La historia de Los Pingüinos...
West Coast collides with East when you hear Los Pingüinos…
The story starts about 40 years ago when Diego Fedora from Chula Vista, California met Seminole, Texas native Eddie El Minion––while in obligatory service to the State of California as they tell the story. Bassist Raul Julio Franco is the most recent addition––more on Raul and the strange story of Los Pingüinos fat string players later.
Obvious are the direct links to The Ventures, Dick Dale, The Chantays and other So-Cal surfers from the 60s. But in the late 1970s Diego and Eddie made their way to the East Coast and particularly a popular Rhode Island summer destination, Misquamicut Beach.
It was there that Diego plunged heavily into the blues and R&B he heard in the infamous beach clubs like The Wreck and The Neptune and an iconic venue in nearby Westerly, The Knickerbocker. Eddie picked up the blues grooves and developed a heavy foundation from the classic rockers of the time.
Diego talks about what it was like to be a band between waves…
"We were caught in the worst spot as far as any music success goes. We fell in love with surf music back home in Chula Vista in the 70s––and it was dying. This is when The Ventures started doing TV and movie soundtrack tributes. Instrumentals were just not happening. It was before 'retro' surf was cool and way before the alt-music scene made a space for the surf 'waves' we hear now."
So––they kept honing their sound and combining bits and pieces of whatever they were finding along the way. What they never lost was a strong Latin Rock & Roll foundation.
"That comes mostly from Ritchie Valens" says Diego. "Of course lots of the 50s stuff I loved had that cool Latin groove and then it kept going with Herb Alpert and guys like that––eventually Santana, right?” You still hear the Latin influence in tracks like Cancun Sunset, Chupacabra Mascota and Havana Fairlane, inspired by a ride in a 1950s Ford on a trip to Cuba.
But instrumental music just wasn't making the charts on a regular basis. What is was doing––and continues to do––is get people dancing. Eddie El Minion explains…
"What we are––what we've always been really is a dance band. And the cool thing about surf is there aren't too many rules. If we think people will dance to it and we can surf it, we'll give it a shot. If it works cool––if not, there are plenty of great songs out there!"
"Clubs are the best" adds the newest member of Los Pingüinos, bassist Raul Julio Franco. "We've done big shows, but I'd much rather be playing for a tight room with people dancing than walking around on a big stage with the front row 40 feet away."
Bass players are to Los Pingüinos as drummer are to Spinal Tap. The original bassist, Orlando “Lando” Grande had a history of disappearing for indeterminate spells and usually under less than ordinary circumstances. He re-emerged after a nearly 30 year absence just long enough to tour with the band in 2016. You’ll also hear his unique style on the remake of their early composition, Spy Rumble.
The boys found Raul near Baseball City in Florida. A former minor leaguer, Raul was bartending and doing odd jobs around a club when Los Pingüinos came in for a few nights. He put down the bat for good and has been with the band ever since.
“What’s so cool today is that the internet has opened everything up. You don’t need to be a pop star to build a following,” adds Diego. Los Pingüinos has completely avoided the major label chase by building their own Chula Vista Studio East and releasing their new wave of songs on their own label. “We don’t answer to anyone but the people who enjoy surf music and Los Pingüinos.”
Had to ask: Favorite bands today?
The boys had quite a list. “It’s amazing. They’re calling it the 5th Wave now and it’s unbelievable––and all over the world.”
Diego starts the list. “Of course you’ve got to credit Los Straitjackets––amazing. Eddie Angel is one of my all-time favorites. Los Kahunas, The Eliminators, The Dead Rocks, The Bambi Molesters, Sufer Joe, The Space Rangers, The Quiets, Aqualads, Aquavelets, Blue Stingrays––you probably didn’t realize there were so many…”
Eddie jumps in: “Los Ultrasonoros, Lost Acapulco, Sr. Bikini, The Messer Chups––and you’ve got to recognize the guys who kept it going like Jon and Nightriders how Dick Dale kept it all moving and growing and damn––there’s just so many––too many––we’d leave too many people out…”
“And don’t forget Unsteady Freddie! That’s not a band! Freddie is a promoter and a radio host and a YouTube monster who has kept this whole thing going––for years! We owe him a lot!”
Raul adds his two cents: “And remember the originals. The Chantays, The Ventures, The Surfaris, Eddie and the Showmen. All the early stuff you guys turned me on to. Link Wray, The Shadows.”
“And here in the Northeast” Diego jumps back in. “The Fathoms. Frankie Blandino is the best surf guitar player East of Dick Dale. Add in Zombie Beach, Thee Ice Picks––and lots of the Surf Punkers––all keeping it moving.”
Legend has it that it all started with a little known group from South Bay, Los Angeles and an unexpected hit titled Mr. Moto. Dick Dale turned up the volume. The Ventures and The Surfaris took it mainstream.
And now Los Pingüinos and their cohorts are riding the 5th Wave. It should be interesting to hear what comes next.
