Monday, May 16, 2011

“King" of the Tex-Mex: Joe Carrasco Crows

Text by John Jorge, introduction and photos by Robert Barry Francos
© 1982, FFanzeen; introduction / photos © RBF, 2011
Videos from the Internet

The following interview with Joe “King” Carrasco was originally published in FFanzeen magazine, issue #9, in 1982. It was conducted by John Jorge.

Calling Joe “King” Carrasco a dynamic performer is an understatement on the level of saying the Alamo didn’t go well for the Americans, or George W. Bush isn’t too bright. The man is a human form of double-caffeinated espresso

I had the extreme pleasure to see him (and the Crowns) play at the short-lived Sheepshead Bay club, the Brooklyn Zoo (where I took the photos attached to this piece). They rocked the place.

Time passed and after a few great albums, Carrasco and the Crowns went their separate ways. Carrasco moved on from Tex-Mex and jumped into reggae with full heart. But, and this is part of why this is being republished now, he has reformed with the original Crowns, and is heading back on the road to tour. Whether it will be Tex-Mex or reggae is anyone’s guess, but I’m going to assume it’s going to be a bit of each. Whichever way, it’s all good. – RBF, 2011

Joe “King” Carrasco and the Crowns. The name alone makes one think of perhaps some obscure “doo-wop” group of the late ‘50s. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Joe “King” Carrasco, along with the Sir Douglas Quintet, are the main exponents of Tex-Mex music. This style is hard to adequately describe, but listening to farfisa punctuated songs such as “96 Tears, “Wooly Bully,” or “Double Shot of My Baby’s Love,” one will know what Tex-Mex is all about. Call it Tex-Mex, nuevo wavo, or DOR, whatever you want, it’s difficult to keep still at a Carrasco concert.

“King” Carrasco may resemble the Police’s Sting, but he acts more like Steve Martin: a wild man unbounded. The tall, blond-haired Texan has made a name for himself in the past two years, since he formed the Crowns. Appearing on stage dressed in what has been termed “cheesy garb” and sporting a cape and an Imperial Margarine crown, this Texan oddball will do anything to win the adulation of the audience. He leaps and splits on stage, and armed with a sixty-foot guitar cord, jumps off stage still playing his guitar through the aisles, or on top of tables or the bar. He has brought his infectious dance-oriented music to such rock venues in New York as the Malibu, Mudd Club, Privates, as well as the Lone Star Café and Saturday Night Live. The Crowns include Dick Ross on drums; Brad Kizer on bass; and the comely Kris Cummings on keyboards.

Joe “King” Carrasco is as high-strung as a squirrel on Dexedrine. To conduct this interview (at the girls’ locker-room at Stoney Brook University), Carrasco had to be tied down and given a 20cc intramuscular injection of liquid valium. It did not have any effect on him.

FFanzeen: What is the question most asked of you?
Joe “King” Carrasco: “Why do you call yourself ‘The King’?” Well, I don’t know! [Laughs] I never knew why I called myself the King. Why does Prince Charles call himself “Prince” Charles? I don’t know.

FF: Who were you crowned by? Or was it a self-coronation?
Joe: One night in a dream, an angel came into my dream and crowned me. There’s this strange mystique in Texas. This is the real honest truth. I had a band called El Molino [The Grinder – RBF, 2011]. We were going to put out an album and we wanted to play New York, but some of the people in the band couldn’t make it up. So I couldn’t say it was El Molino and honestly say it was El Molino. I was called Joe Carrasco. And I said, Joe Carrasco is cool, but it doesn’t have anything to it. Sir Douglas Quintet are really big heroes of mine. And Augie (Myers), who plays organ for Doug (Sahm), is called “Lord August.” And there’s all these royal names down in Texas. Bands in Texas are really into royal names, so I thought, “King” Carrasco – it works! So I went for it.

FF: Name some influences to your music and style.
Joe: In the seventh grade, we played Sam the Sham stuff and Chicano music a lot. Sonny and the Sunliners, Steve Jordan, and Little Joe and the Familiar, and people like that. Those people really inspired me a lot. I used to always want to just end up playing in the lounges, and that’s what I really wanted to do. And all of a sudden, it wasn’t that I was tired of playing Mexican lounges, but we started playing this place called Raul’s in Austin, a punk club ran by Chicanos, and ended up playing more and more stuff that people loved. And all of a sudden we ended up in New York with Stiff Records, and now we’re here (at Stoney Brook). Weird! It’s weird. I didn’t start out to do any of this.

FF: What other places in Texas have you played?
Joe: Skip Willies, in San Antonio. That’s a big city down there, but no clubs. Skip Willies – it’s the only one. It’s kind of slow in San Antonio, but it’s trying. I played Kelly Air Force Base one time, at the Officer’s Club there. We got run out on the first set. And we didn’t get paid for it, either. The government still owes us $180. They told me, learn some commercial stuff. So I learned a couple of K.C. and the Sunshine Band songs. I didn’t play them – but I learned them.

