Los Lobos

“On the Eastside of LA where there were sometimes little signs in the windows of the restaurants that said, “English Spoken Here,” we all knew those songs. Our parents … were from Mexico but we were born here. … We were the living embodiment of the distillation of two cultures. Raucous rancheros … Romantic boleros … Bold and magnificent mariachi flourishes. It all came into our ears.”
-From the liner notes to the compilation album Just Another Band from East LA: A Collection.

Los Lobos have earned a unique place in the pantheon of rock music. According to Wikipedia, their genres include Chicano rock, roots rock, Latin rock, Tex-Mex, Americana, heartland rock, and something called cowpunk. For the record, they are also quite an exceptional blues/rock band which is what I think drove me to listen to them in the first place.

I didn’t realize this until I started to research them but these guys were high school chums who first started playing together in 1973! And they’re the same guys! They started in East L.A. and initially played Top 40 and rock stuff like everybody else. But since pretty much everybody in the band is Mexican-American, they quickly decided they also wanted to add some music that was reflective of their roots to the repertoire.

By 1980 they were opening for Johnny Rotten’s latest band, Public Image Ltd. Slowly but surely in the time-honored way of bands everywhere, they built a following. They got better-known opening for bands like U2 and the Grateful Dead. (They do a nice version of the Dead’s song “Bertha.”)

By the time I first heard of them, on their 1984 album, How Will The Wolf Survive, they had already become Angeleno favorites and won a Grammy for Best Mexican-American/Tejano music performance.

None other than the ubiquitous T-Bone Burnett produced Wolf, plays on it, and co-wrote this smokin’ tune, “Don’t Worry Baby.” The guys who share lead vocals and guitar duties in the band are David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas:

Probably the highest level of fame the guys reached was when they were picked to do the song “La Bamba” for the 1987 biopic of the same name.  As good a number as that is, let me instead point you to a tasty little tune called “Shakin’, Shakin’ Shakes.”

It’s one of my faves from the 1987 By The Light of the Moon album. Burnett again co-wrote with Cesar Rosas who handles vocals. I’m reasonably certain that the first guy you see in the video is not a band member:

What I love about these guys is their versatility. They can do Tex-Mex or authentic Mexican ranchera tunes and then swing wildly back and do rock ‘n roll or Chicago-style blues. Who does that? Nobody. The closest I can think of is The Band in the versatility of their players and their ability to play just about any style.

You say you want to swing down to New Orleans for a little zydeco? Here’s “Let’s Say Goodnight:”

Los Lobos tours pretty regularly and I have missed them on their last couple of passes through town. I don’t know when I will see them but that will eventually happen. In 2015, the band was nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That too, I believe, will one day happen.

I leave you with a very nice song called “Sabor a Mi”  which my sources tell me is a bolero. That is hardly my expertise so anybody who knows better feel free to correct me if I’m wrong:

Los Lobos Personnel:

☛Steve Berlin – tenor, baritone, and soprano sax, flute, melodica, harmonica, organ, piano, synthesizer, percussion
☛David Hidalgo – guitars, accordion, violin, banjo, piano, percussion, vocals
☛Conrad Lozano – Fender 5-string jazz bass and 4-string precision bass, Godin fretless bass, guitarron, background vocals
☛Louie Perez  – drums, vocals, guitars, percussion
☛Cesar Rosas – electric and acoustic guitars, vocals

39 thoughts on “Los Lobos

      1. Can you imagine? I think Los Lobos were hungry at that point for ANY opening gig. Rock ‘n roll makes for strange bedfellows. The larger question is how well received by that crowd they were.

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  1. Agreed about ‘Kiko.’ In fact, I initially had “Kiko and Lavender Moon” on the post but wanted to keep the party going so put a zydeco tune on. But glad you mentioned it because it’s well worth checking out. As is that compilation album. Thanks.

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    1. The only Los Lobos albums I own are Kiko, the Just Another Band from East L.A. two CD set (which I bought in L.A. airport), and the Ride This EP. Pretty random representation of a very good band.

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      1. Can’t believe I keep missing them when they swing by this way. Currently they’re only touring the Midwest and South US. I’ll keep my eyes on that for sure.

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  2. I very underrated band. Mostly known for La Bamba, but having so much more to offer.
    I recently bought their most recent album Gates of Gold, but have not had enough time to listen to it properly. Perhaps I’ll move it further up the list.
    As for seeing them live we both need to see them.
    My city hosts an annual blues fest and my brother-in-law told me Los Lobos were the best act there. That says a lot as they had real stiff competition and are not generally considered a blues band.
    Another factor of their talent is their production. Especially Steve Berlin. He has produced hundreds of albums including a number of Canadian bands and a few albums from Buckwheat Zydeco (R.I.P) and Faith No More. That band is very chameleon like and full of talent.

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    1. Yeah, they are a terrific blues band. Both guitarists will often play a Texas-style guitar that I associate in my head with Jimmie Vaughan.

      Sucks that the videos won’t play. Always hard to predict. Probably can find those songs on Spotify or maybe some other YouTube version.

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  3. Cool stuff! Other than their version of “La Bamba,” which I like though it sounds very similar to Ritchie Valens, I don’t know Los Lobos’ music. The tunes you highlighted encourage me to further explore them.

