Although Joe King Carrasco’s next album, Rucca, won’t be out until the first week of January, fans of the Tex-Mex music royal can get a holiday taste with “Tamale Christmas,” a hot Tex-Mex polka-flavored Christmas confection recorded at South Austin’s Road House Rags and reuniting him with drummer Ernie Durawa and bassist Speedy Sparks of his mid-1970s version of Joe King Carrasco y El Molino—both players later with the Texas Tornados.
“I’ve been around tamales my whole life! I started writing it with Johnny Perez years ago and never finished it,” says Carrasco of the tune.
Perez co-wrote songs with Carrasco during the period following El Molino, when he headed Joe King Carrasco and the Crowns.
“We needed a song about tamales, and he had this tamale idea and kept working with it,” Carrasco recalls. “I wrote some in Mexico and some in Texas, but we never did anything with it. Then we recorded an El Molino band reunion album last year and my manager said we needed a Christmas song.”
Sadly, Perez, who was also the original drummer of the Sir Douglas Quintet, died the day before Carrasco and the band recorded the song. “He never got to hear it,” says Carrasco, “but wherever he is, I hope he likes it!”
“Tamale Christmas,” recorded by Joe King Carrasco y El Molino, derives from the tradition of making tamales at Thanksgiving and Christmas,” notes Carrasco. “They’re not easy to make, and take a lot of work.”
The recipe for the tamales that Carrasco sings about came from Rosa, the late wife of Ben Marines, who’s mentioned in the song. In 1974, Carrasco joined Mariachi/Tejano band Shorty & the Corvettes, whose bass player was Marines, who taught him how to play Tex-Mex conjunto guitar.
“She was making 200, 300 tamales a day!” recalls Carrasco. “Back in the ‘70s when I started, I played a saloon in Austin where they judged you by how much beer you sold. They had the First Annual Tamale Shuck-Off, and gave away free tamales made with jalapeno—and we set the bar record!”
Joining Carrasco, Durawa and Sparks on “Tamale Christmas” are accordionist Marcelo Gauna and sax player Joe Morales. Legendary Sir Douglas Quintet/Texas Tornados keyboardist Augie Meyers is on Rucca (Rucca is a girl’s name), on “a ‘Mendocino’ thing,” says Carrasco, referencing the classic 1969 Sir Douglas hit.
The rest of the album—a follow-up to Tlaquepaque (an album with El Molino released earlier this year and itself a follow-up to last year’s Que Wow album reunion with The Crowns)-- is “the same configuration of Tex-Mex rock ‘n’ roll,” he adds. “I’m still locked into the ‘50s and ‘60s. That’s why I like Mexico--they’re still locked into it.”
And that’s why Carrasco splits his time between Austin and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
“I’ve been there seven, eight years,” says Carrasco. “I drive back and forth across Mexico. It takes about three days and I feel like a Mexican truck driver! But it’s all good.”
“Tamale Christmas” is now available at digital outlets, and is backed by a video featuring Carrasco's dogs Anna and Peanut. In addition his music, Carrasco operates a dog rescue endeasvor, Viva Perros.
Another video, “Searching For ‘Tamale Christmas,’” is a short documentary about Carrasco's mission to find the perfect tamale for his “Tamale Christmas,” and is available on YouTube.
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