Tony Kinman, one of alt-country’s pioneers, passed on Friday, May 4 after succumbing to cancer. Known for his punk rock band the Dils and cowpunk forerunner Rank and File, Kinman also dived into folk and post-punk. Kinman was an early collaborator with Alejandro Escovedo and worked alongside a generation of musicians to establish what would become Americana. No matter what genre he worked in, Kinman’s hard-hitting lyrics and direct performances are a driving force throughout.
Tony began his career with his brother Chip, leaving their native Carlsbad, Calif. for Los Angeles. There, they founded punk band the Dils. In LA, they hooked up with Escovedo and his band The Nuns. Eventually the three made their way to New York City where they founded Rank and File. However, they realized a band that married country music and punk rock needed a different setting. “Chip and Al and I talked about it and decided that if we were serious about doing this kind of music, New York is the wrong place to do it. We needed to move somewhere where we could really do it, and so we decided to move to Austin,” Kinman recalled in a 2001 Maximum Rock N Roll interview that reappeared on the Perfect Sound Forever site this year.
In a 1997 interview with Peter Blackstock of Austin360, Escovedo described the band’s time in Austin, Texas. “That’s when really kind of the whole thing started for us, you know, was once we moved to Austin,” he said. “And at that time, also, we got to see Billy Joe Shaver, Townes Van Zandt, Butch Hancock, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, Lucinda Wiiliams, Nanci Griffith — playing all the same little clubs. We would play at the Alamo Lounge. We played the Shorthorn Bar on every Sunday.”
Rank & File released their debut album Sundown in 1983, and followed it with two other releases, 1984’s Long Gone Dead and 1987’s Rank and File. The Everly brothers covered their song “Amanda Ruth” on 1986’s Born Yesterday. Rank & File disbanded in 1987, but the brothers continued pursuing country-inflected music. Tony and Chip performed together in the bands Blackbird and Cowboy Nation. Before he passed, Tony produced his brother Chip’s band Ford Madox Ford’s new album This American Blues.
Stephen B Kravac of Porterhouse Records memorializes Kinman:
“Mr. Kinman was a consummate innovator and risk taker. Not content with the Dils being the first acclaimed punk rock band on the West-Coast of the United States, he and his brother Chip Kinman along with Nuns guitarist Alejandro Escovedo and drummer Slim Evans invented what we now refer to as Alt-Country with their band Rank and File. They quickly signed with Los Angeles’ Slash Records who were convinced of the band’s worth by producer David Kahne who had spotted them performing in San Francisco.
Mr. Kinman worked up until illness overtook him. In yet another shape shift he recently produced the debut L.P. This American Blues for his brother Chip’s band Ford Madox Ford which was released on February 16, 2018. Reinventing Blues without the cliches is a tall order but one that Mr. Kinman embraced with vigor and purpose.
Tony Kinman wore a multitude of musical hats and gave us many opportunities to celebrate song with him. May his soul be at peace knowing how many people he touched with his pure and natural gift of music.”