Voodoo Glow Skulls
Voodoo Glow Skulls
Third-wave ska barely describes the unconventional musical genre of the unique Latino punk group the Voodoo Glow Skulls (VGS). Despite humble beginnings in a small bedroom practice area—even garage bands have better facilities—these Southern California musicians refused to be confined by four walls. With the addition of a brass section, VGS evolved into a septet during the 1990s. They opened a record store to sell their wares and in 2000 established their own independent label. Over the course of the 1990s the Glow Skulls settled into a routine of back-to-back touring and concert schedules, maintaining a dauntless pace that has kept them in the public eye and at the forefront of rock music into the twenty-first century. According to John Bush in All Music Guide, Voodoo Glow Skulls are “One of the most interesting ska-punk bands on the West Coast.” Among both punk and ska purists—neither of which take credit for the Glow Skulls’ unusual combination of guitars, drums, and horn instrumentation—the band’s unique sound is known also as ska-core.
So-called rock en espanol was not recognized as a distinct musical genre until the late 1990s, but bilingual Latino groups like the Voodoo Glow Skulls were defining the movement much earlier. The origin of this rock style in fact can be traced back to the tunes of early rockers Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens. For VGS, the music began in a closet-sized bedroom at the Casillas residence, the home of band members Eddie, Frank, and Jorge. With Eddie on guitar, lyricist Frank on vocals, and Jorge on bass, the three brothers were joined by drummer friend Jerry O’Neill. The four bilingual pochos (second-generation American Latinos) practiced exclusively for two years before taking their show public. By 1990 VGS felt prepared to give performances; they began slowly, with local gigs, and released a seven-inch vinyl recording almost immediately. One year later the sound identity of VGS gained more definition with the addition of Joey Hernandez on saxophone and Joe McNally on trumpet.
With a new sound in place, terms like garage band and rock band no longer fit as descriptors for VGS. Regardless, it was with relative ease that the group found favor among fans. VGS members established a retail outlet in Riverside, called Cheap Guy Records, to sell theirs and other’s recordings; the store opened its doors in 1992 and remained in operation for five years. Also in 1992 they signed with Dr. Strange Records, an independent label that produced and released a VGS debut album, a compact disc called Who Is? This Is? The recording features covers of “Here Comes the Sun,” and “Charlie Brown,” from the Beatles and the Coasters, respectively, and registered 200,000 units in worldwide sales by 2002, making it the most popular release ever from the Dr. Strange label.
When 1993 came along, it was a landmark year for the Glow Skulls; the group embarked on tour with the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, signed with Epitaph Records, and added trombonist Brodie Johnson to the musical mix. Thus the band by 1995 had evolved into a solid septet, and in a headline appearance at the Hollywood Palace, VGS played to a sold-out audience. Also in 1995 VGS released Firme on Epitaph Records. Originally an English-language recording, the release was produced by Garth Richardson of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame. Epitaph undertook a massive promotion for the Glow Skulls with the release of Firme, including the distribution of free limited-edition posters. The band appeared on the cover of a popular rock en espanol fanzine, La banda elastica, in April of 1996-, and Epitaph Records sponsored a contest with a dozen low-rider bikes as first prize. The initial shipments of Firme exceeded 100,000 copies, and a completely revised Spanish-language version of the album followed almost immediately.
In 1997, having made a substantial impression on tour in France and Germany, the band released an upbeat follow-up album on Epitaph called Baile de los locos. Among the album tracks is a cover of Jose Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad.” A fourth Glow Skulls album, Band Geek Mafia, appeared in 1998 and features a cover of “Stranded in the Jungle” by the Cadets. Band Geek Mafia, produced by rock bassist John Avila, was hailed as a new iteration of ska-punk called third-wave ska, according to the Glow Skulls. With Joey Hernandez on saxophone, Brodie Johnson on trombone, and a unique selection of new horn arrangements—some devised personally by Avila—the album and its unleashed
Members include Eddie Casillas, guitar; Frank Casillas, vocals; Jorge Casillas, bass; Joey Hernandez (joined group, 1991), saxophone; Brodie Johnson (joined group, 1993), trombone; Joe McNally (group member, 1991-99), trumpet; Jerry O’Neill, drums.
Began as a garage band in Riverside, CA, 1988; performed locally, released self-produced seven-inch vinyl album, 1990; added saxophone and trumpet, embarked on U.S. tour, 1991; released debut Who Is? This Is?, 1992; signed with Epitaph Records, 1993; established El Pocho Loco Records, released The Potty Training Years, 2000; signed with Victory Records, released Steady as She Goes, 2002.
Addresses: Record company —c/o Victory Records, Inc., 346 North Justine, Suite 504, Chicago, IL 60607. Management—-c/o Local Punks, P.O. Box 890355, Temecula, CA 92589. Website — Voodoo Glow Skulls Official Website: http://www.voodooglowskulls.com.
sound proved definitive in the VGS quest for identity. Donnell Cameron of Westbeach Recorders also contributed to Band Geek Mafia, which was produced essentially by Avila in his own home studio. It was to be the last album with McNally, who left the band for a day job in 1999.
Despite the loss of McNally and his trumpet, by 2000 the band’s career performance record had topped 2,000 shows in ten years. VGS spent most of the year in the recording studio, and produced a fourth and final album on the Epitaph label, The release, Symbolic, was the fifth album overall for VGS. In late summer the band embarked on another extensive North American tour. Fraser Middleton later reported on the Glow Skulls and the group’s breakneck touring pace in the Glasgow, Scotland Evening Times, calling the VGS style a “Musical frenzy,” with, “blood, sweat and tears… etched on dressing room walls across the globe.”
By the end of 2000 VGS had realigned under their own independent label, called El Pocho Loco Records, in the process enticing a number of Epitaph artists to join the new label as well. The only Glow Skulls recording to appear on El Pocho Loco was also released that year; it was a compilation called The Potty Training Years.
In the fast lane, VGS seems incapable of reversing acceleration. The group appeared in a series of performances in the Riverside area early in August of 2001, just prior to their departure for Europe where they toured the summer music festivals on the continent. Safely back in the United States by early 2002, the Glow Skulls signed with Victory Records—also an independent label—in Chicago and began recording almost immediately. The first VGS release on the Victory label—Steady as She Goes— was scheduled for release in the summer of 2002. A hectic summer tour was also organized that year, to celebrate the VGS Victory debut. The ambitious agenda opened with a concert on June 21 in Los Angeles, California, and was scheduled to take the band throughout California, from Los Angeles to San Diego, Bakersfield, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Sacramento, and Fresno within the first eight days, before moving eastward from Nevada, Utah, and Colorado, into New England and south along the Atlantic seaboard, into Florida and through Louisiana, with the band’s arrival in Houston, Texas, scheduled in time for a concert on July 26.
Who Is? This Is?, Dr. Strange, 1992.
Firme (English and Spanish-language versions), Epitaph, 1995.
Bails de los locos, Epitaph, 1997.
Band Geek Mafia, Epitaph, 1998.
Exitos al Cabron (compilation), Grita!, 1999.
Symbolic, Epitaph, 2000.
The Potty Training Years (compilation), El Pocho Loco, 2000.
Steady as She Goes, Victory, 2002.
Albuquerque Journal, November 16, 2001.
Evening Times (Glasgow, Scotland), May 7, 2001.
Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA), July 27, 2001.
Rolling Stone, March 23, 1995.
Epitaph Records, http://www.epitaph.com/bands/index.html?ld=86535 (April 3, 2002).
“Voodoo Glow Skulls,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 3, 2002).
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