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The Story of Tattoo Laredo and Vamos A Get Down

Written by Joe King Carrasco on December 7, 2011

Tattoo Laredo and Vamos A Get Down- were  recorded  back to back--  in 1990 and 1991 in Houston and Austin, Texas.   If you check out a timeline of my recording history- you will see a gap between  Royal Loyal and Live  (1989)  and Dia De Los Muertos (1995)  This is  the music  that was fueling the live shows in that period.

These are the tapes that were left behind and almost forgotten on the back dusty shelves of several recording studios almost twenty years ago for various reasons.

The songs for Tattoo Laredo were recorded in Feb. 1990 in Austin Texas.  Then we took the masters down to Saturn Sounds in Houston to finish the overdubbing with Richard Cagel, who took over the engineering on this project.  Richard was a bassist and vocalist for the first real performing band  " The shades of Time" that I  played in, in the 7th grade, in Dumas, Texas.  He is pretty much responsible  for keeping this effort alive through all this time.


A few months later, I had a whole new fresh batch of songs  and we recorded those  at Saturn Sounds  in downtown Houston, which turned into the songs for  "Vamos A Get Down"  which had a more bluesy feel with a Latin rock influence vibe going for it.  So it was a very productive time.  When Saturn Studios closed down,  we ended up taking the tapes and doing the overdubs  at Richards house,  so  in the background you can hear little kids , including my son, playing. -we took it as far as it could go-- and that was that---record label shopping---  NADA--- as they say--" and the crocs did the rest--  and they were never heard from again“.

After many years had gone by, the only copy available was a cassette version  sitting in my mothers car and she was always listening to it.  I had pretty much forgot about this music until I took a drive with her and it was playing on her car stereo.


After the success  in the early 80's  of my original  "Nuevo Wavo" style  with my band-- The Crowns--  had  slowed down and  the original members had gone,  I still kept touring all year around   and the music  had evolved   to this place.  We were  rockin  to the max and the band was super tight and these tapes reflect this.

By this time, I had already been through about nine different record labels and they never really knew how to package my music.  Was it rock? Latin? New Wave?    What was it?    How do you classify it?   These were not things that we were thinking about- and I still don't think about it today, when we recorded it.   We were not thinking money.   We just knew people danced to it and it was what we were doing at all our shows--  and we were always touring.


Looking back, I now find it amazing that some cat sitting in some shiny office in Hollywood or New York in those days , had the power to make or break some act, whose music they had no desire or curiosity to understand.   What qualifications did they possess?  I recall  at the time that one A and R guy at a label  did not like "Coming down from Arroyo" which is on Vamos A Get Down- because it reminded him  of "All along the Watchtower"--What's up with that??  Go Figure.  I burned up a lot of brain cells writing that one-- out of my mind on top of a mountain near Santa Fe.

I am so glad  those days are over!!  We were a Texas- Mexican band in the rock and roll trenches out on the front lines--  freezing to death in a 1965 tour bus- in  blizzards - on the way to nowhere-- to a show 500 miles away-- where at the end of the night- you might not get paid-- and end up sleeping at a road side park- where the  bathrooms have no toilet paper and the mirrors are made of medal- so no one can break them-- only to have  the state patrol banging on the  bus with those heavy duty flashlights-- telling you to get this piece of junk off their road.  These record  company people never experienced that!!  At least we never went to jail!!  I am thankful for that.

You have to wonder how much great music was lost and creative souls cast off to  the void- due to some so called music expert who had  a so-called license to call the shots- and so called ability to recognize  what he thought  was a hit-- that the masses would buy--  only to probably-- rip off the group even if they did have a hit--  EXAMPLE--?mark and the Mysterians-- I rest my case.

