“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