Not long ago, the musical road between the ’Burque and El Chuco (that’s El Paso, Texas, to you) was well-traveled. It was easy to find records by Paseños such as Faction X, Not So Happy or Fall On Deaf Ears. Since many Tejano punks were from El Barrio de Ysleta with familia across the border, they also opened that path to exciting Juárez outfits like Setenta Dos Horas. In El Chuco one evening, my greatest regret was having to decline an invitation to a show en otro lado over the Rio Grande. A guero like me couldn’t have asked for a better escort, but being on the New Mexico state payroll I had to work early next morning with a clear head sin crudo.
The best of the bunch—The Chinese Love Beads—called El Paso, Ciudad Juárez and Albuquerque home. De veras, the international border created by the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo never held much authority on Chuco’s south side anyway.
Unlike the slew of stateside garage punks who styled their look and sound after some imagined ’60s throwback, The Love Beads were twice as raw and 10 times as real. When you grow up in the barrio, glorifying the trash side of life (as suburban white punks tend to do) is not important. Your lo-fi wail is your grito, your passion-filled declaration of who you are and where you’re from.
The Chinese Love Beads was tough without having to try. Sometimes a four piece, sometimes a trio, the band was always fierce as chinga. The three-man lineup is the one I knew best. Frontman Ernie “Guido” Ybarra howled vocals that were as distorted as a Danelectro Shorthorn guitar played through a gritty tube amp. He thumped grimy basslines while Pauli B. (now Pablo Novelas of The Dirty Novels) slashed some of the most furious riffs he’s ever played. Drummer Mike Morales (later of proto-emo band Siva) punched the largest set of pots I’ve ever seen, sounding like John Bonham and Neil Peart rolled into one robust package.
The band released a few 7-inch singles on its own Discos Yucky Bus / Vaselino Productions label, but my ferocious favorite is the self-titled release recorded, mixed and distributed in the late ’90s by Bob Tower (of defunct record and book store Mind Over Matter). Side B never fails to get me out of my chair and jumping around the room. Although I can’t zip it up anymore, I still wear my old blue-collar jacket and its Chinese Love Beads patch con mucho orgullo.