I often overlook the major influence that Joe McCormack had on me. He lived just up the hill from my house in Hermosa Valley, outside of Durango, Colorado. His garage was a crammed up miracle of cardboard box mathematical architecture. His father was a fire fighter, a big, tall guy with long hair, and a deep voice. His family had like five identical Shitzus that would run all over the house, looking cute as fuck. I never really figured out how many there were, they all looked the same to me, and they were all over the place.
Joe was a year above me; he and I started hanging out my junior year of high school, after we played an impromptu bluegrass show for the school. Joe played stand up bass in the high school orchestra, and he and I had been tasked with opening up for a touring bluegrass band that was stopping by the school. Joe and I put a few musicians together, and I compiled a set list that included some Johnny Cash and some bluegrass-infused Bob Marley covers. I also wrote an original bluegrass song about drug sniffing dogs coming to the high school (it was actually a current event at the time), and how you'd better leave your drugs at home -- "Or better yet, don't do them at all," my mother wisely suggested. I ended up using her lyric, playing it safe. Joe was a great musician; he was easy to play with, and he was funny -- we laughed our asses off when we hung out. Our sense of humor was very like minded.
Joe liked to party in high school. I had heard that he once went to school and drank a whole bottle of watermelon vodka. At the time, watermelon vodka sounded delicious to me. I have changed since then. But we'd smoke cigars together and play some ska songs that I wrote (ska and reggae songs -- I still hadn't found my own style back then), and some bluegrass jams, Joe playing on his huge standup bass in his tiny attic room on the top story of his house.
"Have you ever seen Reservoir Dogs?" Joe asked me one afternoon. I said I hadn't. Joe immediately put his VHS copy into his VCR, and we watched one of the coolest movies ever made. I was blown away by the style, the dialogue, the ferociousness and violence of the film. It was so fucking bad ass, it made you feel cool just watching it. Reservoir Dogs is my favorite Tarantino film. I like it even more than I like Pulp Fiction -- there are scene that I can do without in Pulp, but Reservoir Dogs is all killer, no filler. It's 90 minutes of pure cool that blows you away, and leaves you stunned. To this day, it's one of my top ten favorite movies. Thanks, Joe.
Joe and I played ska together, a Reel Big Fish type ska, with upbeat and funny sarcastic youth-aimed lyrics. We played with my drummer Stephen, whom I had played with for years at that point, in a band called the Kriminals (spelled with a K -- how original). I wrote the song "Trazodone" while I was jamming with those guys. Joe introduced me to the Specials, the original ska band. One of my favorite ska albums instantly became the Specials self titled. As soon as the guitar and harmonica came in on "A Message to You, Rudy", I was hooked on that classic vinyl kind of old school ska. The Specials were huge to me -- such a cool band. I began to write songs with that kind of feel, so now I was listening to the Specials and Reel Big Fish for my ska fix.
But then Joe turned me onto another ska band, this one was a hard-core punk-ska band. He told me when we were jamming in his room: "You know, there's other types of ska besides Real Big Fish and the Specials. Have you ever heard of the Voodoo Glow Skulls?" I said no, and he placed a cd in his stereo and pressed play. Then I was slapped in the face with the tight metal distortion guitar, the horns and hardcore vocal delivery, and the tight, lightning-fast punk drums that was the Voodoos. It blew my mind. "This album is called the Band Geek Mafia," Joe told me. He let me borrow the album, just like he had let me borrow the Specials, and I really got into it.
Today, I've seen the Voodoo Glow Skulls live maybe six times. I love their shows. I'm actually seeing them in June at the Ritz downtown. Every time I've seen them it's a great show. But to me, their most memorable concert was the first time I saw them.
It was maybe three or four years after Joe had first showed me the band, and I was down in Tucson, Arizona, with my semi-girlfriend Kelly, during a month long roadtrip. I saw on a poster that the Voodoo Glow Skulls were playing in town. When? That very night. It was perfect. I was so stoked to see them; Kelly and I picked up tickets at some CVS or someplace for $15 bucks each -- I bought everything on that road trip -- and we picked up some beer from a pizza place. The young cute girls behind the counter never ID'd me, which was good, because I was twenty. I love cute pizza girls. I have a real connection with them. That night Kelly drove us to this little sports bar where the show was. I slammed five of the beers in the car, heavy IPAs, and took a hit of acid before the show. What happened after that was an amazing experience of acid infused drunk mosh pitting electrical stimulation of metal ska punk.
Looking around this dark little unassuming sports bar in Tucson, I couldn't believe that one of my favorite ska bands was playing there: my excitement was at its peak. The 21+ bar area had been sectioned off inside with a chain link fence. Kind of bizarre, but the stage area was all ages, so I didn't care. Besides, I had pre-gamed nicely. Three local bands played as openers as the acid slowly took hold of me. By the time the main act came on, I was frying hard. We had scored some good dose for our roadtrip. The Voodoos came out from behind the curtain, the lead singer donning a Lucho Libre mask, like the Mexican wrestlers wear. The distortion from the guitarist's Mesa Boogie amp melted the skin off my face; it was a wall of fierce, aggressive sound. The band played every song from the Band Geek Mafia, my favorite album of theirs; it was an epic fucking show. I was immediately caught up in a torrent of bodies, skanking and moshing and jumping around, out of my mind the whole night. I thought of Joe on and off the entire show, thanking him for turning me on to this amazing shit. After the show, I shook the drummer's hand -- goddamn, could that guy play. And then, once Kelly and I made it to the car, I promptly threw up everywhere. It was as if I had been saving it the whole show.
Later that night, Kelly and I got down in our tent, out in the Arizona desert, duct tape covering the tent opening (to keep the scorpions out). Having sex while you're tripping on LSD is a strange experience; I've done it only a handful of times. Your mind is all over the place, and it's hard to stay focused. My ears were still ringing hard from the punk rock show, my body was thrashed from the mosh pit. I was tired, but I felt electric; a live wire of sound and sensations. I was still frying as Kelly and I came simultaneously, out in the desert beneath the full moon. Beautiful stuff. It was an amazing night, all around. Moments like that stay with you forever.
Here, listen to some Specials and some Voodoos.
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