At this point in my life-- I've had plenty of time to get used to rejection, so I try not to let it get to me,  which is probably  why I moved to Mexico, several years ago- where I ended up playing  up and down the west coast several nights a week-- sneaking past the drunk drivers, loco narcos, cops, and military checkpoints at 4 in the morning on twisting mountain roads, working for beans and tortillas.  You just do it-- because you love and believe in it-- and because-- it is all you know and you- get used to   being broke  and having  to haggle over three dollars less-- for a cheap motel room  in Flagstaff, Arizona at three in the morning – after a show--with a Pakistani clerk who just woke up- but will at least bargain with you -- and the curry  coming out of the back of the office – where he was sleeping-- smells really good. Can  you imagine walking into  a Sheraton and trying to talk them down  on the price of a room-???  Plus they never have curry!!!

----So everything was always recorded on a shoestring budget with little or no money- but we always tried  to get a good production--   and a good feel--  which can be heard  in what we were doing.

The "SONGS"--  Now that was  a whole other enchilada!! I am sure that I sacrificed parts of my body and brain  writing this stuff, but it was well worth it.  Most of the songs  were written on the run touring the US, Mexico, Canada, and Europe, in the back of my  bus and hotel rooms.  I can almost recall everyplace where every line was written. Another Snake In The Grass--Kansas City-- Care to Explain- Austin--6th and West Lynn- Crawl-- Las Vegas Strip--  Dirty Job - Los Angeles- Hurts to Hurt- Cozumel- Mexico--  Last call- Toronto-Canada--  One Love-- Baltimore-  Prisoner-Center Point - Texas-  Steal Your Love--  Chicago-Won't Let U Fall-  Lake Austin-- Vamos a Get Down- Pueblo- and Tulsa--  Noche- Houston-- El Arroyo--  Santa Fe--  Easygoing-- Denver--  Lookin 4 A Party-- London--  That’s What She Said-- South Padre Texas--Hurricane-- North Carolina--  Bump and Run-- San Francisco--  When I hear these songs , I am taken back to the location and what was going on in my life at the time, kind of like a postcard.  And a lot was going on--  at this time in my personal life.  Writing about it was  a good outlet  for dealing with it and trying to understand.  Yeah Right--  did I say LOCO??   I was dealing with all the usual suspects that most people deal with--Divorce,  Getting your heart ripped out on a regular basis, love going sideways.  It was a Party Weekend gone LOCO, but I somehow managed to sneak through it and survive.  I definitely was not a perfect angel and made some unking-like mistakes, but I turned the failures into songs.  I really poured my heart out like never before.  It kept me going.  But I don’t think I will be running for president of Tamalia anytime soon!

The  main band on these 2 cds were veterans of the Tex-Mex beans and tortilla circuit of Texas in the 70's and 80's with most of them coming from the Little Joe y La Familia scene.  these  guys were my heroes!!  To me Little Joe Hernandez is the godfather of Tex-Mex and always will be--  he has always had the best most  professional Chicano musicians playing with him.  Back in the day--  the term was HEAVY- and these guys were IT!!  They were the musician’s musicians--if you get what I mean-  Tom Cruz was on lead guitar and at the time, was son in law to Little Joe Hernandez and was and still is, the top premium session guitarist in Tex- Mex, having recorded with Lil Joe, La Mafia, and other Texas groups and on this effort, he shines throughout the whole production.  Javier Zenteno,  on drums, comes from a famous Houston  music family.  His father, Roberto Zenteno,  was a famous  trumpet player, from Monterey, Mexico.  Chuggy Hernandez, on  bass and vocals,  and the most funniest person, that I have ever known, also came from  a well known- Houston  music family. To me he possesses the most magic- charisma and drive that I have ever seen in a bass player  and believe me- I have played with a lot!!  On keyboards and vocals was Chris Stephenson who was a veteran of the Corpus Christi- 80's  new wave scene.    He gave the music, that real rock and roll edge.   I sang lead  vocal and played rhythm and lead guitar.  I used my 1960  Telecaster- in open G tuning on the rhythm and my Musicman Silhouette on the leads.  This is my most rockin effort that I ever performed in my life.

