Paying tribute to country-punk icon Tony Kinman and, sadly, Zippy Pinhead

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      It might seem odd now that touring the U.S. requires more lawyers than roadies, but there was a time when Vancouver and San Francisco shared a vital cultural interchange. From jazz in the 1950s through to punk in the 1970s, musicians from both sides of the border gigged together, toured together, and sometimes even formed bands together—and in terms of rock music in Vancouver, few Bay Area denizens had more direct impact than Chip and Tony Kinman. Frequent visitors to our city with their bands the Dils and Rank and File, the siblings played a tuneful, twangy, and politically committed form of punk rock that owed as much to the Everly Brothers as to the Clash.

      News of bassist Tony Kinman’s recent death from pancreatic cancer hit his local friends hard, and reverberated across the country—to the point that the organizer of the Rickshaw Theatre’s upcoming Tony Kinman tribute, and the driving force behind Cuatro de Los Angeles, an EP of Kinman-related songs that will be released the same day, is actually Montreal’s Mack MacKenzie, singer and guitarist with Three O’Clock Train.

      The Kinman brothers, he says, didn’t have as direct an influence on him as they did on his B.C. friends, but they certainly validated what he was trying to do when Three O’Clock Train formed in the 1980s. “In Montreal, everybody sort of had their own genre, and country wasn’t picked,” MacKenzie explains. “And me, being originally from Maine and having grown up on a chicken farm, I came up to Montreal for school, loved it, and fell into the punk scene. But there were no country-style punks, you know, so we started Three O’Clock Train, and came across this Rank and File album, Sundown, and loved it. It was like, ‘Oh, another band doing what we’re trying to do! This is great.’ ”

      Fandom led to friendship, and MacKenzie and Chip Kinman eventually began a musical collaboration. With a little scheming, Tony Kinman was brought onboard to produce the new EP’s “Lucky Day”, but it was to prove his last studio effort. MacKenzie and Chip decided to turn the record, and its release party, into a fundraiser to help cover Tony’s medical expenses, adding a Vancouver-recorded remake of the Dils’ “It’s Not Worth It” to flesh things out.

      The “It’s Not Worth It” sessions, with original Dils producer Bob Rock flying in from Hawaii to supervise, also involved former Modernette Mary Celeste on bass and a who’s who of scene luminaries on gang vocals. “Almost everybody else on the session hadn’t seen each other in 39 years, but we were all old friends,” MacKenzie reports. “There were hugs and tears and crying, and everybody smiling, and it was like a real family reunion for them. And the way I approached the whole thing was just ‘What’s the right thing to do in this situation?’ After working with Tony, and him passing so quickly, this was what I had to do—something to honour the guy.”

      Unfortunately, the upcoming release party and tribute concert—which will feature Three O’Clock Train, Chip Kinman’s new version of the Dils, Wasted Strays, Ron Reyes, and a parade of invited guests—have taken on even deeper memorial import. William “Zippy Pinhead” Chobotar contributed his typically muscular drumming to “It’s Not Worth It”, and then died unexpectedly, of heart failure, just a few weeks later. In the online video of the sessions, the local legend and former Dils drummer shares his memories of Tony Kinman, at one point saying “When I think of Tony, I think of a big brother, and somebody who taught me, you know, really how to be a man.…I’ll take that to my grave.”

      It’s sad that this turned out to be literally true, but appropriate that they’ll both be honoured by what’s shaping up to be an unforgettable wake.

      A Tribute to Tony Kinman takes place at the Rickshaw Theatre next Friday (April 5).