Southern California musician Jessica Kaczmarek began piano lessons at the age of 8, but several years later, after discovering Jimi Hendrix, she had to have a guitar.
Her inspirations vary widely, having been inspired by the blues, rock, punk, surf, and more. “I’ve kind of hit all the genres,” says Kaczmarek. “In the late ’90s, when rockabilly was going on, I played at the Derby a lot. During Linda’s Doll Hut days, which is where all the musicians met in the late ’90s, I had my old band, Busstop Hurricanes, which was kind of loungey, garage rock.”
During her career, she’s had the fortune of meeting and playing with the likes of Chuck Berry, Dick Dale, Billy Watson And His International Silver String Submarine Band, Eddie Nichols from Royal Crown Revue, Greg Antista & The Lonely Streets, Russell Scott and the Red Hots, Tony Lopez All Star Blues Band, and so many others. Kaczmarek tells us, “My music has taken me to some pretty amazing places.”
We chatted with Jessica to find out more about her musical background, inspirations, guitars, and what’s next.
From piano to guitar: it just felt like an extension of my body
I started playing music when I was about 8 years old. My mom loved the piano, and she loved music, so she had me and my sister take piano lessons. I wasn’t too fond of it, but it actually introduced me to music.
After about four years of taking piano lessons, I got tired of it, and she could see that. She said, “Well, you know what, I can see you’re getting tired of piano lessons, but I don’t want you to stop playing music. Is there anything else you want to play?” Instantly, I said, “Yes, guitar,” because I had seen Jimi Hendrix on TV for the Monterey Pop Festival. He lit his guitar on fire, and I saw that and said, “I want to do that. That looks cool.” I was blown away by Hendrix, so I had everything by him.
The dude was awesome. I was just really taken by him. I would sit in my room, and I’d play for like five hours a day. I would sit there all day with the guitar — it just felt like an extension of my body. You know, when I played piano, it didn’t feel like that, but once I started playing guitar, it just felt so natural, and I just loved it so much.
From there, I joined some bands. Some that got pretty well-known around Orange County, and we started doing recordings. I started doing some session work, and it just went from there.
Influences: I respect people who have musicality and spark
While growing up, I listened to a lot of like New Wave and KROQ stuff. I was really into the Jam. Bruce Foxton is an amazing bass player. A few years back, I wanted to get better on the bass, so I learned his bass lines. The Clash is one of my huge influences — love Joe Strummer. I actually played with him before he died. I was doing a tour with him with a rockabilly band I was playing with, so that was a huge thing for me because I love that band.
I’m also a huge Blondie fan. I love her persona. She’s a strong frontwoman, an amazing singer, and a great musician. Chrissie Hynde is another. I love The Pretenders, and I love her attitude. She’s a great guitar player and has that presence; she commands the whole band and is just really cool.
Then I got into Delta blues, Chicago blues, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf. Then into a bit of jazz with Wes Montgomery, who I love a lot, and a little bit of Django Reinhardt. That really got me into more technical players and people who really could play.
I’ve always loved kind of shoegaze pop — that more experimental sound — the guitars are ambient. I love that stuff, I make that kind of music myself. And surf, I grew up with surf, too.
For me, the guitar is cool. It looks cool and everything, but I always respected the people who had really good musicianship. Not even just guitar players, but since I also play the piano, bass, ukulele, and mandolin, I respect people who have both musicality and spark.
Guitars: Every guitar — really every instrument — has a soul
The first thing I look for in a guitar is playability. It can look beautiful, but when you pick it up and it doesn’t play well, that makes no sense. I’ll walk into a music store — and I’m not going to name any names, but some of the bigger ones — you play the guitars, and I don’t know, a lot of them don’t have a good feel to them.
For me, it’s how does the fretwork feel, how does it sound when you plug it in? And you can feel a guitar too, even without plugging it in, it almost has kind of a soul to it. Every instrument you play feels different, and if you are a good musician or performer, whatever you play, you can probably make it sound good to other people, but for you, it’s going to feel different.
My friend Steve Soest has a guitar repair shop in Orange, and he has repaired guitars for years — Stevie Ray Vaughan, the guitar player of No Doubt, Billy Zoom, a bunch of people, he knows everybody. He’s got a million guitars. A long time ago, I was doing a solo recording at my friend’s studio in Long Beach, and I asked Steve if I could borrow his Jazzmaster. It was a vintage 1962 Jazzmaster. I played that thing for the recording, and it just sounded so good that I ended up playing different things with it because the guitar just inspired me. When you’re inspired, you play differently, and things just come out of you more naturally.
I had the opportunity through a friend to interview at Paisley Park for a guitar tech. I told my friend I know how to play guitar, but not fix them. He said it was for Prince and that I probably wouldn’t want to pass it up. So I went. After playing “Love Rollercoaster” about four times with Prince and his band, Prince hands me his guitar and says, “Can you fix it?” He leaves and goes out and starts dancing. He’s just like “James Browning” all the way out these two big, huge balcony doors that open onto this big lawn with this fountain and these flowing white curtains with purple on them. He’s dancing and his back up dancers are like, “Yeah, go ahead, Prince, go ahead Prince.” Then the music just stops, the drummer’s putting his sticks away, and I’m holding his guitar. It was over. I looked over and see all of Prince’s guitars are setup, so picked up and played his yellow Cloud guitar, the one that he played in the “Cream” video. That thing played like butter. The neck was so smooth. I never played a guitar that sounded so good.
Every guitar — really every instrument — has a soul.
My Goal: be the best musician that I can be
I want to make the best music possible and be the best musician I can be and play to my best ability. I’m always striving for that every day. So that means the piano, the bass, everything I play. I want to be able to have the tools to really express myself. You can teach somebody how to play, but if they’re just mimicking what they’ve learned or just reading off the paper, then they’re not really playing.
Words of Wisdom
Learn as much as you can, listen to as many influences as you can — different instruments, different people, male or female, doesn’t matter, just good musicians. That will influence you and help get your music going to different places.
I am currently playing with my own band right now, the Jessica Kaczmarek Band, with Johnny Bazz from The Blasters on bass and Steven Hodges from Tom Waits on drums. My next show with them is opening for blues great Rod Piazza, April 18, 2020, at The PCH Club in Long Beach. We’re focusing on finishing our debut album, which is scheduled for release in July this year. It’s a mix of Amy Winehouse, Tom Waits, and Elvis Costello.
I’m also working with movies and composing the film music for an upcoming documentary about a classic era Hollywood PR Man called “David Mirisch- The Man Behind The Golden Stars,” with Johnny Mathis, Dionne Warwick, Pat Boone, Christopher Knight, Joe Mantegna, and many other celebrities, due to hit the festival circuit this fall. I have a small scene in the film, as well.