Somewhere between outer space and the Sacramento Valley, the Twinkeyz found its sound.
The time was the mid-1970s. Punk rock just was beginning to gain traction in United States. But even as early adopters of this outsider music, the Twinkeyz were something of an anomaly.
The universe of the Twinkeyz referenced aliens, monsters and metaphysics – all with loopy guitar melodies and sci-fi-inspired studio effects. The sound was much different than the straightforward “hey ho, let’s go” approach of the Ramones and other early punk bands.
Still, the ethos of the Twinkeyz followed a tried-and-true template for independent music, where bands formed simply for fun instead of careerist ambition, and youthful kicks trumped technical prowess on instruments.
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The group’s run was fairly short, from 1976 to about 1980. But now it’s Twinkeyz time again. With the help of Sacramento’s Ss Records, the band’s only full-length album, 1979’s “Alpha Jerk,” has been re-released with much improved fidelity from the original version.
Noisey, the music channel for Vice, recently referred to “Alpha Jerk” as a “classic space punk album,” and the “Alpha Jerk” re-issue further cements the Twinkeyz as a pioneering Sacramento band.
Don Marquez, who went by the name “Donnie Jupiter” when he was singing with the Twinkeyz, is mostly watching his band’s second act from afar. He lives in Folsom and has spent the bulk of his post-Twinkeyz years as a comic artist and painter. There are no plans for a Twinkeyz reunion, he said, but he’s happy to know that his band’s music has persisted over the decades.
“I’m always a little shocked when someone remembers our music,” Marquez said. “If anyone can notice my stuff in the avalanche of music out there, I am hugely gratified and and validated that someone thinks it’s worthwhile.”
Finding that validation was tricky even in the band’s heyday. Sacramento circa the mid-1970s was an especially tough place for bands not looking to go the REO Speedwagon radio-friendly route. Apart from Slick Willy’s, a now-defunct club on Cottage Way, the UC Davis Coffee House and house parties, gigs were few for bands playing punk and other left-of-center sounds.
Marquez said the Twinkeyz didn’t see themselves much as a live act, anyway. His own musicianship was fairly limited, and the band was formed as more of an outlet for his record collector friends, including drummer Keith McKee and and guitarist Tom Darling.
“I wasn’t too worried about success,” Marquez said. “I was surprised when people even noticed our music. I just wanted to do it.”
The Twinkeyz found a kindred musical spirit in Sacramento producer David Houston, a high school friend of Marquez, who recorded the band at his Moon Studios. The group’s influences, which touched on elements of glam-rock and Velvet Underground minimalism, was augmented through Houston’s production touch, especially through the use of quirky effects.
The band released 45-inch singles for “Aliens in Our Midst” and “ESP/Cartoonland.” It depended on music fanzines and word-of-mouth to spread word about the records. UC Davis’ KDVS radio was also a supporter of the band.
“They were awesome, and one of the few times I heard Twinkeyz music on the radio,” Marquez said about KDVS.
The band ultimately recorded a full-length album, 1979’s “Alpha Jerk,” for the Dutch label Plurex. But a shoestring budget and some possible damage when the master tapes were shipped overseas led to an especially shoddy recording. The album was released anyway, and the Twinkeyz cut a following single, but they were done by 1980. Marquez opted to focus on his visual arts pursuits in subsequent years.
“I love music but really it mostly just cost me time and money,” Marquez said. “After a while you have to face reality. I consider myself to be a pretty good artist and creative person, but I felt limited musically. It was hard to do things I really wanted to do.”
Scott Soriano of Sacramento’s Ss Records wanted to give “Alpha Jerk” its proper due. His label had released a two-album retrospective of Ozzie, a contemporary of the Twinkeyz in Sacramento during the mid-1970s, and knew the importance the Twinkeyz held in Sacramento’s independent music history. Driving around Yuba City in February, with the Twinkeyz’s spaced-out tunes playing on the stereo, Soriano decided that he wanted to re-release “Alpha Jerk.”
“First and foremost, I am a fan,” Soriano said. “Like a lot of Sacramento stuff from the past, it’s more well recognized outside Sacramento than it is in Sacramento. Things like the Twinkeyz and Ozzie and bands from that era tend to be forgotten.”
The original tapes from “Alpha Jerk” were re-mixed in 1994 by Karl Ikola of Anopheles Records, a San Francisco-based label that focuses on archival music. Tracks from “Alpha Jerk” and other Twinkeyz tunes were released on a 1998 retrospective by Anopheles called “Aliens in Our Midst (Complete Recordings 1977-80).”
Soriano ultimately secured those re-mixed “Alpha Jerk” tracks to re-release the album on its own, a vinyl-only release of 500 copies that includes the original cover art. The songs also received a new mastering job from John Golden, a Southern California engineer who has worked with such seminal independent labels as Sub Pop and SST.
Marquez said the renewed attention on the Twinkeyz has tempted him to pick up the guitar again, but his visual arts pursuits still take precedence. But even if the Twinkeyz never plug in again, he’s glad to see the band get its proper due.
“I’m just incredibly flattered and a little baffled,” Marquez said. “I’m thrilled that (‘Alpha Jerk’) is still around and if anybody is interested I hope they check it out.”