    “Shakin’, Shakin’ Shakes” with it’s rockabilly groove sounds like something Carl Perkins or Johnny Cash could have done! I also like the cool blues rock sound of “Don’t Worry Baby.” As for “Sabor A Mi,” yep, I would definitely say that’s a bolero. You can literally picture a mariachi band.

    Thanks for bringing them on my radar screen!

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  4. Great band, great name. “Will the Wolf Survive” was a favorite at the jazz-blues station where I worked back in the mid-80s. Their staying power is proof of how talented they are.

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  5. If you like lesser known Hispanic bands check out Brownout. I gave their Black Sabbath tribute album a 9.5/10.

    Their set on radio station KEXP is on Youtube along with a bunch of others. They are really cool.

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    1. I decided to push this up near the top of the pile.What a sound! Holy shit.Truthfully, I haven’t listened to Sabbath much in years so I don’t recognize all the tunes. But the style is unmistakable.Who thinks of putting an 8-piece horn-driven band together and then doing Sabbath? Great stuff.Thanks.

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      1. I watched their videos and just had to buy the Brown Sabbath album.
        9.5/10.

        It could very well be a perfect 10.

        The horns are great. The guitarist is absolutely amazing, and multiple lead singers. A really different and cool band.
        I’m glad I am not alone in thinking they are great.

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        1. Just got to the end and heard “Fairies Wear Boots.” Great. God, I forgot about that song. I immediately listened to Sabbath’s original. Insane.

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  6. Yeah, “La Bamba” was a long time ago and I don’t know if that’s exactly the song they’d most want to be associated with. But they’re still cranking out great stuff and those who know, know.

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  7. Another good piece on a very good band. Been following them from the beginning. Was turned onto their music through The Blasters. There was a whole bunch of these great bands that showed up around the same time. When I seen the Blasters, Berlin and Lee Allen (Fats Domino) were playing the saxes together. Los Lobos is one of those bands that have so much music in them. And like you were saying about the “Zep-o meter”they pump it through their “meter”. Prolific and a high standard of great music would be a couple thoughts that would come to CB’s mind. These are the types are bands that CB loves. So that’s where he spends his listening time. Great post and another reason I drop by.
    Well I’m caught up and up to date. Get off your ass, I’m waiting for the next post!

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    1. The Blasters are a band on my “to-post” list. The funny thing about all this Los Lobos stuff is that apart from continued missing of them live, I hadn’t been listening to them much lately. I was going through CD’s a little while back, found their compilation and put it on a shelf with a bunch more “need to listen tos.”

      Then when I stuck that in the car and gave it a whirl, I was floored all over again by how great they sounded. I instantly kicked their post up to top position. It’s amazing how many people think Los Lobos=LaBamba. And that was thirty years ago! Based on reaction of newbies, I’m glad I got the word out.

      I can’t believe you’re caught up. What will you do with all that spare time? As to my next slothful contribution, I have an (I think) interesting three-parter starting tomorrow. Alas, I’m off of the “20 posts per month” train. Not because I want to be. I could post every day, but I’ve had too many people I know who read this blog encourage me to slow down a bit, give them a chance to catch up. Ten, eleven or so per month feels about right. (Note – if I exceed that number on any given month, you may consider what I said to be alternative facts.”)

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      1. Just keep doing your thing. It works for CB but I also think it works for you more. Your love for music comes through LOUD and clear. I’ve enjoyed and will continue to tune into your takes. When you give due to bands like Los Lobos (The Blasters) you’re speaking my lingo. This was the kind of music I was listening to in my younger days and am still listening to today. It’s timeless for CB. We have some of the same likes (I would say numerous likes). After reading this take I went for a good long walk this morning. Took Springsteen’s ‘Wrecking Ball’ and a Los Lobos ‘The Covers EP”. I pay attention when bands like this cover other peoples music. It tells a tale. Leads CB to all sorts of treasures. later fella.

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  8. I just got home from a music shop gire sale.
    (HMV is closing all of their stores in Canada).
    I bought the Dear Jerry: Jerry Garcia tribute concert 2cd/dvd set for $5 new.
    I noticed Los Lobos among a ton of others are on it. I can not wait to dig into it.

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  9. Thanks again for recommending “Just Another Band From East L.A.” as an intro to Los Lobs! I finally got an opportunity to listen to this compilation and also some of their other albums.

    While I certainly don’t want to pretend I’m now a Los Lobos expert, there’s no question these guys are extremely talented. The ability to play many different styles, including mariachi music,rockabilly, blues rock and classic rock, shows an impressive versatility.

    That being said, when it comes to Spanish music, to which I hardly listen to begin with, mariachi is not my first preference. I’m more into the groove of salsa and merengue.

    Coming back to Los Lobos, this generally means I think they’re at their best when playing blues rock and rockabilly. “Live at The Ritz” (NYC 1987) is a great example of the latter. I also think their last studio album, “Gates of Gold,” is pretty good!

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    1. Glad you dug them. And as mentioned, it’s the same damn band from the formation and they are still very much touring. Haven’t seen ’em live but how can they not kick ass? I don’t disagree on their blues/rock strength, but they pull off a form of music that I had not listened to much prior to hearing them way back when. I will likely never be a big fan of Mexican music. But if i like it at all, it’s solely due to them.

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  10. Yeah, they either never got another hit or just never really cared to pursue the fame game, not sure which. “La Bamba” was so long ago it’s for me to get a chance to get the word out even on a small scale.

    And BTW, need to get back to your site for another dose of classical.

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