How Voodoo Glow Skulls Became the Godfathers of Skacore

Voodoo Glow Skulls
Voodoo Glow Skulls
Michelle Alvarez

"Who Do Voodoo, We Do!"

That‘s the chant you hear from the crowd every night just before Voodoo Glow Skulls take the stage. Voodoo is one of the premier and long-running bands to come out of Southern California. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know the guys, and I can honestly say I have really enjoyed getting to know them and it continues to be quite the experience and adventure.

Like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Voodoo Glow Skulls are known as the Godfather’s of Skacore. Best known for ska classics “Charlie Brown,” “Insubordination” and “Shoot the Moon,” ska-punk fans from coast-to-coast and around the world dig their sound. Their music is almost larger than life, and their fans go absolutely Looney Tunes NUTS for them when they take the stage.

As a band, they’ve been hitting the pavement since ‘88. The band was formed by a trio of brothers (Frank, Eddie and Jorge Casillas) and their longtime friend Jerry O'Neill (original drummer). Like most bands, they started off playing backyard parties and every gig you can think of. Not long after they were starting to make a name for themselves at Spanky's Café in their hometown of Riverside, California…. they started to play shows with the likes of the Angry Samoans, The Bosstones, Firehose, Murphy's Law and The Dickies.

Voodoo’s story is similar to those of other successful bands. The guys were all born in Los Angeles. They later moved to Santa Ana for a few years until their parents moved the family to the Inland Empire, where they still call Riverside their home. The thing about successful bands is that they have the support of family and friends. For the Casillas brothers, their parents were their biggest fans. Here’s where their support system really influenced them; their parents paid for guitar and music lessons until they were in their late teens. That’s about the time some bands lose support, or start to drift in other areas, but not the Casillas brothers. They doubled down on the work they needed to do to make it happen.

VGS with Jimmy Alvarez (front center)
VGS with Jimmy Alvarez (front center)
Michelle Alvarez

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Where did they get that name? It’s always interesting when you get the background on any band name. The origin story for Voodoo is funny, and anyone who grew up in SoCal can understand it. Their name comes from the skull necklaces you used to be able to buy at the Pirates of the Caribbean gift shop back in the day. The necklaces were called "voodoo glow skulls." Eddie said they thought the name might sound interesting to people and compel them to guess what style of music the band was into. As for their musical style, Frank introduced the guys to the British 2 Tone Ska movement in the early 80’s. Frank brought home records from bands like Madness, The Specials, Bad Manners and the Selecter. Jorge, Eddie and Jerry were heavy into Fishbone and Tim Armstrong’s band, Operation Ivy.

Those influences led them to tinker with a harder more robust sound. Other bands that influenced them were The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. The longevity and accomplishments these bands put forth set a standard for the guys. These bands established themselves in their psyche, and as a result, created a work ethic and dynamic that should be a benchmark for anyone who wants to make it in music. The seed was planted and Skacore was in development. Many in the music scene can argue that Voodoo and the Bosstones were just way ahead of their time from a genre perspective. Add innovators to the list of accomplishments.

So what exactly is Skacore? It is a sub-sub-genre of the early 50’s first wave of Ska from Jamaica, a precursor to reggae. In the 80’s. Ska evolved to have a more updated sound which was big in England. These were to 2 Tone years which gave rise to bands like The Specials and The English Beat. The '90s saw another evolution which included a more punk sound. This gave rise to bands like Rancid, Reel Big Fish and Save Ferris. Newcomers from L.A., the Interrupters, also bring a sound that highlights a variety of Ska elements. Skacore is a combination of all of these sub-genres of Ska, with a more dynamic and harsher guitar sound, which includes heavy brass elements.

With all these components in place, Voodoo’s first recording was in ’89. It was a four-song demo on a four-track machine. All bands that start as kids will love this… they duplicated about sixty cassettes on a home stereo, then sold them at shows. In 1990, Voodoo released their first 7" EP entitled The Old of Tomorrow. They also booked their own DIY U.S. Tour later that year. As part of their evolution, in ’91 they added horns to their live shows and recordings. That was mostly due to the Fishbone influence.

Their second independent release came out in ‘92 with the Rasta Mis Huevos for Signal Sound Systems Records. With increasing success, in ’93 Voodoo recorded their debut album Who Is, This Is? for Dr. Strange Record. That release got the attention of Brett Gurewitz, owner of Epitaph Records… the rest is history.

The current Voodoo lineup consists of Eddie (guitar), Frank (lead vocals, keyboards, sax), Jorge (bass), A.J. Condosta (drums), Mark Bush (trumpet) and Dan Albert (trombone). Talking music with these guys is always a good time. It's amazing how some bands can know everything about what’s happening in their genre, and are very well informed on what's going on everywhere else in the world of music. That’s the thing about Voodoo, they just love good music. You get that sense of enjoyment when you attend their shows.

When hanging out with Voodoo, it’s like kickin’ it with a friend. The guys smile, laugh, live and breathe music 24/7. It’s no wonder why their fans love them. They are down to earth, and what I like most about them is that they don’t get caught up in their own celebrity. That’s the thing about bands that start off with local success, once they blow up, sometimes their heads do too. That’s not Voodoo; they are true to themselves and they grew up to be the men their parents raised.

What I most like about chatting with the entire band is hearing their stories about life on the road. Like, when they were on a tour bus on a European mountain road in the middle of winter, wondering if they were going to make it to the other side in one piece! They also make me laugh when they tell me about where they go to eat when they hit certain parts of the world. Eddie said they like going to Japan. He said, “it's so much different than anywhere else and the shows are always pretty incredible. Also, the food is pretty legit.”

How Voodoo Glow Skulls Became the Godfathers of Skacore
Michelle Alvaraz

They have a dynamic horn section and drummer, combined, they are just great entertainers. Jorge and Eddie can shred with the best of them, and Frank is an entertainer! Besides being a really good and entertaining band, what’s notable to us media types that cover the local music scene is that the entire band goes out of their way to support other bands. They are big supporters of local Latino Skacore bands and often headline the local SkaWars Los Angeles festival. Bands like Voodoo have opened doors for many Latino Skacore bands. Bands like La Resistancia and Matamoska have made a name for themselves in this world of Ska as a result of bands like Voodoo paving the way for this type of music. The fact that these bands are really good has everything to do with their collective success.

Needless to say, Voodoo has set the bar for successes and longevity in the ska-punk scene. You can catch them regularly bringing in fans so they can share the spotlight with newer acts. I don’t say this too often, but they really are the good guys of music. Like most families, they play together, and they play their music even harder. Voodoo is a class act that the Southern California Ska communities are very proud of.
Bottom line, going to a Voodoo show is not like any party you’ve ever experienced. It’s a heart-pounding sound you won’t forget. Seeing these guys is not just another show, it’s an event. Voodoo is working on new music, and they expect the new album to be out sometime next year. They don’t have a title for the album just yet, but they recently signed a deal with Stomp Records in Canada.

Voodoo tours, and they tour a lot. You can catch them anywhere from left to right coast, and just about everywhere around the world; and they play at the most notable venues on the planet. They’ve come a long way from the days at Spanky's Café! They are also headlining an international festival, Ska Wars Monterey (Mexico City) in October. In March 2017, they are playing the Salty Dog Cruise with Flogging Molly and fellow Rude Boys Less Than Jake, The English Beat and The Skatalites. Locally, you can catch them this Friday, July 29th at the Underground in Santa Ana, and on Saturday, July 30th at Bar 1650 in Corona.

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