James McKenna
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James McKenna


Band Pop Singer/Songwriter


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"James McKenna @ The Shore"

In recent years, Los Angeles has become a musical melting pot of singers and songwriters. You can find most of these musicians barking away at Hotel Caf/ or Largo in Hollywood. However, one Redondo Beach resident stands out amongst the overpopulated genre; his name is James McKenna and he will be having a CD release party at The Shore in Hermosa Beach for his newest disc, “I Am.”

Born in Massachusetts, McKenna was introduced to the world of music by his grandfather, who was a trumpet player in big band ensembles that performed in and around Boston. Watching his grandfather play music inspired McKenna to pick up the violin in the fifth grade.

Although music would play a pivotal role in his future, as a child, it wasn’t one of life’s main goals. At 19, McKenna joined the Navy and began to pursue a career in engineering like his father. While working on nuclear reactors on the U.S.S Enterprise, he found himself singing cover songs with other men on the ship to pass the time out at sea.

“I didn’t sing in front of a crowd until I joined the Navy,” McKenna said. “Once I did, I started performing at Navy graduation ceremonies and various other events.”

As his tenure with the Navy came to a close in 1998, McKenna decided to change his goals in life from engineering to music.

“I figure you only get one go-around in life and I wanted to do what I wanted to with my time here,” McKenna said.

The avid musician enrolled himself at UMASS Boston as a music major and started gigging around the Boston circuit that once boasted the sounds of Aerosmith and the J. Geils Band. His first gig was at a club in Boston where he worked as a bouncer and it was one of his worst ever. McKenna pressed on and began to build a following around the city. The solo gigs were also helping to get him through school.

After four years of playing the Boston scene, McKenna decided it was time for a well-needed change. “No one was looking for musical talent in Boston,” McKenna said.

In a well-thought-out decision, McKenna decided to reach out to some old Navy buddies who were living in Torrance and moved himself to California. Upon his arrival, McKenna immediately started playing the open mic nights at Hennessey’s in Manhattan Beach. He then moved on to playing regular gigs at the Lighthouse and at street fairs in Redondo Beach.

By 2006, McKenna was becoming a staple in the South Bay music scene and was working as a special education teacher in Palos Verdes. He performed biweekly at Blue 32 for almost two years and has played just about any place you can name in the beach cities area.

In that same year, McKenna released his “7 Cigarettes” EP, produced by Billy Schliefer. The album’s self-titled track became a popular number to McKenna’s rowdy, bar crowd fans. “7 Cigarettes” was inspired by his years of playing bar gigs and watching women who sat at the bar all night, never to successfully get picked up by anyone. Not only was the song popular with music fans in the U.S., but a major radio/TV personality in Australia decided it was a great tune as well. Dennis Cometti (what John Madden is to American sports, Cometti is to Australian sports) came across McKenna’s My Space page one day and really enjoyed what he heard. Cometti bought the “7 Cigarettes” EP and even mentioned it in one of his popular books. He also has been spinning the song on his No. 1-rated radio program in Australia, with 96 percent of listeners agreeing the song is a hit. The connection with Cometti has proved to be a huge opportunity for McKenna and his music career. McKenna’s music has since been used on Australian Rules football, and Mushroom Music (the largest indie label in Australia) has taken quite an interest in him.

With financial backing from Cometti, McKenna is ready to release his newest record, “I Am” in February. The album was again produced by Schliefer and features a slew of well-known session musicians playing on the songs. “The title track was really inspired by my work with special ed students as people are always putting labels on these kids … Their point of view really is, I am what I am,” said McKenna.
He also dabbles into the plastic soul of Hollywood with the track “Sunset Boulevard,” exposing the fakeness of the entertainment capital of America. Of course, there are also a few love songs inspired by his wife, Janine.

