"Bad Rap" / Joe 'King' Carrasco
TEXAS MUSIC WEEK
An oddball choice, maybe. But you don't need me to tell you about Willie Nelson or Waylon Jennings or the more obvious Texas music stars, and anyway, I love this guy's stuff. Maybe it's because my ears were warped at an early age by ? and the Mysterians' classic "96 Tears" and Sam the Sham's "Woolly Bully," but this garagey Tejano pop sound -- forget the horn section, let's just throw in a Farfisa organ! -- makes perfect sense to me. After all, if bands like Talking Heads and the B-52s and Blondie could throw a jittery organ into the New Wave mix, it was only a matter of time before somebody like Joe Carrasco was going to come along and give us a shot of Tex-Mex New Wave. And you know me -- I'm a sucker for the New Wave sound.
Born in Dumas, Texas, Joe Carrasco (originally Joe Teusch) lucked into his musical career hanging around the Austin clubs in the late 70s. On his first album, 1978's Joe King Carrasco and El Molino, the iconic organ tracks were even laid down by Austin's resident organ whiz, the great Augie Meyers, Doug Sahm's longtime collaborator. And talk about luck -- with a nod from Elvis Costello (once quoted as saying they were better than the Police), Stiff Records picked up Joe's band, now named Joe 'King' Carrasco and the Crowns, to release their self-titled second album in 1981. Ah, Stiff, always a home for quirky, D.I.Y. pop. Joe's biggest hit was the title track off of his 1983 album Party Weekend, after which the party began to wind down for Joe and the Crowns, just as New Wave was beginning to lose its fun edge and turn tedious and mannered. (Flock of Seagulls, anyone?) Joe decamped to Nicaragua for a while; he lives now in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, but he's still writing, performing, doing his Joe King thing, with a little more reggae added into the mix. Think Jimmy Buffet without the baggage of Parrothead Nation.
The loose, wacky vibe of Carrasco's 80s tracks still sounds fresh to me -- the Crowns never went synth-crazy, never forgot that they were making party music to dance to. "Bad Rap" comes from JKC's 1981 Party Safari EP, but really, it could have come from any of his 1980s albums. The lyrics are generic New Wave neurotic: In the first verse, his girlfriend's making eyes at his best friend, in the second his car is stolen, everything in his life is seriously out of whack. But it's all played for tongue-in-cheek comic effect, layered with exotic Middle Eastern musical motifs (shades of "Rock the Casbah") and melodramatic horror-movie overtones. Joe's jerky vocals, the cheese-grater guitar, the whiplash drums, the stabbing organ -- it's all in the service of party fun.
It would be easy to pass off Joe King Carrasco as a novelty act; the fact that he used to perform in full crown and royal robe probably didn't help. On the other hand, let's remember the musical landscape of the time, when Devo performed in hazmat suits with flowerpots on their heads, and the B-52s sported absurd bouffant hairdos. Coasting comfortably under the radar, Carrasco never lost his garage-y vibe -- art-school cleverness never got in the way of him putting on a high-energy show. And hey, pretentiousness never goes down well in Texas, anyway.