Appetite for destruction
The Sacramento garage rock band the Trouble Makers continues to tear it up
The Trouble Makers played their first show in March of 1993. The moment had been a long time coming for the Sacramento garage rock band. Founders Tim Foster and Stan Tindall had been trying to start a band as far back as 1987. But aside from owning stacks of '60s garage and psychedelic records as well as trash rock comps put out by the likes of Pebbles, Nuggets and Back From the Grave, the pair really had no direction, or even much musical know-how to actually go about doing it.
“We could never really get anything going since we knew absolutely nothing about playing—we couldn’t tune, let alone play instruments,” Foster says now.
Then they found that spark of creative inspiration. In 1991, at the insistence of a friend, the two drove to San Jose to check out a band called the Mummies. Foster and Tindall were floored by their mixture of wild punk rock energy, obsessive reverence for ’60s garage rock, and zaniness—the band members were, naturally, dressed as mummies.
“[It was] complete and utter chaos onstage. They were having a blast, and it was a complete breath of fresh air from the gazillion desperate-to-get-signed bands I’d seen,” Foster says. “I said to Stan, ’Goddamn it. We’re starting a band.’”
More than two decades later, the Trouble Makers still reign as one of Sacramento’s best live bands, revered for their high-energy shows. The band will tear it up again, Thursday, October 15, at Harlow’s when it opens for Mudhoney.
But, first, back to the moment in the grunge-era ’90s. The Mummies weren’t unskilled but the band’s collective musical ability wasn’t priority. Rather, the San Mateo-based band gave Foster and Tindall insight into how to take their love for all things ’60s, their ’80s punk rock roots, and turn it into a loud ’90s rock ’n’ roll band.
In 1991, they still didn’t know how to play instruments, but a co-worker of Foster’s, Rod Cornelius, who had played bass in a ’60s surf band, offered to show them a few pointers. He soon became the group’s guitarist. Tindall took up the bass, and Foster stepped behind the mic as lead singer and harmonica player. Local rock drummer Brian Machado joined the band after Foster assured him they had no interest, or even ability to get signed.
Following that first show, they started booking numerous gigs, playing several times a month, mostly in Sacramento and in San Francisco. The band proved itself to be a major part of the thriving ’90s garage rock scene until the latter part of the decade when Cornelius temporarily moved to Milwaukee.
While garage rock has undergone a few revivals in the 2000s, this ’90s-era scene was completely different. The bands then shared a love for all things vintage but it wasn’t just about playing dress-up. They also exhibited an unhinged presence and a 100 percent irreverence toward rock stardom. The Trouble Makers took this credo to the nth degree.
Over the years their live shows have brought in fans captivated by the band’s unpredictable stage presence. Glasses have broken and amps blown. Bars have been used as de facto stages and, often, Foster likes to dive into the audience itself, midsong.
Mummies drummer Russell Quan remembers feeling awe when he watched the band who’d once been inspired by his.
“The Trouble Makers would physically tear roofs off buildings,” Quan says. “’60s fashion didn’t matter when they played but that was their platform for destruction.”
The Trouble Makers say they saw themselves as ambassadors for all these old, long-lost ’60s bands.
“We were very acutely aware of all the history. Now bands are more open-minded about stuff and they take their trash influences from wherever,” Foster says. “They may not give a shit if they’re using a vintage guitar. They may or may not give a shit if they’re going to cover a song by the Kegs, but for us that was really important.”
Around the time that Cornelius moved away, the group got a surprise call from German label Screaming Apple, which wanted to record a full-length. They titled it The Great Lost Trouble Makers Album and released it in 1998. They followed that with a European tour and, over the years, have returned many times, often playing to much bigger crowds than they do in the United States. On its most recent tour, the band headlined the Funtastic Dracula Carnival festival in Benidorm, Spain, to a sold-out crowd.
“We have our hardcore fans here, but it’s not the same as it is in Europe,” Foster says. “We’re just up here fucking around and having a great time and playing music we would be playing if no one was there. If you’re taking it seriously, you’re doing it wrong.”