FF: What kind of image would you say that you project?
Joe: I guess that a lot of people think I’m crazy or something. But I think what we’re trying to do is – not that I’m bored with the world, but I think that people should have a good time and start dancing. I’m used to going to a lot of parties and seeing people having fun. That’s kind of what I expect to see when I play: a lot of people having fun and dancing, and everything. Staying up late.

FF: What exactly is Tex-Mex music?
Joe: To me, Tex-Mex is Chicano music, like Steve Jordan or Little Joe. That’s Chicano music, but to me, it’s hardcore Tex-Mex. Roots. But to me, pop Tex-Mex, which I’m into, is more like “96 Tears” and “Wooly Bully,” or stuff like that. It’s not like I’m trying to carry on a fucking ‘60s tradition, because I don’t really care. [The] ‘Sixties is great and cool, but I’m talking about something that has to do with Tex-Mex. This is just a way of style and life and music. And that’s where it’s at. If you ask a Chicano what ‘60s is, they’ll go, “What?” They don’t know what ‘60s is. They don’t even know what year it is, right? They’re into having fun.

FF: I’ve noticed that more traditional music that is played in Mexico is more rigid or stiff than what you do.
Joe: The thing about Chicano music is that they’ve heard a lot of British music, right, and they tend to throw a lot more English influences into their polkas. Chicanos – Mexicans – came to Texas and heard the German polkas and adopted the German polkas into their thing. It’s really interesting how it all started. What I’m concerned with, mainly in Chicano music, is the melodies and a little bit of the rhythms. But mostly the melodies are just really good to add. You just put a Mexican melody to a rock’n’roll beat and you just have a great song. And that’s what they’ve done on “Wooly Bully,” “Mendocino,” and our songs.

FF: How do Latin audiences respond to you and your music?
Joe: They like us. They like us a whole lot. I’m gabasco – a white cat. That means really a lot, you know. I’m sure a lot of Chicano fiends of mine would rather like to hear me sing in Spanish. But I don’t speak very good Spanish. I speak a lot of Spanish down in Mexico, but writing and singing pure Spanish is hard for me. My songwriter partner is Spanish, so he puts a lot of Spanish in the lyrics. But they seem to like us. When we play for a solid Texan-Chicano audience, we play polkas, which we don’t do up here [in the North].

FF: Speaking about your songs, what are they about? Where do you get them from?
Joe: The songs I do are based on things that have happened to me, or stuff I’ve heard about from people. (The title of my song) “Caca de Vaca” means cow shit, you know. The song’s about a place called Palenque. That’s where all the mushrooms are. And the mushrooms come out of the cow shit. Caca de vaca’s the real thing down there. Guys go out at six in the morning, before the sun comes out, and pick them. And they sell them or give them away. Everybody’s eating mushrooms.

FF: Coming from Dumas, Texas (about 60 miles north of Amarillo), it would seem natural for you to go into C&W, or even rockabilly music.
Joe: Well, to me, rockabilly is good. And there’s a lot of rockabilly down there in Texas. Country and Western people do not understand these rockabilly people here in New York. There have always been rockabillies in Texas. They look at these guys and don’t know what to make of it. They take one look and it freaks them out. I think rockabilly’s great. To me, though, the end of it was in Chicano music, because they listen to James Brown and they’re into soul music more so than anything else. They just do a lot of soul music. And if you’re ever at a Chicano dance and you know you don’t like AM radio, but you want to know the cool songs, go to a Chicano dance. You’ll hear the cool songs. They got an ear for the soul stuff, the good ones. It’s weird. I never figured it out. “Groovin’” was a cool Chicano song, 'cause they’re into groovin’.

FF: What was your first gig like?
Joe: Our first gig? Oh, wow! We did our first gig on the Texas border. And a fight broke out. It was a place called Joe’s Barbeque and Dance. And God!, it was like, 14 people were there and a fight broke out. And we only made about $15, and we drove six hours to make that $15. It was really wild! And we were late, too. An hour and a half late for the gig – totally Mexican.

FF: How do they receive Joe “King” Carrasco and the Crowns in Europe?
Joe: We’re big in Europe. Our single’s, like, number 24. We’re big in places like France, Belgium, Spain and Portugal. I’ve had people record my songs in Europe. I like playing in Europe. It’s a blast! Last year at this time, we were playing in Portugal in the Stiff tour, and we all want to go back. We just got off a tour with the English Beat. I think they’re great. And we’ve got about a month’s tour with the Go-Go’s.

FF: Do you have anything to add?
Joe: Viva! Viva Carrasco!

Bonus Video:

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