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Tony Kamel



For a guy who never stepped onto a stage until he was thirty years old, Tony Kamel has made up for any lost time over the past decade or so. The bluegrass band he founded in 2011, Wood and Wire, made four studio records and a live album, plus they snagged a Grammy nomination. That’s an impressive record for Tony, who says he wasn’t exposed to bluegrass until around 2005.


Tony was born and raised in Houston and was into athletics throughout high school. He took up guitar at age 12, but just for fun. “Athletics always came first, with music behind that. I never joined a band; I just played around with my cousins. I am pretty much self-taught.” Tony also began writing songs as a teenager. “Stupid stuff, really, but it was a start.”


At the University of Texas in Austin, Tony studied psychology and Italian. “I wasn’t a good student in high school, and I knew if I was going to make it in college, I’d need to study something I was interested in. I studied Italian because my mom’s parents are from Italy. I had the opportunity to study abroad in Italy and got by pretty well with my Italian.”


After college, Tony moved back to Houston, where he took a traditional job as a sales rep for a medical company. “I did that for seven years before moving back to Austin.” When he arrived in Austin, Tony realized many of his friends were gone. Looking for something to do, he became interested in bluegrass. “I found it through jam bands,” he recalls.


“I also learned that UT had a large music library. I looked up bluegrass records and discovered recordings from the Newport Folk Festival, which started in 1959. “I listened to recordings by Ralph Stanley, Bill Monroe, and Doc Watson, who is one of my favorites because he played guitar.” Tony dug in, listening to all he could, and he tried to learn to play bluegrass style by watching YouTube videos. “I then went on Craig’s list to find someone to play with.”


Tony found his community and went to his first music festival in 2007. “I went to the Old Settlers Music Festival in the tiny town of Tillman, Texas. I camped out and jammed all night and loved every minute of it.” The more he hung around the bluegrass scene, the more people he met. He eventually met the guys with whom he would form Wood and Wire in late 2011. “Eight years later, we had a lot of records under our belt, and we were nominated for a Grammy. It was like a dream.”


Being in that band was a wonderful education for Tony. “Our bass player, Dominic Fisher, was a great help to me.” A highlight was playing a concert at Luck, Willie Nelson’s ranch in Texas. “We were one of three acts that played that night, and one of them was Willie and his band. Willie Nelson is one of my favorite guitar players, and it was a real honor just to be in his orbit.”

 

Wood and Wire has been on hiatus since 2020, and Tony says he misses it. In 2021, he recorded a solo album, Back Down Home, for Bruce Robison’s label, The Next Waltz. He recorded at The Bunker in Lockhart, Texas, Robison’s all-analog studio. “It was a great experience.”


He will go into the studio again this month to record a new album. “I’m writing all the songs,” says Tony. “Before I’m a flat picker or a clawhammer banjo player, I’m a songwriter and singer. I really like making and creating new music, although I am more than open to playing other people’s songs.”


Tony says he gets inspiration from a number of artists. “When I have a hard time coming up with something, I think of John Hartford. He is so unique and always did whatever he wanted. I also like a lot of modern music, including Willi Carlisle, out of Arkansas. “I think he’s fantastic.”


While music is his passion, Tony says he supplements his income by acting, mostly in television commercials. “I’m also pretty handy. I know how to build things like decks and such. It’s difficult to be an artist on your own. I now have to deal with keeping up with social media and such. But I don’t mind. I like keeping things small and maintaining total control.”


With a wife and a two-and-a-half-year-old, Tony says he can’t gig every night, and he limits touring. “I will do a regional tour when my new album is released.” Tony is also working with Kim Warren, “a phenomenal mandolin player who was in The Greencards. We are working on material we can do as a duo.”

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