These bands are your life
How the Knockoffs, Trouble Makers and Four Eyes survived fist fights, bad shows and 25 years on the Sacramento scene
Bands come and go.
But, sometimes, they endure, evolving from friendship and gigs into something more akin to a family, rich in history. The Knockoffs, the Trouble Makers and the Four Eyes have all hit that milestone, surviving crappy bars, weird gigs and the inevitable lineup changes.
This weekend, the three legendary local bands celebrate 25 years of music and friendship with an anniversary show at Old Ironsides. In a freewheeling interview that reads like a who’s-who of Sacramento rock, Joel Goulet (the Four Eyes; representing for absent bandmates Dave Ninja and Jay Baker) joined Tom Hutchison, Dan Reynoso and Bobby Jordan (the Knockoffs, minus drummer Bear Williams) Tim Foster, Stan Tindall, Rodney Cornelius and Brian Machado (the Trouble Makers) to reflect on a quarter century of “budget rock,” fist fights and life on the Sacramento music scene.
How did the Knockoffs come about?
Tom Hutchison: I was in a band called Captain 9’s & the Knickerbocker Trio in Pennsylvania, and after I moved out here, [local musician] Tim White somehow became a fan and came up to me … and said, “I want to start a band with you,” and I said, “Yeah, sure, whatever.” I don’t know how Rodney became involved, but he was our first bass player at our first show.
Tim Foster: Tim White was the lead guitar player for the Trouble Makers for a nanosecond … I’m sure that was the connection.
How did the Trouble Makers start?
Foster: Stan and I had been trying to start a band, but neither of us could sing … I worked with Rodney at Tower [Records on the K Street Mall] …
Rodney Cornelius: I was the receiving clerk and they always played Top 40 and smooth jazz. One day I heard some garage rock and said, “What the hell was that?” and it was Tim; he came in maybe two or three days to do all the graphic posters and … I said, “Dude, did you put that on?” and he said, “Yeah, I love that stuff … I’d love to be in a band.” I told him, I’ll show you how to play “Louie, Louie.” … and then I showed Stan the low E string on the bass.
Foster: Back then I had the bass, I had the bass amp. I was ready to roll and Stan was going to be the lead singer, but at our first practice Stan was so uncomfortable singing, he couldn’t sing at practice … I sold Stan my bass amp.
Stan Tindall: I borrowed a bass from someone who had one for a Halloween party—for a costume—and I never gave it back. It had three strings and the neck would bend so it’d easily go out of tune while you were playing it.
Foster: Tim White was psyched on this, so he was going to jump in as lead guitar player … and then after three practices it became really clear that we had no idea what we were doing and he was like, “I’m out.” We didn’t have a drummer for a long time and [Decibels singer-songwriter] Dean Seavers, the first Knockoffs drummer, said, “I’ll sit in until you find somebody.”
Foster: Stan and I had gone to high school with Brian [Machado], who was a semi-pro drummer with gigs. Then he hit the ripe old age of 23 and, you know, your rock ‘n’ roll career is over if you haven’t signed by the time you’re 23, so he sold his drums and became an insurance salesman … I called him out of the blue because I knew he was a Who fanatic.
Bobby Jordan: I was going to ask, because seeing Machado’s old stuff—how you knew he could transition from the slick rock, U2-ish …?
Foster: There was a touring band called The Key. They were a mod band, and their drummer quit mid-tour and they were playing Sacramento, and somebody called Brian knowing he was a Keith Moon fan and … [asked] him to sub. He practiced with them for an hour and played a show with them that night. Stan and I ran into him the next day and he was like, “I had the best experience of my life playing rock ‘n’ roll and I only practiced for an hour, but I got to be Keith Moon.” That always stuck with me.
Where did the Four Eyes come into all of this?
Joel Goulet: We were from Santa Cruz; we’d been in a band in high school and … I was home from college and the singer took a walk [during practice] and never came back … So we decided to practice on our own. The idea was to do a power-pop trio. The whole Estrus Records thing was happening and we thought, “Maybe we could do that"—and we couldn’t, but we tried.
How did you end up in Sacramento?
Goulet: Los Huevos, the Yah Mos and the Bananas played in Santa Cruz, and somehow we managed to book a show for the Bananas and the Four Eyes and rode their coattails as long as we could. I don’t remember if it was Dave or Jay who moved here first, but they both ended up moving here; it took me another four years to follow suit.
Back to the Knockoffs— do you remember your first show?
Hutchison: It was the Garage Sale-A-Go-Go.
