Joe "King" Carrasco
Liberty Lunch, Late Seventies

by Bill Bentley

Without a doubt, one of the great lost Austin bands was Joe "King" Carrasco's first combo, El Molino. Made up of a ragtag mariage of local and San Antonio musicians, El Molino all looked like they'd just gotten out of jail (a few of them had), and could play in almost any state of consciousness, ranging from near-coma to plugged-into-the-cosmos. In the late-Seventies, Carrasco wheeled this zany bunch into Liberty Lunch for a gig that still makes me giggle and cringe, often at the same time. Granted, the group had played a few other shows, but they tended to be at lean-tos on East First Street, where you needed either a map or blind luck to find them. Carrasco really hadn't penetrated the Austin rock radar in any real way, so playing this night at Liberty Lunch was like El Molino's coming out and going away party all rolled into one.

When its leader called an El Molino show, it was a roll of the loaded dice on who would show up; the band's only album, Tex-Mex Rock-N-Roll on Lisa Records (a label named after Carrasco's girlfriend at the time), was still sitting in huge piles at the singer's West 221\1 Street pad, and no one really knew who was actually in El Molino. But that night at Liberty Lunch, the stars were out in strength on the bandstand: sax player Rocky Morales and trumpeter Charlie McBurney had somehow made it up from San Antonio, along with their sidekick Richard "Eh Eh" Elizondo aka 'The Penguin." Ernie "Murphy" Durawa was on drums, and Speedy Sparks had a night off from working the door at Soap Creek to play bass. On lead guitar was none other than Ike Ritter, head of all things psychedelic, a down-home cosmic traveler of the first order. Token straight David Mercer had taped his Farfisa organ together, Carrasco came with guitar, cape and crown ready to wear.

The evening had the air of a big time twist-off. After a brief opening set by newcomer Lucinda Williams, the El Molino men started trying to find the stage. Back then, the lighting at Liberty Lunch was along the lines of glorified flashlights, and the darkness coupled with Morales' ever-present shades (not to mention the gravel-filled ground) had him bumping into walls and having to crawl onto the bandstand like he was mounting an angry bull. Same for McBurney, who for some strange reason looked to Morales for leadershop. Ritter was still in the car preparing his head, while Sparks, the king of la manana laid-back-ness, couldn't be bothered. Only Mercer was in his proper place, waiting for the Keystone Kops of Austin Rock to find their spots. But holy guacamole!, when they did hit it, El Molino came on like funhouse had taken over Austin, and were intent on tickling the town's Cosmic Cowboy\blues brigade into a two-out-of-three free-for-all hands-down victory. Songs like "Jalapeno Con Big Red" and "Mezcal Road" leaped off the stage with such spirit that no one there could help but be overwhelmed. Before long, there was a huge cloud of dust kicked up from dancer on the gravel, making it seem like Carrasco had his own smoke machine blowing full force. Joe King himself was running around the Lunch with a 50-foot guitar chord, swinging from light poles and jumping on tabletops. Beer bottles were flying and people were falling down from sheer excitement.

About halfway through the set, Ike Ritter's flight-mix must have kicked in , because monstrous guitar runs started pouring out of his Stratocaster, egging Carrasco into even further lunacy. Two hours later, the band came crashing down with a burning cover of "Wooly Bully" that might have made Sam the Sham hang his head in shame.

Joe "King" Carrasco forever earned his crown that night, and El Molino made it into any thinking-person's Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, there weren't to be any more gigs, as Carrasco turned New Wave the next week, forming the Crowns and starting to play Raul's. For me, the night ended Blue Wave, when I wound up at the Austin Police Department swearing - when I was allowed to make my single telephone call - that I was in San Antonio. iQue, que que!