On these cds they were able to stretch out beyond the confines of what they had been playing on the Tex-Mex circuit, most of their lives and branch out into the crazy grooves of what I was writing.  And I strived to allow them the freedom to "Do Their Thing."  So you have all these crazy influences  crashing into each other.  Blues---Rock--Latin---Reggae--  and this music is the result.  It was a real honor for me to record with these  Tex-Mex legends.  Something-  I will always treasure- and be eternally grateful.   I think it is music that deserves to be heard-- even though it was recorded 20 years ago--  But good music is timeless they say.

I used up a  lot of creative bullets- to get this  music done-- only to see it left behind --gathering dust- on a shelf- in a studio in Houston Texas-- it was enough to make one want to throw in the towel- give up and walk away--- which I kinda did in a way--  after the disappointment of not finishing it--  the band dissolved and flamed out along with the tour bus-- somewhere in a field by the side of the road-- somewhere in Kansas.  Last thing -I remember- we were escaping back to Texas with  the whole band and equipment in the back of a rented Uhual truck- totally pitch black inside--  except for a crack   at the floor  - so we could breathe-- and not suffocate--  Brave Tex-Mex road warriors---DEFEATED--- I soon changed course and did the Dia de los Muertos cd-- which is another story.

Later on, one night in  1996- with Richard Cagel the main engineer-- we transferred the original reel to reel tapes from an old Fostex machine over to  a 2 inch reel at  Sound Arts Studio in Houston--- minus  a couple of songs--  A very smart decision!!   After that forgotten night, due to lack of funds and changes in the  music - life moved on- but there was always that tape in my moms car-- that would not let me forget- every time I went to visit her - just sitting there in her tape-deck.

Then in 2008 we tried once again to transfer  the music off that old Fostex machine-- onto wave- files- to preserve- the music- to modern technology--  When Parker Worsham tried to do the transfer-- the tapes just turned to dust--  gone-- into the wind--  like the gold- in my favorite movie  "Treasure of the Sierra Madre"  with Humphrey Bogart, directed by my favorite director, John Huston.

Then we remembered that we had done a transfer back 12 years before- on to the 2 inch reel- in Houston--  so I paid off Jeff Wells-- who past away in mid 2011--- for what I had owed him from 12 years back- and  he went searching for the forgotten tapes back in his tape room-I knew that the studio had been flooded in the last hurricane and I figured that they had probably been destroyed and it would  not have surprised me.  It would have been all my fault due to my  lack of diligence and ineptitude--- I was ready to face the guilt and disappointment.  I deserved it.  I was prepared for the bad news---   But miraculously- the tapes had  escaped the  onslaught of water by inches--   a true crazy Miracle!!

So I had been spared disaster--  Jeff  was able to make the  transfer-- You see-with old tapes- and I had to learn about all this -- you have to bake them-- and then transfer--  and you only get one shot-- at doing it- because the tapes disintegrate--So it was time to try to mix---  it was around  December 2008- and Parker Worsham-  a great friend and engineer from-- Austin- offered to come down to Puerto Vallarta- where I was living, and try a mix----At the time-- I had just come back from Oregon - where my mom was living-- and I was feeling awful. I just assumed that it  was the after affects  of the typhoid fever that  I had come down with  in September  and which I just discovered  as I am writing this--  NOV  2011-- that once again--- I have  come down with it--  except- this time it is Typhoid B --  go figure??--  So all these words   are being written by someone who is  delirious and sweating  out of his mind----Everybody now is calling me Typhoid Joe--  anyway back to the story----

On December 4- Parker was coming in that afternoon.   So in the morning-- I went to my doctor-- and he sent me for some  tests—thinking it was Typhoid related---and then I went about my business-- getting ready for Parker’s arrival that afternoon-  I picked him up--  and then my doctor called and asked me to meet him  at the hospital  at 6:30 that night-- I did not think to much about it and was excited about getting to the mix.   Got to the hospital-- and my doctor  was there with a surgeon-- and he informed me that if I did not have an emergency hernia operation immediately- that I might possibly die.