Foster: That was maybe three months after [the Trouble Makers] played our first show at Ironsides. Stan and I were always yard sale-obsessed, buying and selling crap.
Tindall: We still are.
Foster: We had invited Anton Barbeau to play a yard sale a couple of years before that, so I thought, “What if I invite every band I know?” and made it a music festival. I went down to the city to get a street closure permit to close the alley next to our house. Eleven bands said yes. The only band that said no was Far and Jonah [Matranga] was enthusiastically in favor of playing but their bass player said, “I’m not playing a yard sale,” and I was like, “What, you’re too big to play a yard sale now?” And he was like, “No, I would have never played a yard sale.”
What do you remember about that show?
Tindall: We were completely out of tune by the end.
Foster: It was great because it was a weird mix. We had friends from San Francisco drive up who still talk to me about that show 25 years later. These guys that we didn’t know at the time … the three guys who started the Tiki Men rolled up on vintage bikes and cool sunglasses; it was like a gang.
Tindall: Gang of nerds.
Foster: They bought some musical equipment from Tim White at a yard sale, and then when he played bass in the Trainspotters and I remember that, it was like the moment of all those guys first talking, and they started the Tiki Men right there at the Garage Sale-A-Go-Go. Big Tom [Amberson] came to that show because I worked with his wife at Tower and she … told me he was looking for something to do and two days later at work she told me, “Oh my god, my husband won’t shut up about that party and now all he talks about is wanting to play drums in a punk band, and he hasn’t played in a punk band since he was 15—what band would want that?” And I said, “I know just the band [the Knockoffs].”
Hutchison: I remember the Knockoffs did quite a few covers, we didn’t have any songs yet. I remember Rodney not being familiar with the songs so he just watched my hands. If you look at pictures, Rodney’s looking at my hands playing bass. I remember it sounding not so great, but it was a blast.
How many variations have the Knockoffs gone through over the years?
Hutchison: There was [Skirts drummer] Wendy Powell and Bear Williams, who’s our drummer now, did a stint.
Jordan: [Danny and I] joined in ‘96 or ‘97. I cut my hair and then Dean Seavers asked me to be in the [Decibels]. I was like, “That’s what it takes?” And then Tom and Dan and Big Tom said, “You should join.”
Reynoso: My three favorite local bands were the Knockoffs, Lizards and Groovie Ghoulies. After Wendy and Tim White were in the band, I was brought in on bass and I said, “I’ll play bass until you find someone permanent.” Then, when they found someone, I didn’t want to leave the band so I moved over to second guitar.
Hutchison: Big Tom and Tim White got into a fistfight on the way across the [Yolo] Causeway after a show. Big Tom was driving and they just started wailing on each other. The next day, Tim said, “I can’t be in a band with that guy,” so I said, “OK, why don’t we get Wendy?” After about a year of that, Wendy wanted to start the Skirts and then Tim [left]. So I called Dan and told him I thought the Knockoffs were over and he said, “Why don’t we get Big Tom back and I’ll play bass?”
What was the first Four Eyes show in Sacramento?
Goulet: I want to say 1995 at the Loft with the Yah Mos because Tristan [Tozer] borrowed my guitar and broke it. That was an opening of a whole new world to us. The scene was so inviting and so expressive.
Is there one show that stands out in 25 years?
Foster: We played a festival in Atlanta, [and before that] I drove all the equipment out and the other guys flew out and I picked them up in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and I had picked up a horrible stomach flu. I was literally sleeping on a piece of cardboard on the ground next to the car … Football is really big [in Tuscaloosa] and we were playing on the first night of the home team’s first game. There were 11 people [at the show], maybe. And we couldn’t have played better. We couldn’t make a mistake. By the time we were done, I felt 100 percent, like I’d never been sick in my life.
Brian Machado: Then we played the big, sold-out festival and shit the bed … We left it all in Tuscaloosa.
Cornelius: The few times we’ve played in rock clubs with these sound guys and these sound systems and all these fucking monitors are probably our crappiest shows, because we can actually hear what’s going on, which unnerves me.
Foster: There was a thing in the early ‘90s called “budget rock” … The idea that you didn’t want to sound pro and you wanted to use crap equipment and put out vinyl … and I was aware of that and Tim [White] was acutely aware of that because he loves Supercharger and they were a huge inspiration for him wanting to do the early iteration of the Knockoffs.
Hutchison: [The Knockoffs were] supposed to be an extension of Captain 9’s … [but] I played guitar in Captain 9’s, and I didn’t want it to just be a clone, so I said I’d play bass. After Dan and Bobby came in and started playing, I figured, “Oh, we can actually sound fairly good. We don’t have to sound like crap.”
