The royal 'Whee!' Joe 'King' Carrasco and the Crowns get together for another 'Party Weekend'
The problem with being Joe "King" Carrasco these days is that you just can't get good crowns anymore.
At least not the nice red-velvety ones he wore at the dawn of the '80s when he and his band the Crowns had their unlikely coronation on the coattails of "Party Weekend." And Carrasco needs his Crowns lately, both the upper- and lowercase kind, for a five-city reunion loop that brings them to Antone's Saturday.
The reunion came about as a lark, he said, set in motion by a discussion with Antone's about booking the Skunks, another Austin band from the same era. For Carrasco, maybe this mini-tour isn't the last of it. "If it gets bigger than what we're doing here, let's take it on the road and tour it," he said.
The Crowns toured with the Police and the Go-Go's, but I remember them the most from a double bill with the Jitters at Club Foot in 1981, the first live show I ever saw in Austin. Just out of high school, I was going through a late punk wannabe stage, and I heard that Club Foot had the same thing going as Zero's New Wave Lounge back home in Fort Worth. Jitters frontman Billy Pringle danced through a frenetic set, a precursor to his next life as a funkmaster in Bad Mutha Goose.
But the Crowns took the club to a less aggressive place, a place where the only danger was burning your feet on the South Padre sand for "Party Weekend." Remember? "It's a party. It's a party party. It's a party, a party party weekend." Trying to spot people you know in the song's spring-breaky video has the same appeal as spotting the Austin oddballs in "Slacker."
Carrasco, an Anglo kid from West Texas with a love for all things Tex-Mex, defined the band's goofy charm, leaping like a Spanglish lord onstage and on tape. But keyboardist Kris Cummings was the perfect New Wave girl, with teased hair, Pat Benatar teeth for miles and perfect little hooks on her Farfisa and Vox organs. Boo-DIP, boo-deep, boo-DIP, boo-deep. The keyboard's raspy trill propelled the band the same way organs did for Doug Sahm, Devo and Elvis Costello and the Attractions.
And then there were the videos. "Bad Rap" was neither an especially good song nor a good video — with Carrasco dancing like a marionette and marionettes dancing like marionettes against badly projected backgrounds — but it was playing on MTV at the channel's apex. A better look and sound for the band was "Buena," a video that showed the Crowns rolling through London on a double-decker bus. Like so many bands, they were embraced more affectionately in Europe than at home.
"Bue-ena, bue-ena, buena on my mind," Carrasco sings over and over in a hick-step Buddy Holly cadence. I'd like to get "Buena" OUT of my mind. But that video is also the best look at Saturday's foursome from a band lineup that changed as often as the era's cast of "Saturday Night Live," a show on which the band played "Don't Bug Me Baby" in 1981. Various incarnations of the Crowns continued playing through much of the '80s, but Saturday's lineup at Antone's is a sentimental favorite.
Saturday at Antone's, Carrasco will be in the lead, taking a break from the expatriate life in the Mexican resort town of Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, where he plays regular gigs at a restaurant he co-owns called Nacho Daddy. He also surfs, rides a bike and frets over his minichain of Mexican fast-food joints called the Huarache Factory. "I'm 57 going on 17," he said, just after telling a story about getting stung by a stingray.
Cummings works with ceramics in Wimberley and teaches piano, as she has for years, with students including Butch Hancock's son and Alejandro Escovedo's daughter. She made the switch from piano to organ on the fly to join the band thirtysomething years ago. "One of the things we did was fill the void of just playing happy music," she said. For her, the reunion tour means playing the Nord, an organ that can reproduce the mosquito pitches of the Farfisa and Vox minus their sporadic unreliabilities.
She married band manager Joe Nick Patoski in 1980, eloping from a tour stop in Berlin to get hitched in Paris. They have two grown sons. Patoski made his bones with the Crowns and the True Believers before writing for Texas Monthly and others. "Everybody's gone off in very different directions," Patoski said. "Joe 'King' has never stopped, but all three (of the others) have stayed in music, even if it's just in peripheral ways. But it seems to work."
Drummer Miguel "Mike" Navarro works with an Austin tech repair service called Twobits.com and plays with a band called Rich Ellis and the Brave Souls in Dallas.
Brad Kizer, who said he learned to play Tex-Mex bass in a three-day crash course to join the Crowns back in the day, plays guitar at the Austin House of Prayer and runs a recording studio out of his home. "We did everything a band could do except sell records," he said of the time when the Crowns ruled. Kizer lives close to the Peter Pan mini-golf course, with its wonderland statue garden of dinosaurs and elves. "They've all got these little imperfections," he said before a practice show last week at Jax Neighborhood Cafe.
"Now, it's like they try to build in the imperfections," said the metaphorical man wearing the same style red-striped shirt he wore as a member of the Crowns in his 20s. "You can't manufacture funk."
Joe King Carrasco and the Crowns