And now… The rest of the story!
The Los Pingüinos legend begins in Chula Vista, California, where Diego Fedora was born and raised.
The son of an immigrant mother of Mexican and Polish heritage- father unknown, Diego supported himself by busking with a Japanese Telecaster and a Pignose amp and by waxing surfboards around Coronado.
Diego was placed in service of the state of California in 1978 after selling psychedelic mushrooms to the daughter of the Chancellor of San Diego State University- who was later found dancing naked on a pier to Dick Dale’s Miserlou booming from a portable JVC cassette deck.
While fulfilling his obligation to the State of California, Diego met drummer Eddie El Minion, whose service began when he was found by an El Cajon deputy sleeping in a misappropriated Ryder rental truck filled with Sony Trinitron television sets which had been reported missing from the local Sears store.
Eddie was not able to produce receipts for said merchandise.
A young Eddie El Minion with his uncle’s conjunto norteño group, Los Cocineros de la Barbacoa. Upon meeting, Diego and Eddie soon realized a mutual interest in instrumental music ranging from Dick Dale, The Ventures and The Chantays to the Shadows, Link Wray, Duane Eddy and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.
Chuckawalla Valley State encouraged their pursuit of their musical talent in an effort to provide a healthy distraction to other, less productive activities. Together, they formed the institutions first and only official instrumental surf band. With funds donated by the infamous producer Phil Spector they built a small recording studio at Chuckawalla State and started cutting their first demos- including their now infamous cover of Sol Lake’s composition for the Tijuana Brass, “The Lonely Bull.”
Upon their matriculation from Chuckawalla Valley in 1982, Diego and Eddie recruited Orlando "Lando" Grande. Lando disappeared shortly after Los Pinguinos cut their first demo tracks for Santa Bonito Records featuring the early versions of “Neurotica” and “Pussy Galore,” which inspired the name of the infamous DC pornographic punk band.
Circumstances surrounding Lando's death are mysterious, but he was last reportedly seen driving toward Tijuana in a fluorescent orange VW van with three large Latina women who were featured dancers in the Los Pingüinos floor show.
Rumors persist to this day that the dancers Lando left with that night were wanted for the abductions of several San Diego area musicians, whom they drugged, seduced and later murdered as part of secret Santeria rituals in and around Tijuana. It was also widely rumored that these alleged witches placed a curse on Los Pingüinos that would bring untold suffering to anyone who attempted to play bass in the band.
In tribute to their dear friend Lando (and in mortal fear of the alleged curse), Diego and Eddie vowed never to replace him. From the day of Grande's funeral forward, bass lines for Los Pingüinos would be provided by a series of anonymous instrumentalists known in public only as "Bajo Grande."
Diego and Eddie would have one more encounter with authorities whose world view differed from their own.
This incident would again involve the daughter of a prominent local citizen. In 1996, at a nightclub in Rosarito, Mexico, the role of Bajo Grande was filled by a local bass player whose appetite for surf music, Tejana and other musicians was legendary. Known to Diego and Eddie only as “Ranura Roca,” they decided to challenge the curse and bring Roca back to the States as the Los Pingüinos full time bassist.
Roca was a large individual, weighing approximately 360 pounds and wore a well-groomed, deep black beard. It was the beard that proved to be the issue.
Diego and Eddie insisted on a clean shaven look for Los Pingüinos. They told Roca the beard must go. She became furious upon the prospect of shaving her beard thus revealing her true identity (and gender) and ran in tears to the arms of her father- the local captain of the Federale guard insisting that he avenge her public humiliation.
Diego and Eddie fled to Neuvo Casas Grandes where they hid for two weeks surviving on cactus, lizards and a small cache of 7-Eleven frozen burritos before crossing the border and escaping to El Paso.
Amazingly, Eddie, Diego and Lando would be reunited in 2016. While on tour in New England, the boys found Lando living in Maine. They were recording tracks for their reunion album, By Way of Rosarito, when Lando again mysteriously disappeared. He has not been heard from again.
Raul Julio Franco joined the band in Clearwater, Florida in 2018.
Since that time, they have been touring the North America- usually appearing unannounced to avoid detection and extradition back to Mexico. To this day, Los Pingüinos will seldom advertise an appearance in advance to avoid apprehension. This is why seldom perform more than one show per night and why they always leave the venue secretly- hoping never again to test the will of any local constabulary.
Los Pingüinos has since performed for millions of people across the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
The Chula Vista home of Leokadia Fedora where she and her son Diego lived for most of his childhood.
A young Eddie El Minion with his uncle’s conjunto norteño group, Los Cocineros de la Barbacoa.
Rare 1991 photo of Diego taken by Eddie as they cross the border somewhere in the West Texas dessert.
With the legendary Lando Grande on the To Hell with Winter Tour in 2017.
Promo shot outside their hotel while on tour introducing new bassist Raul Julio Franco to Rosarito, Mexico in early 2018.