On Jan. 7, McKenna and his band (Derrick Forget, Billy Schliefer and Dylan Halacy) will be performing songs from the new disc at The Shore in Hermosa. The first 50 people will receive a free copy of “I Am.” The kickoff event is taking place here in the South Bay, because that is where McKenna’s biggest support comes from. Fans have always filled his gigs to capacity in this area and even go as far as to rent limos/party buses to attend his gigs all over the Southern California area. McKenna is hoping 2009 will be a big year for him as he releases his record on www.cdbaby.com in February, and hopes to tour the U.S. and Australia with his band.

He will take the stage at 9 p.m. with Bryan Master opening at 8 p.m. For more information on McKenna, visit www.jamesmckennamusic.com

The Shore is located at 1320 Hermosa Ave. For more information, call (310) 376-0414 or visit www.theshorehermosa.com - The Beach Reporter, Hermosa Beach, CA

"James McKenna"

Out of the blue I happened to hear the 'Seven Cigarettes' cd and immediately thought it was the best I'd heard in a number of years. A big statement, particularly for a virtual unknown like James, but a collection of strong tracks like Seven Cigarettes, All Your Shit, Radio, Jump, and Where Did You Go make it so. This album highlights all that's good with today's music and all that's bad with today's radio playlists.

Dennis Cometti - TV and Radio Personality, Australia (Dec 17, 2006) - Mix 98.5 Perth, Australia

"James McKenna"

McKenna makes the kind of pop that thrives in the mainstream college radio community... ...the songs are capable of producing moments of pure pop magic that make one smile with satisfaction

Evan Sicuranza - Mass Media (May 9, 2002) - Mass Media


Seven Cigarettes - a 6 song EP released in February, 2006.
I Am - an 11 song album to be released in February 2009.



New England-born singer/songwriter James McKenna got his start musically, while serving in the US Navy. Late at night, he would sing while his fellow shipmates jammed on their guitars in the deep recesses of the USS Enterprise. James found he enjoyed singing so much that when he left the service, he decided to pursue a career in music.

In 1998, soon after his discharge, James took a job as a bouncer for a bar in Boston to pay for tuition at UMass Boston where he majored in music. His experiences at the bar inspired him to write one of his first and most popular songs, Seven Cigarettes. With the help of a friend, he cut a rough demo which he gave to a fellow employee for some constructive criticism. He was immediately asked by the bar owner to play a gig there. After two shows he attained a residency at another local club and eventually ditched the bouncer job for one as a paid musician. paying his way through school by playing countless shows in New England bars and clubs.

James built quite a following in Boston as he attained a BA in Music w/Focus in Voice from UMass- Boston. It wasn't long before his friends on the west coast started advising him to move to Los Angeles and give the business a real shot. Packing up his gear and trekking across the country, he started the grind all over again, getting a day job and playing the bars at night. Soon after, he fell in with fellow New England transplant and up-and-coming producer, Billy Schliefer. The two teamed up to record the EP Seven Cigarettes and formed a band in order to perform around Los Angeles.

Australian Football commentator, Dennis Cometti stumbled across James' music while perusing the online distributor, CD Baby. Dennis emailed James with words of encouragement and a wish to lend any assistance he could to further James’ career. Shortly after this email exchange, Dennis would acquire his own radio segment on Mix 94.5 in Perth, Australia. He played "Seven Cigarettes" over the air on his weekly afternoon drive segment “Dennis Does Downloads”, a make it-or-break it segment where the audience would text message their opinion to the station. The response was an astounding 96% positive!

Following the radio success, James and Dennis collaborated to adapt James' song “Jump” for use in national network AFL broadcasts. The story became a hot topic, and soon members of the Australian press were demanding to know “Who is James McKenna?”

By day, James works as a teacher of special education, helping kids diagnosed with Emotional Disturbance to learn self-control and return to a regular school environment. He draws inspiration from their struggles, channeling the themes of self-affirmation over stereotypes in songs like “I Am”.

Look for a new full-length James McKenna record in February '09!!!