Tony Tengs listens to music at this year’s Southeast Alaska State Fair with his mother. (Courtesy photo)

Tony Tengs listens to music at this year’s Southeast Alaska State Fair with his mother. (Courtesy photo)

Real Music: Tony Tengs finds new songwriting inspiration in retirement

Tony Tengs employs the double negative when it comes to his relationship with songwriting. He can’t not think musically, he said, so it’s a natural next step for him to preserve ideas in the form of songs.

Tengs doesn’t credit himself for his good ideas, though. Instead, he credits the process of fine-tuning his internal radar to capture tidbits from the world around him.

“You’re a radio,” Tengs said. “You tune in to some things that resonate with you, and you have a sense about what is charming, interesting and fun.”

Step two, after gathering a catchy idea, is to write it down.

“I’ve lost so many songs that way, thinking, ‘This is great and I’m never going to forget this one,’” Tengs said. “Then you blink and a half an hour later you can’t remember anything.”

Tengs credits much of his early musical influence to the jukebox at the Pioneer Bar in Haines, downstairs from his childhood apartment. The jukebox sang country tunes as well as rhythm and blues, introducing him to the work of numerous songwriters at an early age. He also enjoyed music with his parents and extended family. He still sings with his mother, a Haines resident who he said has a knack for recalling lyrics from many of the “good ol’ songs.”

From downtown Haines to downtown Juneau, where Tengs currently resides, he now credits the Alaska Folk Festival for providing a large part of his ongoing musical education. You may have seen Tengs performing his original work during one of his 19 past performances performances with other friends and collaborators. You may have also seen him in the audience, front and center, with his mother.

“We go to the folk festival every night,” Tengs said. “It’s much better than watching TV.”

If you’ve seen Tengs perform, you may remember a song of his that initially drew you to laugh, then captivated your attention with a disarming message. One of his most popular hits, “Curly Hair,” subtly highlights a default human trait in an attempt to remind his listeners that we are all on the same level.

Tengs would label some of his songs as “political,” however they could be mistaken for songs about fun.

“If you’re going to get on the soapbox at all, you have to throw something funny out there first,” Tengs said. “There’s a danger to get political, but that’s where a lot of steam comes from to get things done.”

Tengs also collects love song ideas, and he aspires to someday record an entire album of love songs.

“They say that the best love songs don’t even use the word ‘love,’ so that’s what makes it more interesting,” Tengs said.

Tengs’ songwriting process focuses on the lyrics, which he called “the mountain range that is the hardest to climb.”

“I like the idea of songs being musicalized speech,” Tengs said.

Tengs retired this year from a career with the Alaska Marine Highway System, and he is looking forward to filling his newfound free time with more songwriting.

“When you’re an uncertain man of a certain age – and I’m probably going to write a song about being that – you see so many of your peers dropping like flies,” Tengs said. “You don’t want to squander too much of your time.”

Tengs said he feels a healthy pressure to work toward his goals of writing new songs, releasing a new album and performing. He also hopes to spend more time collaborating with other local musicians.

“You surround yourself with better musicians than you are, and it’s a good way to go,” Tengs said.

Look for Tengs to perform during the upcoming Gold Street Music season, which holds its first concert on Oct. 6.


• Libby Stringer may be reached at libby@pottedplantworkshop.com.


More in Neighbors

Courtesy Photo / Iola Young 
Marla Berg presents $22,750 in “mattress money” to the Glory Hall, recipient of this quarter’s 100+ Women Who Care’s donation. Shown here (left to right): Bruce Denton, president of the Glory Hall Board of Directors; Marla Berg, member of 100+ Women Who Care’s organizing team; Maria Lovishchuk, executive director of the Glory Hall; and Glory Hall board members Deb Maas and Jorden Nigro, who is also a member of 100+ Women. Nigro made the winning pitch to the giving circle that now numbers 279 members. When collection of each $100 donation is complete, the Glory Hall award will total $27,900. Enough to purchase all the beds, mattresses and locking trunks needed for the new facility.
Organization donates over $22K to the Glory Hall

100+ Women Who Care’s 279 members pitch in.

This photo shows Adam Bauer and his granddaughter. (Courtesy Photo)
Living & Growing: At its core, the Bahá’í faith is a practice in hope and optimism

Today, the Bahá’í faith circles the globe with adherents in virtually every country in the world.

teaser
Thank you letters for the week of May 9, 2021

Thank you, merci, danke, gracias, gunalchéesh.

Courtesy Photo
Erin Walker-Tolles, executive director of Catholic Community Service, stands with Wayne Stevens, president and CEO of United Way of Southeast Alaska. CCS was among the organizations to receive grant funding from UWSEAK’s COVID-19 Response Fund.
United Way of Southeast Alaska distributes over $52K to local nonprofits

Juneau Empire United Way of Southeast Alaska has distributed $52,375 in grants… Continue reading

teaser
Living & Growing: Baptism in Water

By Joab Cano The baptism of Jesus Christ was a unique event… Continue reading

“Non-meat grillables are spendy, you know?” writes Geoff Kirsch. “I couldn’t trust either parent with Portobello mushroom steaks, let alone heirloom tomatoes and Halloumi cheese (which cost like $10 for a six-ounce block, and that’s 1992 dollars).” (Unsplash)
Slack Tide: Grillin’ like a villain

This week’s column gets up in your grill.

teaser
Living & Growing: Sorrow transformed

By Laura Rorem While pondering together Henri Nouwen’s words: “Out of his… Continue reading

teaser
Gimme A Smile: What national day is it today?

You don’t need to wait until May 31 to smile.

Courtesy photo/Troop 11 
Scouts from BSA Troop 11 gathered and donated 562 pounds of food to the food bank at Resurrection Lutheran Church on April 17. The troop meets at the downtown church and collected food from the surrounding neighborhoods.
Scouting for Food helps stock local food pantries

Local Scouts collected more than 9,000 pounds of food

Guy Crockroft is Executive Director of Love Inc, Juneau. (Courtesy Photo)
Living & Growing: Jesus is coming back. Are you ready?

Let’s do our best to love our neighbors and be salt and light.

Web tease
Juneau students earn academic honors

Recognitions for the week of Sunday, April 18, 2021.

teaser
Foodland and Super Bear customers donate to United Way

Customers donated over $4,700 by rounding up their change at the end of each transaction.