So I asked if I could go home- and pack a bag- and come back in 30 minutes- I was freaked--  I mean- what would I need a bag for- What was I thinking?- I was thinking like a hotel stay- like  on tour- But I was so late in  getting back-. they had to change hospitals--  and in Mexico-- you pay on the spot --  and my credit card was not going through-- finally got  one to work- though- but--a  really tense moment-- with everybody watching to see if the card would work— So they started cutting at 10:30 at night over by the jungle in Old town Vallarta.


Four days later-- including a great view of the jungle and mountains from my hospital room-- after intense pain—but thankfully still alive -  I am out of the hospital and ready to start the mix--  And  then Parker-- who had been taking care of me- all this time-- started feeling  sick--  I mean really sick--  So  I take him to the doctor-- and- we find out- that he has dengue fever- from a mosquito bite-  also known as breakbone fever- cause it feels like your bones are breaking-- Everybody that gets it says it feels like you are dying--    We had to get him back to Texas fast--  Not good--  So I put this delirious  person-  on a plane to Texas-- but with a plane change in Denver-- Now every time- I think of Parker-  I see  a sick zombie person-- wandering around  Denver airport--  struggling  with all this  sound equipment--  lost  in a dengue nightmare --  it was adios to the mix--

Fast-Forward--June- 2009--and I am in the studio  with Laurence Roscoe in Vallarta--  another mixing attempt--After listening to it-  Laurence  suggested  adding real horns, keyboards, percussion ,congas  and harmonies--  So we decided to beef it up!!   with Gil Herman from San Antonio-  also a veteran of the beans and tortillas circuit,  playing Sax--  then to give it that  social club style--  Onelio  Medina- from Havana- Cuba  blew the trumpet--WOW!!  and then  Jerry Quintero-  a keyboard player  from  Laredo and who has played through the years with Little Joe  added keyboards--  and then my drummer - here  in Vallarta-- Luis Murillo--  cooked up his magic on percussion--  with Richard and Laurence- adding- harmonies- guitar and percussion--Adding all these super players--  really made it shine--  and it was well worth  waiting all these years for--  But that is just me.

So after 18 years of just sitting there the music started taking shape better than I  ever could have imagined.  I suppose it is a postcard from that time of my life that nobody ever got to hear  with a great band--  that survived  lots of close calls-- including a near-death experience bus crash at a railroad crossing in Tequila, Jalisco in 1992 and later the same bus running off the road  on a mountain pass during a blizzard in Colorado.   It was loco to the max!!  The craziness that came with our southern  Tex-Mex rock and roll lifestyle was way different than the regular rock and roll lifestyle--  Believe me-- there is a difference!!  We made those pinche  groups that you  read about in gossip columns  in the rock  magazines  look like kindergarten.  My band mates came out of the roughest Gulf Coast barrios  of Houston , Texas and they put the P in party  and the F in fiesta.  and that’s putting it mildly. When we hit town- it was like Pancho Villa  had just rode in and took over!!!  We used to stay at public campgrounds in national parks  to save money on our days off.  Imagine- a little family on vacation- camping-  tents and campfire--  Then all of a sudden-- a 1965 Greyhound bus-- pulls in next to them- 4 o'clock in the morning- full of  tequila fueled Tex-Mex maniacs--  We were almost thrown out of Yellowstone!!  Everyday was high adventure out on the high seas of frijoles and salsa. And all done  without  any AC on Aileen--(because she leaned to one side)- the 65 tour bus.  Try that!!!

This band had soul!!  It was pedal to the medal and we were running on all 8 cylinders  with the Chile burnin under the hood  and the beat of the music was feeding the fire!!!  and it sizzled in the studio and in the shows.

When we first recorded this music- I thought people- would really like it--  They danced to it every night.  Now-- 20 years later--  The important thing to me is---- even though my mother never got to hear the finished product---she loved and believed in this music-  and that is all that really matters to me.