by Pete Crigler
In the late eighties, hardcore punk was dying on the vine. Many of the great bands had decided that they'd rather play metal or reggae and so the scene was beginning to wither and crack. But the whole genre was given a shot in the arm by the unlikeliest of bands from the unlikeliest of places. But unfortunately when fame had disappeared, the band would have a worse story than anything ever heard on Behind the Music.
The band was Old Skull and came out of Wisconsin, formed by the Toulon brothers, Jamie and J.P. and their friend Jesse Collins-Davies. The Toulon brothers were nine and ten years old respectively and Jesse was ten. The brother's father, Vern Toulon, was friends with Robin Davies, a member of respected Wisconsin band Tar Babies and Davies suggested his stepson form a band with the Toulon brothers. Once the deal was sealed, Old Skull came together about 1987. Quickly developing a reputation for their age and the subject matter of the songs, they managed to snag a deal with Restless Records and entered the studio with future Garbage member and producer Steve Marker and their fathers, the trio cranked out a noisy album of pre-adolescent hardcore entitled Get Outta School in 1989.
The songs were a blend of speed and pure, youthful punk energy and the band were seen as either a complete joke or the real thing. They got write ups in Rolling Stone, Newsweek and People magazine and were seen on tour with The Flaming Lips and GWAR. But problems started as people began speculating that Vern Toulon had actually written all the songs and was pulling the strings behind the scenes. These questions were never given credible answers and so the mystery still surrounds.
After a lineup change which saw Collins-Davies leave the band and a new drummer being brought in, the original version of Old Skull fell apart by late 1990 and the kids went back to school and the name went quiet. That is until 1992 when a new Old Skull album entitled C.I.A. Drug Fest was released. This album was produced by Vern Toulon and saw the inclusion of another set of brothers, Chris and Josh Scott on guitars and vocals. J.P. and Jamie had switched places with J.P. playing drums and Jamie singing. The resulting record is extremely difficult to listen to as a punk record. It seems like a lot of noise masquerading as songs. But it is worth to own just as a novelty.
After a little touring in support of the record, the band disbanded for real and the members all began growing up and moved on with their lives. The Scott brothers dropped off the face of the earth entirely while the Toulon family as a whole went underground. During the band's initial early days, the Toulon's parents had divorced but the brothers kept going. Then sometime in the '90's, their mother was reported killed in a train accident but not much else was known beyond that. By that point, the world had forgotten Old Skull and the Toulon's began a very rough patch in life.
In 2001, it was reported that Vern Toulon had passed away after years of alcoholism, an affliction that had gotten so bad that he was reportedly panhandling on the streets of Madison. The brothers didn't say anything regarding his passing and nothing further was heard of the Toulon's until a couple of years later when both of them reemerged in New York, squatting on the streets with what were called 'crust punks.' This group of punks were living on the streets of NYC and started making music dealing with their plights. Jamie in particular became a founding member of Star Fucking Hipsters, a side project of one of the more renowned of these bands, Leftover Crack. J.P. formed Planned Collapse and began playing small clubs around New York.
In 2005, the brothers reemerged on stage at CBGB as Old Skull playing a show with some friends backing them up. It would be one of the last times the brothers would be seen playing music. About this time, J.P. began dealing with a pretty nasty drug problem, one that would land him in jail and rehab over the years. But by 2010, it looked like J.P. had beaten the habit and had moved in with his son in an effort to keep himself clean. But then on November 13, 2010, it was reported that J.P. Toulon had passed away. No formal cause of death was ever announced but it had been reported that he'd been hospitalized with pancreatitis in the preceding months. In an even sadder twist of fate to all of this was that J.P. died the same day as Jamie's birthday.
The small community of devoted Old Skull fans were devastated and word went out all over the Internet in memory. Jamie Toulon, on the other hand, was struggling with depression and continued living on the streets, just barely getting by. In the summer of 2011, he somehow wound up in Lynchburg, Virginia, which is where this author went to college. Having graduated three years before and moved back home, I never had a chance to run into Jamie but I would like to believe it would've been interesting and might have made for a great interview. How he wound up in the same city where I found myself as a writer and as a person is something I'll always wonder about. Unfortunately, I never got to find this out.
In June of 2011, Jamie committed suicide in Lynchburg, tragically bringing an end to Old Skull and the sad history of the Toulon family. It was incredibly heartbreaking for friends and fans of the band to hear the news. What made it even worse was that his suicide came seven months after J.P.'s death. With Jamie's death, fans made tributes and posted messages but in the mainstream, his death was not reported at all, as opposed to J.P.'s death.
While the Toulon brothers met very young and extremely tragic endings, the other founding member of the band has led a very successful life; Jesse Collins-Davies is now a DJ in Wisconsin and has a very successful career going for himself. It has been over twenty years since the first Old Skull record and during that time, there has never been one definitive interview chronicling the band's career. Now with Collins-Davies the only surviving member of this teenage punk band, he might come out and do an interview and people will be more than ready to hear what he has to say.
Over the years, people have made sure that the band's legacy and their music is never forgotten and hopefully the Toulon family, wherever they might be are looking at us and going 'thanks, we appreciate it.' So if you own Old Skull records, CD's or even tapes if you're that old school, dig 'em out and pass them around so that people will be able to hear what premature punk music should sound like.
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