Joe "King" Carrasco

by Ed Ward

Born Joe Teusch in Dumas, Texas, Joe "King" Carrasco renamed himself in honor of Fred Gomez Carrasco, a Mexican dope dealer who was killed in a hail of bullets during an escape attempt at the Huntsville prison. A guitarist with a flair for putting together excellent bands, Carrasco first surfaced with El Molino in San Antonio, 1976, playing a mixture of west-side soul and Farfisa organ-driven Tex-Mex pop that quickly found a place in the burgeoning punk/New Wave scene. The following year, the band entered S.A.'s legendary Zaz Studios and cut an eponymous LP. Musicians included such legends as Eracleo "Rocky" Morales and Louie Bustos (tenor sax), Speedy Sparks (bass), Ernie Durawa and Richard Elizondo (drums), Charlie MacBurney (trumpet, horn arrangements), Ike Ritter (lead guitar), and Arturo Gonzalez and Augie Meyers (keyboards). Unfortunately, El Molino had way too many wild cards in it to survive, and soon Carrasco found himself in Austin putting together another band.

The first of many editions of Joe "King" Carrasco & the Crowns featured Kris Cummings on Farfisa organ, Brad Kizer on bass, and Miguel "Mike" Navarro on drums. A tape of their early material, recorded in the basement of the KOKE-FM studios, got to ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons and he arranged for the band to cut a single, "Party Weekend" b/w "Houston El Mover," released in a sleeve showing a caped, crowned Carrasco executing a leap in front of the Alamo. In an inspired publicity move, the single was sent out in a Baggie with a tortilla that had the band's name emblazoned on it, mailed to press and clubs across the U.S. and UK. Before long, the trick hit paydirt: The band was playing chic New York venues and generating lines around the block. Then Stiff Records came calling from London, and the band was signed to one of Britain's hippest labels and appearing on the 1981 Son of Stiff tour with Any Trouble, Tenpole Tudor, Dirty Looks, and reggae band the Equators, whose rhythms were to influence Carrasco's later work.

Back in America, the album was picked up by Joe Boyd's Hannibal label and released with a slightly different track listing. The band toured incessantly, with audiences going wild over Carrasco's revival of such tricks as running into the audience while playing his guitar and going outside into the street while a long-suffering roadie made sure the long cord was still intact. This was not the cerebral side of New Wave! In 1982, Navarro was replaced by Dick Ross, who made his debut on the band's next album, Synapse Gap, released on MCA. Although the album contains few of Carrasco's classics (he turned down Liam Sternberg's "Walk Like an Egyptian"), it's notable for the fact that while the band was recording it, Michael Jackson, who was using another studio in the same complex, walked into the sessions, liked what he heard, and asked if he could sing backup, the only time this is known to have happened.

A 1983 album for MCA, Party Weekend, resurrected some classics like the title tune and "Buena," but the album was hardly promoted, and the band was let out of its contract. The next album, 1985's Bordertown, was only released in Europe, where the band remained popular, as they did on live engagements here in the States. The LP also saw the debut of new bassist George Reiff and departure of keyboardist Cummings. Carrasco wisely decided that a change of sound was indicated and replaced Cummings with accordionist Marcilo Gauna and added Bobby Balderama as a lead guitarist. Subsequent years have seen players come and go and a few independent albums, but Carrasco's act remains a popular live attraction, and he continues to maintain a busy international touring schedule.

Ed Ward