Chicken Fat and Booze: Rest in Peace, Steve Crosno

Chicken fat and booze. That was my favorite line when Steve Crosno was a powerhouse on El Paso radio, and he used it often in his efforts to make us laugh. For example, someone would ask: “What’s for lunch at El Paso Tech?” The response was Crosno’s clip: “Chicken Fat and Booze.” And, boy, I cracked up.

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He would get into arguments with children, who would often come out on top by putting Crosno down. For example, a little girl’s voice would say: “Steve Crosno is so dumb.” Another voice would chime in: “How dumb is he?” The response would be something like: “Well, he thinks that a Quarterback is a refund.” Or words to that effect. You know, the jokes were corny, but the way Steve said them, they became hilarious.

Steve Crosno was my favorite D.J. He had to be. There was nobody else. Not even Chicano DJs – of which there weren’t that many in 1950s-1960s El Paso — brought tunes to our hearts that impacted on us as Chicanos. Nobody else loved and cared for music produced by Chicanos more than Crosno. And he wasn’t afraid to play the music which was frowned upon by Anglo elders, and, yes, some Chicano elders as well.

Crosno helped Little Joe Hernandez, he helped Sunny Ozuna, and he helped many local Chicano musicians who were just then getting into American rock and roll. He played the tunes for us, but he wanted to make sure that everyone knew that Chicanos were talented too. Even though not too many people believed that our style of music was valid, Crosno did.

He loved Mexican music, and he loved Chicano music – in fact, Crosno loved all types of music and that was readily apparent because he had an eclectic sense of rhythm and appreciation. He loved all types of music, but he really made us Chicanos feel special about the music we liked and danced to. Whether we were in the cafeteria eating lunch and listening to Crosno on KELP-Radio, or whether we were at one of our Fox Hops, if Crosno was the DJ, he made us dance. We just couldn’t help ourselves. He lightened and enlightened our lives.

The fact that he also made fun of himself further endeared him to us Chicanos and Chicanas because he wasn’t making fun of us he was making fun of himself and we related to that. Anglos, for the most part, took themselves too seriously. But, not Crosno. He knew what he was doing. He was welcoming us into the general circle of humanity. He knew that some people didn’t like Mexicans, he knew that there was racism against us, so he defused that. He was silly, irreverent, hilarious, and accepting.

He accepted us, he accepted our music. That ridiculous wig he wore to hide his own baldness became his trademark, and I never saw him without it. Even the wig was funny, with the pompadour and the five-inch sideburns. Nobody wore hair like that in those days, but Crosno did. In fact, it would have been impossible for anyone to have hair like that, but Crosno did. So, we laughed the harder.

His television show, “Crosno’s Hop” became the place to see and be seen, as every Chicano who could boogie and mambo his way through life showed up bringing his favorite girl. I remember once, asking beautiful Judy to go to the dance with me. When she said yes, I was flabbergasted. I never expected Judy to say yes to homely little me, so when she did I was shocked. Because I didn’t have a car, there was no way I could take her, so I had to talk my way out of it. Fortunately, Judy understood, but she did make me promise to dance with her at the next Fox Hop. Me? With Judy, my dream girl?

Yes, and Crosno made it possible. Even if I never took Judy to the Crosno Hop, she had said yes and that was enough for me. Her “yes” gave me more confidence at 16 than I would’ve had any other way. Crosno loved Chicanos in El Paso so much that not even a big money job in San Diego could keep him away. So, he stayed and we loved him for it. He never left for bigger markets, although he could have. He was one of us, he was an honorary Chicano, and he made us feel loved and wanted.

He made us Chicanos feel like we were part of the general wheel of humanity. He seemed to understand what we were going through, but he never preached, never raised the race issue. He didn’t have to. Just his acceptance of our music and of our way of life was enough to keep us going. He never berated Chicanos, he never berated Anglos, he never berated anybody. He just played music – he played Chicano Soul Music, and we loved him for it.

Steve, thank you for everything that you did for us Chicanos, we’ll never forget you. You brought us laughter, you brought us respect and understanding. You knew who we were and what we were about. You never made fun of us, never ridiculed our existence. On the contrary, you made fun of yourself. You made us laugh when times were tough for us, and you made us sensitive to our own power, our own humanity.

You know, Steve, when you were asked why you had stayed in radio for such a long time, you responded: “What drives me to keep going is the people and making them laugh – in a way I guess I’m looking for love and acceptance.” I’ve got news for you, vato. You’ve always had love and acceptance, especially from us Chicanos. Que en paz descanses, hermano. We miss you already.

Sin Fin

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Joe Olvera is a freelance writer who lives in beautiful El Paso. He can be reached at jolvera@aliviane.org.

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