Joe "King" Carrasco Wishes Houston a "Tamale Christmas"
As the Reigning Royalty of Tex-Mex Party Rock, Joe "King" Carrasco has been playing his utterly unique mixture of early and garage-rock, polka, cumbias, and Latin rhythm since the mid-'70s.
But while others dream of sugar plums and hams and fruitcakes during the holiday season, for Carrasco it's the time to celebrate the taste of tamales. He professes his love for the masa, meat, and husk delicacy with a simple-but-insanely-catchy new single, "Tamale Christmas."
Carrasco remembers meeting fellow musician Ben Marines and his wife, Rosa, in 1974. It was at her little restaurant where he first developed a love for the dish, which he actually later used to advance his musical career.
"We used to play the Soap Creek Saloon there, and they would decide whether to keep a band or not by how much beer they sold during their shows," Carrasco says on the phone from his restaurant/club in Puerto Vallarta, Nacho Daddy.
So he came up with the idea to have the "First Annual Tamale Shuck Off" the one night in the late '70s. The event's poster featured former President Gerald Ford who, on an earlier trip to San Antonio as commander-in-chief (and not familiar with local cuisine), attempted to eat a tamale with the husk on, to the lasting chagrin of Texans.
"But we did something different. We put jalapenos in the tamales to make them hot," Carrasco laughs. And we set a bar record for selling beer that night!"
"Tamale Christmas," though, had a long cooking period. Carrasco first started writing the song in the '80s with then-roommate Johnny Perez, the original drummer for the Sir Douglas Quintet.
They would fiddle with it on and off for years until Carrasco finally recorded it September 2012 originally as a fundraiser for HAAM (Health Alliance for Austin Musicians).
Sadly, Perez -- who was ill and in the hospital at the time -- died about a week before he could hear the finished product, which is now available to download.
"That was sad. A lot of those guys from the Quintet and the Texas Tornados are gone," Carrasco notes. "Johnny's gone, Doug [Sahm] is gone, Freddy [Fender]'s gone. Flaco [Jimenez] is gone...oh, wait. Flaco's not dead! I've got a show with him next month!"
Story continues on the next page.
The recording also reunited Carrasco with drummer Ernie Durawa and bassist Speedy Sparks, who had been part of the original mid-'70s version of Joe "King" Carrasco y El Molino. Also on the track are accordionist Marcelo Guana and sax player Joe Morales.
Carrasco also shot two different videos for the song - one no budget and one low budget. The first featured a poncho-clad Carrasco pushing a shopping cart with his dogs around an Austin H.E.B. mixed with footage of the canines awaiting a tamale feast, filmed inside his manager's house.
"I had to take my car to the shop, and I just said 'let's walk over to the H.E.B. and shoot it there.' Security did come out to us, but we said we were doing promotion for the store," Carrasco laughs. "It also features my dog, Anna, who is 17. I don't know how many tamale Christmases she has left."
A second version features better film stock and has not only the dogs and another shopping cart sequence, but Carrasco lip synching while a Mexican couple makes tamales in a kitchen. The final product looks definitely plumper than what most Houstonians are used to seeing in tamales.
"Everyone down here has their own formula, and that's what's cool about it," Carrasco adds.
Speaking of Houston, Carrasco enthuses about the city as, the same way later in the interview, he would about the TV shows The Sopranos, Deadwood and "Breaking Bad. It's the "best place" he ever played, he says.
"The best shows I ever did were those Party on the Plaza shows they used to have [downtown]," Carrasco reflects. "Those were the craziest concerts. I have a lot of marks on my body from those shows!"
He also lauding gigs with his then-band the Crowns at Rockefeller's and Fitzgerald's. And after Santa has had his fill of his husked delicacies and Tamale Christmas turns into Tamale New Year, Carrasco is looking forward to playing Texas dates in January to support the upcoming release of his latest CD, Rucca.
"'Rucca' means 'girlfriend' in Spanish," Carrasco helpfully informs. "We wanted to call it 'Puta,' but we couldn't. We might have problems getting that song played. Especially down here."
To purchase and download "Tamale Christmas," click here.
ROCKS OFF'S GREATEST HITS
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Houston, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.