Touch your dork

The Knockoffs celebrate a decade of making punk-rock music to embrace your inner dork by

Photo By Larry Dalton

“Ten years!” Big Tom exclaimed. “For any band to make it two or three years is commendable. It amazes me that we just keep rolling.”

The rest of the Knockoffs, who were squished knee-to-knee around a tiny plastic table on the True Love Coffeehouse patio, nodded in agreement. Singer and guitarist Medium-strength Tom (Hutchinson), guitarist Danny Reynoso, bassist Bobby Jordan and drummer Big Tom (Amberson) are celebrating their band’s 10-year anniversary this summer. To mark the occasion, the Knockoffs gamely agreed to discuss the past decade’s worth of punk-rock shenanigans. However, given the brain-addling summer heat, the band’s prankster reputation and the fact that this meeting was the first time the bandmates had seen each other in a week; it was clear to all present that the afternoon’s structure was doomed to melt faster than the ice in everyone’s drinks.

The interview started off predictably enough, with the band recalling its origins. Like most Sacramento bands, the Knockoffs would need a professional historian and several Venn diagrams to properly explain the comings and goings of various members throughout the past 10 years. Medium-strength Tom took a stab at unraveling the band’s history: “Let’s see. Tim White, who’s in Baby Grand, came up to me at a Groovie Ghoulies concert and said he was a fan of my old band, Captain 9’s and the Knickerbocker Trio, and wanted to start a band. We ended up with Dean [Seavers] from the Decibels on drums and Rodney [Cornelius] from the Trouble Makers on bass. We played one show that way. Then, Big Tom joined up, and we went as a three-piece, with me, Tim and Big Tom.”

Because this lengthy explanation only covers the band’s history through its first show, readers can imagine how complex the entire 10-year story is. In the interest of space, here are the highlights: Big Tom was kicked out of the band and later kicked back in. He brought Reynoso, with whom he played in another band called X-L, to fill in on bass until the Knockoffs found a permanent bassist. Once Jordan joined the band, Reynoso didn’t want to leave and switched over to second guitar.

“It’s this weird bastardization of the local music scene, which is the same for 90 percent of the bands in Sacramento,” Reynoso concluded. “You can do this really disgusting family tree. It’s six degrees of separation with any of the local bands.”

Through the tangle of branches on the music-scene tree, one fact remains visible. The Knockoffs’ current lineup, which has been solid for six of the band’s 10 years, has a chemistry and longevity that are unlikely to change. “Considering the amount of instability this band has seen, it’s very stable,” Big Tom said.

“I’ve had other bands and other projects,” Reynoso added, “but this band always feels like it’s here and it’s steady. It’s like coming home.”

There was a pause, filled with mutual admiration. Then, almost in unison, the band members began shouting: “Get personal!” “Go for the dirt!” “Expose the soft, white underbelly of this band!”

Rising to the dare, the reporter asked for comment on their seeming penchant for dating young chicks. On the Knockoffs’ Web site, Reynoso lists his hobby as “trying to convince teenage girls that 33 isn’t that old.” On the site’s “Which Knockoff are you?” quiz, a multiple-choice question about the best spot to meet dates includes the possible answers “high school” and “junior high school.” The Knockoffs’ cradle-robbing image is clearly something they tolerate, if not propagate.

Once the question was on the table, the band grew silent. Reynoso took a deep breath and led the charge. “I am fortunate to have a wonderful girlfriend who is also involved in music,” he began. Before he could finish the word “girlfriend,” the other three erupted into fits of laughter. “Oh God!” they gasped, fighting for air between guffaws.

“Could you print that word for word?” Reynoso finished quietly, before breaking into a grin himself.

Medium-strength Tom (Hutchinson), Danny Reynoso, Bobby Jordan and Big Tom (Amberson) flash their True Love Coffeehouse undies.

Photo By Larry Dalton

Jordan stepped in. “I date younger girls,” he admitted. “Well, I’ve only dated one younger girl, but it’s because there aren’t any single 32-year-old girls without”—he stopped and cleared his throat, as if he knew the rest of the sentence would bring trouble—“a ton of baggage. Not to say that I don’t have a ton of baggage.”

“The truth of the matter is it’s a fact of nature and gravity,” Big Tom added. His bandmates, who had only just sobered after Reynoso’s declaration of love, exploded into laughter all over again. “Let’s be clinical about this,” Big Tom continued. “Younger women are more supple.”

