By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
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Each spring for the past half-dozen years, Tex-Mex surf-rockers Joe "King" Carrasco and the Crowns have spent a week on Texas' South Padre Island. Located a hurled jalapeno from Matamoros, Mexico, this Gulf Coast isle is Texas' answer to Fort Lauderdale during spring break: Yearly, more than 60,000 cerveza-soaked collegians overrun the thin peninsula.
"It's something else, a party, you know what I mean?" the fast-talking Carrasco says in a phone interview from his home outside of Austin. "It's one of the few things we do every year, no matter what, as long as they want us. It can be quite wild."
But wild is what this band does best. Joe "King"--as in "King of Party Rock"--has traversed the world, entertaining mucho appreciative audiences with his fiery and unique blend of driving Detroit Wheels-type rock, East Texas blues, Latin cumbias, Mexican conjunto dance music, California surf songs and, yes, even polkas. "Our sorta-official anthem is our song `Vamos a Get Down,'" Carrasco says of his five-piece band. "It means `Let's Dance.'"
Those who catch Carrasco's act for the first time are liable to be surprised at their first glimpse of the Latino-rock "King." Instead of some swarthy, south-of-the-border type, they're often stunned to see a skinny, blue-eyed, blond-haired, quite white fellow jumping around like a crazed, black-tee-shirted speed-metal freak. Actually, Carrasco is really Joe Teutsch--his stage handle comes from a fellow musician who was unable to pronounce the Teutonic "Teutsch" and named him after a notorious Chicano outlaw--Texas-born in the panhandle town of Dumas. German breeding aside, young Teutsch discovered early on an affinity for all things Latin. "There's so much mystery and spirit, you know what I'm saying?" Carrasco enthuses. "I mean, the history, the Mayans and the Aztecs . . . I like to climb around the pyramids in Palenque [in Chiapas province, about sixty miles west of Guatemala]. I'm very creative in those areas. It's where I do a lot of my writing and stuff. I mean, for me, the pyramids are very mystical. Deep down, I think it has something to do with a real mystic energy. I just have to find a way to channel it."
Carrasco's method for channeling his own boundless energy--the Crowns' frenetic shows regularly last upwards of three hours--is by doing more than 270 gigs a year.
"We're always touring," Carrasco says happily. "Honestly, at least for now, the financial benefits are not the thing. I love to travel, and we go everywhere. We were the first American rock 'n' roll band to play in Bolivia and Colombia, you know."
Other quasi-regular stops on the Crowns' itinerary include France, Switzerland ("We're huge there for some reason. Those Swiss just love to dance."), and Spain.
"We did Barcelona last year," Carrasco says, "and it was amazing--part of the audience took their clothes off, but I don't know why."
One reason for the Spanish striptease might be the intense heat generated by his boogie-till-you-drop concerts. "King" cuts like "Parti Weekend," "Bandido Rock," and "Salsa Perfecto" (named after an ultrafiery Bolivian hot sauce) get audiences dancing the night away.
The party man has a serious side, too. In 1987, Joe "King" and his Crowns played their "Who Buy the Guns that Kill the Nuns?" in front of the American embassy in Managua, Nicaragua (where Carrasco spent most of 1985 studying Spanish and music), in protest of the U.S. contra-support policy. But while Carrasco may fervently wish to promote greater understanding of the Latin culture, it is the Crown's spicy rendition of Question Mark and the Mysterians' "96 Tears," sometimes elongated to twenty or so rambunctious minutes, that is the crowd favorite and most often the band's show-closer.
"No question, the Mysterians have had a huge effect on my sound. Bobby Balderrama [ex-Mysterian and co-writer of "96 Tears"] was even in the band for a while." Other influences include Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, and Doug Sahm of the Sir Douglas Quintet.
The heavy Latin rhythms of these bands are apparent throughout the Crowns' most recent release Royal, Loyal & Live, a 77-minute marathon of sweat-inducing Tex-Mex dance rock recorded live at South Padre Island during 1989's spring break and at a now-defunct nightclub in, of all places, Wichita, Kansas.
"Hey, we don't care where it is when the crowd's hot, you know what I'm saying? We sounded good, so it's a print, you know?"
Carrasco is hoping for similarly steamy receptions during the Crowns' upcoming journey to the Far East. The "King," who often dons a large, gaudy crown during shows, also has royal plans for the future.
"We want to do a real long world tour, including Australia, taking nothing but guitars and keyboards like the Boomtown Rats did once. That would be a topper, you know? Just going at my own pace and seeing it all."
His enthusiasm for travel notwithstanding, Joe "King" admits to one small fear. His signature concert move is a sidelong dive--while still furiously picking at his guitar--into the outstretched arms of his audience. "I never know if the next jump will be my last. Usually, there are Americans or people who have seen us before in the crowd, and they'll show 'em how to do it.