Tony Kinman 1956-2018

Dils and Rank & File singer/bassist passes

Tony Kinman, a day-oner in California’s punk scene who later pioneered and cowpunk as the bassist and vocalist in the Austin-based band Rank & File, passed away this morning in his California home at age 63, his brother and bandmate Chip Kinman confirmed. He had been battling cancer.

The Dils 1977 single “Class War,” with Tony Kinman at center

The Kinman brothers launched the Dils, regarded as one of California’s earliest punk acts, in the mid-Seventies. The Carlsbad, Calif., trio’s first single, 1977’s “I Hate the Rich” b/w “You’re Not Blank,” remains an influential and collectable artifact of early West Coast punk. The band was immortalized in the classic stoner film Cheech & Chong’s Up in Smoke, where footage of them doing “You’re Not Blank” is prominently featured in the battle of the bands scene.

Later, Tony joined Chip and friend Alejandro Escovedo in Rank & File, which began in New York City before relocating to Austin in 1981. The groundbreaking act, featuring Tony on vocals and bass and Chip on guitar and vocals, were among the first groups to fuse country music with elements of punk, laying the groundwork for the cowpunk and genres. Rank & File released three LPs for Slash Records and Rhino Records, and taped an episode of Austin City Limits before disbanding in 1987.

“Tony was such a great musician – a great bass player, a great arranger,” Escovedo offered by phone this morning. “He just had this really instinctive musical knowledge.”

Alejandro and Tony hadn’t spoken in 20 years until yesterday, when they shared a phone call.

“It was a very powerful conversation,” reveals Escovedo. “Even with people where there’s been a disconnect and you’ve lost contact, sometimes they’re still part of everything you do. Some people have that kind of impression on you and Tony was one of those people with me. Everything I do today was influenced by the things I learned from being around him – how to put a band together, how to tour.”

Escovedo says he often wonders why Rank & File’s influence gets overlooked in the history of alternative roots music.

“I think it’s because the approach was too different. Rank & File wasn’t trying to be a country band and we weren’t just trying to play country music at a faster pace. We created something that was unique. I just hope someday people will understand what it was that we were doing,” he mused. “Then everything Tony and Chip did after that was so uniquely their own, this Kinman vision of what rock & roll is in America.”

The Kinman brothers continued their epic and stylistically bold collaboration in post-punk synth experimentalists Blackbird (1987-1994) and futuristic western minimalists Cowboy Nation (1996-mid-2000s). Tony and Chip were blessed with superb, but distinctly different voices: the former with a Johnny Cash-like baritone and his brother’s higher register. When paired, it was a special combination.

Tony produced February’s The American Blues, debut album by Ford Madox Ford, led by Chip and his son Dewey Peek.

“Tony was a really wonderful person,” Escovedo said in closing. “Very bright, very quick, very funny, very kind, and he cared about people. He was a generous man and it’s a great loss. For me, it’s like losing a major character in a film. All you can do is try to create in his spirit and hopefully that will translate into other work.

Chip noted, this afternoon via text, his brother’s fondness for Austin:

“He loved Austin. He told me, before he passed away, how he loved coming home to Austin. Said it was beautiful in the morning light.”

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Tony Kinman, Chip Kinman, the Dils, Rank & File, Alejandro Escovedo, Blackbird, Cowboy Nation, Ford Madox Ford

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