Hi, I'm Johnny "Vatos" Hernandez -This is my story and I'm stickin' to it!
I always liked music and saw what a positive affect it had on everyone. When the “Ed Sullivan Show came on Sunday nights I would run to the television set and always gravitate toward the drummers! Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, stick twirling masters of swing! Then the “Beatles” showed up in middle school and Ringo made it look so easy. I was hooked!
I started playing drums in middle school. My first band was called the “Adventures” it was all “Ventures” music. Howie Johnson and Mel Taylor were my first instrumental influences. Through High School I played everything, Dance Band, and Jazz were my favorites. Friday morning Pep Bands, chamber orchestra, school plays, even girls modern dance! All my friends were into Hendrix, Lead Zeppelin, early East LA rock was everywhere in my neighborhood. I went the other way, Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, Count Basie, The Doors, Colin Baily, Art Blakey, Joe Morrelo, Miles Davis, John Densmore, and Frank Arsnald.
I started my early road career at seven-teen with the USO. By the time I was nineteen I could read music, play in big bands, (LACC Studio Jazz band, Si Zetner Big Band) and pit orchestras.
This was the only time I ever played Classical music. The Los Angeles Jr. Philharmonic, I believe Mountner was the conductor, and I subbed in some local community orchestras. I was playing this great Orange County Big Band; it was called “The OC Big Band and Wind Ensemble”. The band worked allot backing acts like Bob Hope, Billy Daniels, Gordon McCray, I always played with older guys. With this working group we premiered Alf Clausen’s (Simpsons Fame) 1st Rock Opera “When Jeremiah Sang the Blues”. Around this time I played a bit with “Spike Jones Jr”, you know guns and cow bells. This was really nuts! Yes, I got play “Cocktails for Two”.
In the seventies my bass player friend Dave Parloto hooked my up with the “Helen Reddy Band”. Dave Parlotto and I were playing Free Style Jazz, so boing, that was a wild jump! Helen was a pop singer in the seventies that got to do a lot of guest hosting for different TV shows. Along playing the Reno , Taho, Las Vegas , circuit we traveled to Japan , Australia , New Zealand , and Hong Kong . When she became a regular host of “The Midnight Special” it made me the House Drummer of the show.
I got to play with people with no back up bands, like Frankie Avalon, Petula Clark, Keith Carradine.
While playing with Helen Reddy I got to play the “Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson.
She would guest host and got to play with the Doc Severinson Band. I got play the opening theme while Ed Shaunessey looked on saying, “Yea kid, alright kid” it was a real highlight for me!
Working movies and local concerts I became friends with Steve Bartek, I think we met while I was subbing for Dave Crigger with the “Don Ellis Big Band”. He hired me to play on bizarre film called the “The Forbidden Zone”. It was Danny Elfmans first film.
They came out to this rock show I happened to be playing at the time. It was The Toni Basil show, with The Lockers, and some Devo Boys. They asked me to join “The Mystic Nights of the Oingo Boingo”. The early band was a full multi media extravaganza, complete with costume changes, Gamelan music, West African balaphone music and bizarre film interludes.
After two years of that we dropped all the props and became “Oingo Boingo”.
Oingo Boingo was always intense, Danny Elfman the prolific writer, Steve Bartek the prolific orchestrator, and I was kick ass taskmaster. I was Mr. “Come on let’s practice this crap or I’m leaving” guy. Hearing Danny sing at shows and playing all this music was a great experience, such a delight! This is about the time I hooked up with Sabian cymbals & DW Drums. Because of my wide experience to be quit frank I was easily bored with repetitive music. Working with Danny and Steve there was never a dull moment. Danny’s writing and Steve’s orchestrations were always an incredible delight! For seven-teen years it was play your ass off and take no prisoners!
While I was in Boingo I had a side project with some local friends called “Food For Feet”. It must have been around ’83 or ’84. It was a power house rock trio! Mike Tovar and John Avila. We were like three tornados in the room at once! We could play free form, (for hours) Pounding covers (Hispanic Depression, Tequila) and original music which we recorded on “Dr Dream Records”. We toured when Boingo wasn’t working and I played wild drums solos every night!! John A and Mike always burned the house down so you know I had to keep up! I have to say playing with John Avila was always effortless magic! When Boingo needed a bass player John A was my first choice. After auditioning everyone in LA at the time, they said "Mr. Vatos you were right!" (Drummers get no respect sometimes!) John A made my life easier to deal with when he joined Boingo.
“Food For Feet” disbanded in the early nineties, people still talk about it!
Towards the end of the Boingo run I started working Tito Larriva. Tito caught my eye when his previous band “The Plugz”, with Charlie Quintana on drums, opened for Boingo at the Whiskey. Now Tito is a Star!!!! I said to myself “Someday I want to work with him”. My wish came true when Tito asked John Avila and I to work on the “Culture Clash TV Show”. If you get a chance to see anything “Culture Clash” do it; they are the best. Unfortunately they walked away from the TV show to pursue a Movie deal? In Hollywood ?
Around this time Tito put together a side project, "The Psychotic Aztecs" it was around 1996. The band was a rocken Espanol powerhouse! I would have to say, all Biongo aside, that recording on “Gritta” records was the most powerful free form rock drumming I’ve ever done!!! After Boingo in 1995 I joined “Tito and Tarantula”. The band was in this movie “From Dusk till Dawn” where I got to work with my old bro from the beach hood, Quenton Tarentino. Recording with Tito was as masterful as any work with Danny and Steve. A completely different approach, Tito has the biggest ears!!!
The Tito albums were an amazing adventure and pure delight. Tito shared the writing chores with all us in the band. One day he told me, as he was filling out his ASCAP form for writing credits,” I bet you Danny never gave you writing credits!” Touring Europe was the best! People really loved Tito as much as I did! Even Robert Rodriquez toured from time to time with Tito in Europe , that was cool.
After 911, I stopped touring, concentrated on TV work and local concerts. I’ve always gravitated towards working with composers, Jason Johnson (TV Commercials) Steve Bartek (Movies / Relative) Bear McCreary (Battlestar Galatica) I like playing so many styles it fun. “The Closet Surfers” (Surf) The Esquires (30’s & 40’s swing)
The Tremolocos (Tex-Mex) CID (blues, funk, & rock) “Relative” high-energy outside Steve Bartek crazy man music! Doug and the Mystics, New Orleans type blues, Cajun, rock, funk machine. I’m currently working for the “Drum Channel”. I play with the Battlestar Galatica” concert group. The BSG plans to travel through 2010. It’s an exciting group with Tiko drummers, strings, singers, etc… I’m producing some Boingo-type shows, without Danny Elfman. Oh yea, and I just cannot stop “Bopping”!