Jordan: There was backlash over it. Most people that were fans of the Knockoffs, liked them for the songs [but also] for that reason, I’m speculating. Dan and I joined, Tom got a Marshall and it was no longer that. We’re playing those songs—energy and chaos still—but there was a division. We weren’t welcome as that, which surprised me because—it wasn’t from other bands.
The backlash was from fans?
Jordan: Yeah, and what I think Tim was talking about, the aesthetic of the gear and the sensibility of the ‘60s garage, simple sound—and not that we were not simple. We were simple, it was just loud and big. That’s what Tom and Big Tom wanted to do. And then once I came in and … we were figuring out these three-part harmonies, and it just took on this different life. There was this was this division and this [sentiment] of, “Oh, well, Tim [White’s] not in the band.” But we just took it and ran with it, and we played with all the bands.
Foster: The Knockoffs as they sound today is exactly what you wanted them to sound like back in 1993, from talking to you back then …
Hutchison: Yeah, I just couldn’t do it.
Reynoso: I knew about [the backlash], but I didn’t care. I liked the Ramones and I liked the Trouble Makers and garage bands and things that were lo-fi … I liked big, loud guitar. It’s just the way the band—I hate to say the word “evolved” because I think that speaks down to that lo-fi sound. The songs changed. You can’t expect a band to sound the same when a band has had as many lineups as the Knockoffs has.
With that idea of budget rock— how has the Four Eyes sound changed, if at all?
Goulet: I think we’ve become a bit more polished; I know I’ve become more aware of the concept of tone in achieving certain sounds rather than just going with whatever comes out. Our songwriting has also definitely changed. It’s more complicated, more complex [although] sometimes we still just throw things into the fire to see what burns.
Foster: Every year they do the Christmas show, which lasts three sets and it’s all covers and it’s completely insane.
When did that tradition start?
Goulet: 1999—the year I moved here. [S.S. Records founder] Scott Soriano said, “I have an idea: It’s a Four Eyes Christmas party. You’ll play for three hours, all covers.” He meant Christmas covers but if we knew that, we didn’t want to do that. We just did whatever we wanted; we did a couple of Christmas songs, which were terrible. All the rest of the songs were probably terrible, too. But it went over well and we did it again the next year, which was even worse. I think the third year, we hit rock bottom and realized maybe we needed to work on this a little harder, and then we started writing things down and had notes.
Hutchison: The bass player for Captain 9’s came out here to play, and we played with the Four Eyes and I’ve never seen anyone blown away as much as he was by the Four Eyes. He still talks about it. He’s an art professor at a university in Pennsylvania, and he had all of his students listen to Four Eyes CDs, and they each picked a song and did a piece based on a song and … we showed them for a month at Phono Select [Records].
Goulet: It was a tremendous honor.
Jordan: I was out on tour with another band I’m in and we played with Teenage Bottlerocket and they told us, “We’re doing a Four Eyes song on our next cover record.” The Four Eyes have a reach, and I’ll talk to someone, time and time again, who I don’t think has a clue about what we’re doing here, and I’ll hear about the Four Eyes or the Trouble Makers.
Reynoso: Or, you’ll be on tour back east and find out someone’s a huge Bananas fan. The bands from Sacramento are pretty legendary out there. They may not have achieved commercial success, but they have reach.
How has the scene changed in the last 25 years?
Jordan: Most people our age stopped doing it.
Foster: Most young people go see other types of music. Really sloppy, trashy rock ‘n’ roll is not a thing with kids these days. There are less places to play and a smaller and older crowd.
Do you still feel like there’s a place for you in Sacramento?
Foster: For us, the place used to be playing in some crappy coffee shop or bar, and now it’s festivals. Older people with disposable income … no one from the crappy little bar calls anymore. That’s a really weird shift.
Reynoso: I’ll go to Cafe Colonial for a punk show and a band’s playing something that’s kind of in between the Knockoffs and the Trouble Makers, and it’s packed and I don’t recognize a single person in there because they’re all younger. And it’s just going to keep going, and going and going. The problem is when people think they’re in a band and they’ll automatically become famous and rich, and then when doesn’t happen those bands don’t last 25 years. … As weird as it sounds, it’s going to be about the experience of sleeping across the street on a piece of cardboard. Those are the stories that you remember. The shows are important, but I think when people start realizing it’s more about the experiences—those bands tend to stick around for 25 years.