“They just look better!” Reynoso interrupted. “If there’s a hot 33-year-old, she’s hot because she looks like she’s 21. Mine’s going to turn 23 soon, and I think that’s just too”—he paused before rushing on—“she’s about to become the oldest girl I’ve ever dated, and I don’t know if I’m ready for that kind of responsibility. So, I’m planning on hanging out by the driving schools, looking for girls. There! That’s some dirt! That’s good reading!” he crowed.

Big Tom attempted some damage control. “We don’t all date youngsters, though. People may have the wrong impression because, for the most part, we’re all in committed relationships.”

Jordan agreed. “I have an amazing girlfriend. We’re not like the song. We’re not ‘Wham! Bam! Thank you, ma’am.’ None of us are.”

“Well, Medium-strength Tom is,” Reynoso volunteered. “He’s the single playa of the band. We just look the part. He lives the lifestyle.”

Medium-strength Tom maintained an inscrutable silence throughout this portion of the discussion but opened up again when his bandmates began yelling, “More dirt! More dirt!”

Having abandoned the professional interview in the quest for sordid details, the subject changed to the Knockoffs’ issues with addiction. It’s an open secret that the Knockoffs are professional wrestling junkies. They used to wrestle as part of their stage show, until an ill-placed body slam from Big Tom shattered Reynoso’s favorite guitar. “We were lucky none of us suffered some serious impalement,” Big Tom admitted. “I could have broken his neck instead of his guitar.”

Though they have curbed their wrestling performances, they still love to discuss the sport. Jordan and Medium-strength Tom first bonded over the subject at a bar in Woodland. “In the mid-’90s, there weren’t too many people walking around saying, ‘I’m a wrestling fan.’” Jordan recalled. “Then, I met these guys, and we were all wrestling fans. We embraced it, and then, all of the sudden, people were saying, ‘Me too!’”

“There are a lot of closet wrestling fans out there,” Reynoso added. “People think your stereotypical fan has a mesh half-shirt and a mullet and tight white jeans.”

“That was me in the ’80s!” Jordan admitted. “I had a glorious mullet.”

“Yeah, I had a sweet mullet,” Reynoso chimed in, as the subject veered away from wrestling. “Bowie had a mullet, so I had to have one, too.”

The Knockoffs are a band with a heart (and a severed head).

Photo By Larry Dalton

Again, Big Tom attempted some damage control. “I’m a wrestling fan by default. It’s in my contract, but I’m really into surfing and snowboarding, games where there’s only one player, and it’s an expression of style.”

“Big Tom is the jock of the band,” Reynoso summarized. “The rest of us, we’re the dorks of the band. We helped Big Tom get in touch with his inner dork.”

“I get in touch with my dork just about every night!” Jordan interjected, as the conversation again swerved off course.

“That would be a great pull quote or title for this article: ‘The Knockoffs help you get in touch with your dork!’” Reynoso added as the conversation took an unmarked side road to an uncertain destination.

“I have a pull quote just about every night!” Jordan yelled, as the conversation drove off a cliff into a bottomless quarry.

Big Tom gave up on damage control. “Check!” he yelled. “Taxi!”

The heat was nearing unbearable, but the Knockoffs rallied for one more round of questions. Each was asked to describe his favorite memory of their 10-year history. Reynoso immediately answered: “Getting to play with 7Seconds and U.S. Bombs at the Troubadour in Los Angeles—everything about it: the trip there, playing the show, hanging out with everyone backstage and being complete idiots after the show.”

Big Tom continued. “The most memorable time for me had nothing to do with music,” he said. “It was a time we were in Southern California, and I got these guys out to the beach. It was like when you bring a new kitten home. They were poking around like, ‘What’s all this?’ I was sharing with them, showing them little pieces of kelp and sea-life. I think I really impressed them that day, for once.”

Jordan thought for a moment before replying, “I was onstage, and I looked out, and someone I didn’t know was singing our song. I remember exactly when that was. Seeing people singing words to songs we’ve never recorded or singing along with us by the end of a brand new song—that’s what makes me happiest.”

The always-thoughtful Medium-strength Tom spoke last. “The out-of-town trips are the absolute top experiences. Aside from that, it’s the times when Big Tom has to go out of town for a month, and we don’t practice for a while. Then, when we finally get to practice, we start playing, and we get goose bumps!”

“Sometimes, we do a song, and we stop playing and look at each other and go, ‘Damn!’” Big Tom added.

“And by the way,” Reynoso interrupted, “we are the best fucking band in Sacramento. I would say Steel Breeze is a very distant second. Oh, no—Tony! Toni! Toné! is a very distant second.”

For the last time that day, Big Tom attempted damage control. “I would say we are aside the best bands in Sacramento,” he amended.

“No,” Reynoso insisted. “Touch your dork because we are the best band in Sacramento.”