kernkamp, getting into music as a child was as natural as breathing.

"My family was always very musical," he said. "My mom sang, my sister sings and all my uncles play guitar. In my earliest memories, my mom would always be singing standards in hotels for World War II veterans, and we were a very social family, always having parties. I was always surrounded by music. I was inspired by listening to all those old standards, and all that early rock 'n' roll, and I've always had such a love for that."

Now the chanteuse's son has created a career of his own, in a genre all his own — and his popularity is skyrocketing. Kernkamp will appear next week at the South Coast Plaza Village in a concert benefiting Music for a Cure, on the heels of his 2010 OC Music Award for best live acoustic act, and has a new album in the works.


Although it's difficult to label Kernkamp's music, he described it as a blend of rock, Americana, folk, indie and country; it's frequently labeled as "alternative country," he said.

"I'm fine with whatever label someone gives me; I am whatever the audience wants me to be," Kernkamp said. "I just do what I do. I just said, 'I'm gonna do this, and hopefully I'm gonna find the audience.' If you want to say I'm a rap artist, I won't be bummed out."

As Orange County music producer Dallas Kruse often tells Kernkamp, "If it's good, it's good. That's it."

Kernkamp said growing up in Huntington Beach, he was always at odds with everyone and their musical preferences; he disdained megalithic metal bands like Metallica, and tried to instill his preferences on others.

"So with that being said, if I was in Austin or Nashville and everyone was playing country, I would be in a metal band," Kernkamp laughed.

As Kernkamp grew older and traded his saxophone for a guitar, he was exposed to more diverse music like jazz and the Smiths. By high school, he had discovered rockabilly music.

"I just loved it," Kernkamp said. "To me, that was the perfect music. By the time I was 19, I was in my first rockabilly band. We played from San Diego to San Francisco."

Kernkamp then founded his own band, Billy K and the Starliners, and was amazed to find that he was asked to open for the big acts he adored.

"In my mind, these guys were like monks," he said "They had such a reverence for the older music, and such a discipline as far as tackling those songs. They were just so in tune to that stuff."

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