Even though he’s been around the punk rock block and back, Danny Knieriemen seems more interested in current nihilism than coy nostalgia.
Since the late ‘80s, he’s kept the beat as the drummer for more than one crucial local band, ran a DIY label/distribution business that keeps him connected to the global punk scene and as a commando-style promoter, has booked shows for local and touring punk acts.
A beaches native, Knieriemen’s roots run deep into loud music.
“My dad’s a biker and he started taking me to Coliseum shows when I was eight. I saw Ted Nugent and the Scorpions and all of that crazy sh** back in the day,” says Knieriemen, from his home in Atlantic Beach. “But my tastes quickly went from AC/DC to new wave; bands like Devo and Adam and the Ants.”
When still in middle school, he’d hang around The Blighted Area, a punk rock bar that hosted shows with the earliest U.S. punk and hardcore bands, such as the Minutemen and Black Flag, located on First Street in downtown Jacksonville Beach.
“I was 12 or 13 and would sneak in and get kicked out,” he says of the underground music haunt of yore. “So that’s the first time I saw punk rock. I remember there was a mural painted on the wall behind the cash register of a punk rock band. The drummer had a mohawk and I remember looking at it thinking, ‘That looks like a pretty good deal.’”
After getting his own drum kit at 16, Knieriemen went all in, playing in his first HC band: The Scars of Youth (or simply, The Scars). Remarkably, at that time there was a handful of clubs throughout the city that would routinely host punk concerts. Venues that booked shows were few and far between; Manapaders in Arlington, Riverside’s Post & King Lounge, and the Cedar Hills Armory were all brave, or insane enough, to host punk shows.
But the most crucial spot to see bands was the 730 Club.
Located on Dellwood Avenue in Riverside, the club was the brainchild of Ray McKelvey, AKA the leader of Stevie Stiletto and the Switchblades and arguably the man who detonated the local punk scene. It was he, along with Switchblades’ bassist Mike Butler, who opened, owned, and operated the club DIY style.
Unity aside, make no mistake, Jacksonville punk bands were never forming ad hoc committees. They stripped away any politics of the HC scene and went hard to the core. One element that soured much of the action was the menacing presence of Nazi skinheads, former redneck bullies who misconstrued the music’s aggression for a green light to wallop on hapless hardcore kids in the pit. Whether it was local bands or touring acts like Toxic Reasons and Pussy Galore, at the 730 Club the skinheads came in punching.
“Back then, the skinheads were really bad,” says Knieriemen. “When they showed up, they consistently ruined every show. In fact, one night those a**holes beat the living sh** out of Ray and Mike and in the process ended the 730 Club.”
The club’s closure left a gaping wound for the musicians and fans to both gather and play. Knieriemen recalls one guerilla-style gig by the War Orphans that he witnessed at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Jax Beach.
“The band played in the cafeteria and there was about 50 of us in there, just hanging out, drinking beer. I went outside to smoke and looked across the street and there were all of the nuns and priests, in the shadows standing side by side in a line under the trees, just scowling.”
With even fewer venues to perform in, many shows were held at house parties or VFW Halls. While the shows were “all ages,” there was usually a keg or two tucked away somewhere, and sweaty kids slam dancing on mud-and-beer slick floors to the machine-gun rattle of hardcore.
After playing in the Scars, Knieriemen co-founded a band that was crucial to ‘80s area HC-punk rock: The Creeps. Fronted by vocalist Joey Coma, with guitarist Tim McIntyre and bassist Pat Lally thrashing ballistic riffs over Knieriemen’s cut-time beat, The Creeps quickly developed a local following. In 1989, they released one cassette-only album, featuring tunes like “Beer Breath,” “When I Was on Acid,” and “Ride My Log.” Recorded at Jimmy DeVito’s in St. Augustine, the band’s eponymous album is an early example of Jax HC, and surely warrants reissue.
A split-second dispute ended The Creeps.
“The Creeps actually broke up on stage when Pat and I got in a fist fight at the Post & King,” he says, with a laugh. “Bill Stevenson (drummer of Black Flag and that night’s headliners, ALL) broke up the fight.”
In 1990, Knieriemen briefly moved to California. Invigorated by the West Coast scene, he returned to the beaches.In 1991, The Creeps played a reunion gig and Knieriemen and Lally ended their beef.
“Pat was the first bass player I ever played with; we just have a connection,” he says, of the low-end anchor of the Scars, The Creeps, and then; Ringworm.
Featuring Knieriemen, Lally, guitarist Mike Williams, and vocalist Tony Prat, Ringworm had a sound that had shifted from pure hardcore to a heavier, ‘90s grunge energy.
Ringworm wasted no time recording and gigging, including a brutal five-week U.S. tour.
In ’92, Knieriemen started Rat Town Records. “The reason I started it as that we thought that if we [Ringworm] came up with our own label, it would almost look professional when we were sending this sh** out.”
Knieriemen has released 14 records; mostly vinyl; an LP by South Florida punkers LOAD is up next. Unsurprisingly,the LP is being pressed at Atlantic Beach’s Vinyl Record Press, owned by Jonathan Berlin (of SUNBEARS!) and Walter Hill.
Since Rat Town’s inception, Knieriemen has sold releases by bands from around the globe, and, until he tired of the hectic hours, for two years had a brick-and-mortar record store in Atlantic Beach.
“The store was a success but between that, my mail order, my construction business, and raising three kids, I was working 70 hours a week and never had a day off.”
For 20 years, Knieriemen has hosted shows at The Harbor Tavern on Mayport Road. “That was my dad’s watering hole. And when the IRS shut the place down, he was so bummed that in the fall of 1997 he bought the place.” Within months, Knieriemen booked a show for one of his favorite bands, and one of the most crucial groups of the ‘80s U.S. punk scene: Fang.
“The first song I ever tried to learn on the drums was a Fang song: ‘I’ve Got the Disease.’ So to play on a bill with those guys was an incredibly big deal for me.”
Dozens of bands have now played The Harbor Tavern; a recent show in May was a benefit featuring seven local bands, with all proceeds going to Powerball vocalist Mitch Gerganous, who is currently battling cancer.
Knieriemen cites ANTISEEN, Riverboat Gamblers, and Buzzoven as a few of his favorite personal shows that he’s booked at the bar. “Probably the best band I ever had there was Endorphins Lost from Seattle. They played on Father’s Day of 2016 and there were maybe 15 people there and they were one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Knieriemen is currently playing with decades-long cohorts Prat and Lally, and guitarist Tom Ogburn, as Walk With Wolves. “I call it Atlantic Beach hardcore; but that word gets abused these days. What kids now call hardcore is basically metal.”
A split 7” Walk With Wolves and ANTISEEN is in the works; if it’s any indication of Walk With Wolves current output, it’s sure to pack a punch.
“I always wanted the music to get harder,” Knieriemen. Now in his late 40s, his lifelong quest for sonic intensity continues. “When I was a kid and first got into KISS, I got into it because it was bloody, loud, and they were yelling. So I was always looking for something f***** up and intense. And I’m still going deeper. I’m still clawing at it.”