Tribute: RIP Tony Kinman, An Important SoCal Founder of Punk Music




Tony Kinman - Photo courtesy of Chip Kinman
Tony Kinman - Photo courtesy of Chip Kinman

By DONNA BALANCIA

The music world went silent in grief on Friday morning with the loss of Tony Kinman, one of the legendary greats of SoCal music.  He passed away in his Los Angeles home surrounded by family.

Kinman was the co-founder of The Dils, Rank & File, Blackbird and Cowboy Nation, bands that paved the way for many of today’s artists.

He worked in production by day and continued to keep an active involvement in the local LA punk rock scene, mainly working with brother Chip and the Ford Madox Ford band. He died of cancer, the family said.

Rank and File - Photo 1982 Bill Daniel
Rank and File – Photo 1982 Bill Daniel

Kinman: The Roots of SoCal Punk Rock

Back in the days when its main drag was called Elm Ave., and when surfboards had one fin, Carlsbad, Calif., was the birthplace of something great in music.

The seaside North San Diego County town is the birthplace of Tony Kinman, a legendary rocker who would have an everlasting impact on the music scene. Back in 1976, little did Tony know the influence he and his aspiring punk music and style would have on California.

“Tony’s a huge hero to me going back to my first gigs with the movement,” said Mike Watt. “I wanted to grow up to be just like him, a giant inspiration always for me. I love the man very much.”

The Brothers Live On

On the outside, Tony was a go-along and get-along sort, but brewing below was an emotional tempest that gave way to a range of innovative and well-loved songs like “I Hate The Rich,” “You’re Not Blank” as well as the beautiful “Sound of the Rain.”

Tony Kinman: Carlsbad High to Music Legacy

Always a trend-breaker, Kinman, with his younger brother, Chip, formed some of the region’s most innovative and interesting punk bands. Odd only because the guys grew up in surf-preppy Carlsbad, which in the 1970s couldn’t be further from the punk movement.

“The Kinmans – they didn’t look like everybody else,” said Mike Spent, who went to Carlsbad High with the brothers.

“Carlsbad is a surfer beach town and the Kinmans were pale,” he recalled.

Mike has a band called The Spent Idols which he started because of The Kinmans.

“When we met, it was 1976, I was skateboarding in the parking lot of the Big Bear supermarket on Elm and I saw the Kinmans crossing the street to go to Carl’s Jr.,” Spent said. “It was the whole band, The Dils. I didn’t ask them where they were going but my friend and I followed them into the Carl’s Jr. This was at a time I wanted to have a band. I was in 10th grade and they were like junior and senior.

The Dils - Photo courtesy Chip Kinman
The Dils – Photo courtesy Chip Kinman

‘They Dressed Differently’

“Chip had suede moccasins that laced and went high,” Spent recalled. “He had a T-Shirt that was stamped ‘The Dils’ everywhere, like the Marine Corps stamps. We got to talk to them outside the Carl’s Jr. and they talked about how they were in a band called The Dils. I’ll never forget it.

“They dressed differently than everyone, like with tight-fitting shirts which were really opposite,” Spent said. “At the time, everyone else wore Hawaiian shirts, or clean-cut preppy look, but these guys were in tight-fitting jeans. They had funky haircuts, and that was really different too because long hair was the thing back then.”

Chip and Tony Kinman - Photo courtesy of Javier Escovedo
Chip and Tony Kinman – Photo courtesy of Javier Escovedo

“Everybody thought The Dils were from San Francisco because they went up there for a while right after high school,” Spent said. “I asked them about it a couple of years ago and Chip said, ‘The Zeros were the first and we were the second. They’re the early punkers. They were the first punk rockers.'”

The Kinmans were known for Rank and File, The Dils, Blackbird and Cowboy Nation. They’ve been in a Cheech and Chong movie (“Up in Smoke”) and following the lead of Javier Escovedo and The Zeros, The Dils were considered a most influential band in the So Cal punk movement.

The Kinmans and The Musical Legacy

Everyone who knew the Kinmans work has a different favorite song, whether it was from the Dils, Blackbird, Cowboy Nation or Rank & File. But it was one song that captured the attention of all music lovers at the time: “Big Train.” Watt even covered the song.

“It was completely different from anything I’d heard to that point,” said Chris Iandolo, bassist with The Phantoms. “And the thought of hearing ‘punks’ play pretty much straight-up country. Of course we now know doing that was far more punk than anything. Tony paved the way for Uncle Tupelo, early Wilco and he was way ahead of his time.”

Most recently, Chip Kinman formed Ford Madox Ford with his guitarist son Dewey Peek. Tony produced the record, so while he did not perform in the band, he had a role.

Tony Kinman and The Dils - Photo courtesy of The Dils
Tony Kinman and The Dils – Photo courtesy of The Dils

Martin Wong, a central figure in the music scene in Chinatown, said the Kinmans and their music were in and out of his life.

“I wouldn’t say they were ‘popular,’ but if you dug bands like X or the Blasters, you’d dig around and find Rank & File,” Wong said. “I didn’t hear the Dils until after I was in college because most of their stuff was on 7-inch singles.

“It was harder to find stuff,” he said. “But when I found a Dils record in the mid-90s, the original version of ‘Sounds of the Rain’ blew me away. ”

“I Hate The Rich,” and “Class War” are Dils songs that are perfect for today,” Wong said.