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Members include SteveBerlin(born on September 11, 1955, in Philadelphia, PA; formerly of the Blasters; joined group, 1984), saxophone, harmonica, vocals; DavidHidalgo (born on October 4, 1954, in Los Angeles, CA), guitar, accordion, violin, vocals; ConradLozano (born in 1952 in Los Angeles, CA), bass, guitarron, vocals; LouiePerez (born Louis F. Perez, Jr.), drums, guitar, vocals; CesarRosas (born on September 26, 1954, in Hermosillo, Mexico), guitar, bajo sexto, mandolin, vihuela, vocals. Addresses: Record company--Mammoth Records, 99 Hudson St., 8th Floor, New York, NY 10013, phone: (212) 925-0331.
When the roots-rock revival of the early 1980s appeared, Los Lobos would probably have been picked as the least likely to succeed. While bands like the Stray Cats and the Fabulous Thunderbirds stuck mainly to one genre, Los Lobos took on a bigger challenge by combining country swing, rock 'n' roll, Mexican nortena, rhythm and blues, and the blues. It may sound like an impossible repertoire to pull off, but the five-piece unit from East Los Angeles shifts between these various influences effortlessly. As their producer T-Bone Burnette pointed out in Musician, in order to survive and retain their uniqueness, the band must maintain a certain musical balance. "There's a danger, because Los Lobos began by playing nortena music, of turning into a novelty ... or of going so far away that it becomes just another hard rock band."
The four original members, David Hidalgo, Cesar Rosas, Louie Perez, and Conrad Lozano (Steve Berlin joined around 1983), had known each other since their high school days and grew up in basically the same neighborhood. Up until 1973, they had all played in various top 40 bands. Realizing that just regurgitating current popular songs was not what any of them wanted to do, they decided to explore their Mexican roots and learn the folk songs they were raised on but had never paid much attention to. "We were just rock and roll musicians, and we discovered this stuff," Perez told Guitar Player. "All of a sudden it was like we lifted a rock and there was this incredible life that was teeming under it."
They began by collecting as many of the old recordings as they could find and then dissecting each one in order to play it properly. Their skills were tested on many instruments that they had never played before as they gathered in backyards to learn tunes by artists like Miguel Aveces Mejia from the late 1950s. They started playing at parties, weddings and other small events before landing their first full-time gig in 1978 at an Orange County Mexican restaurant. "It wasn't even a real Mexican restaurant," Rosas said in Guitar World. "One of those tourist joints. We were working there because we had come to a point where we had to either make more money from music or find other jobs; some of us had gotten married, and we weren't kids anymore."
Small Time Band
For their first eight years, Los Lobos was an all-acoustic group playing only traditional music. They had accumulated over 30 different instruments but it took a UCLA student, Art Gerst, who was a fanatic for Mexican music, to set them straight on the proper and authentic techniques to use. "He told us he liked the spirit we had in our playing," Hidalgo told Harold Steinblatt in Guitar World. "Unfortunately, he also said that we were playing completely incorrectly." After that was straightened out, the band began to incorporate some Tex-Mex instruments, like the accordion, and songs from Flaco Jimenez, Jacito Gartito, Los Piuquenes del Norte, and Los Alegres de Tiran. As their influences broadened, so did their arsenal of equipment and before long they were pulling out their electric guitars and amplifiers. Their two-year stint at the restaurant ended when the owner complained about their loudness. That incident was repeated shortly after at another restaurant when they played Cream's version of the old blues number, "Crossroads."
They had earlier recorded an album, Just Another Band From East L.A., on a very limited budget, but it got them nowhere. With so many different influences between them, they decided to try and put together some originals. "We started writing songs to satisfy our need to play something in between, something that belonged to us," Perez stated in Down Beat. They sent a tape of songs to Phil Alvin, leader of another roots band that was gaining notoriety in L.A., the Blasters. Alvin was impressed enough to have Los Lobos open for them at the Whiskey nightclub in Hollywood and convinced his own label, Slash, to sign them. Suddenly, with a record contract under their belts, what had started out as a hobby and a labor of love was now much more serious. "We never thought that we might get gigs out of this, we just enjoyed what we were doing," Lozano told Musician. "But then we started getting TV coverage, and Chicano awareness began happening, and suddenly it turned out we had a lot of input, a lot of influence over people because of this music."
They released a seven-song EP, ... And A Time To Dance, in 1983 to critical raves. Produced by Burnette and Blasters' saxman Steve Berlin, the record was just the beginning of Los Lobos' muscle-flexing. Dan Forte wrote in Guitar Player that the group "displayed almost an overabundance of confidence." Their Grammy Award for Best Mexican-American Song for "Anselma" convinced those who doubted their authenticity.
Their follow-up LP, By The Light of the Moon, showed them expanding even more. Not only was the musicianship superb, but the songwriting also belonged in a class of its own, moving beyond mere lyrics to social commentary. "The portraits that merge ... are arresting as much for their diversity as for the appalling waste of human potential they illustrate time and again," wrote Gene Santoro in Down Beat. "Los Lobos have brought their rich musical hybrid ... into the mainstream--with a vengeance."
In 1987, Los Lobos was the centerpiece of the soundtrack to the movie La Bamba. They were able to recreate, and sometimes outdo, the original recordings of the late Richie Valens. Their version of the title track reached the American top 10 and helped to secure an even larger audience for the group. With record sales beyond the wildest expectations of both Los Lobos and Slash, the band now had the clout to do what only a few artists--such as Bruce Springsteen with Nebraska--are capable of accomplishing.
In 1989, they released La Pistola y El Corazon, an album consisting solely of the type of folk songs that they began with some 15 years earlier. "We talked about doing something like this since the day we signed a deal with the company, to take this music and record it properly," said Hidalgo in Guitar World. As Harold Steinblatt stated in the same issue, "The record is no gimmick ... it is a stunning personal statement of musical faith by a band at the height of its creative powers." Powers which have not gone unnoticed by other artists either, like Ry Cooder and Paul Simon, who have tapped Los Lobos' talents for various projects of their own.
After La Pistol y El Corazon, Los Lobos took two years off. They came back with the 1990 release, The Neighborhood, which garnered good reviews. 1992's Kiko was experimental whereas Neighborhood was rock 'n' roll and all electric. At this point, Hidalgo and Perez released Latin Playboys as the splinter group Latin Playboys. Then came the children's album, Papa's Dream. In 1996, they released Colossal Head while doing a spattering of movie soundtracks here and there, including Desperado, From Dusk Til Dawn, The Mambo Kings, and Feeling Minnesota. In 1999, Los Lobos released their Hollywood Records' debut, This Time.
Doing What It Takes
Instead of hiring additional musicians for the different instruments, the four members split the chores among themselves. Perez, who along with Hidalgo is the group's chief songwriter, had begun playing drums only years after he joined the group. He was originally a guitarist, picking up the instrument when he was 12 and continuing to play throughout various rock bands. In his mid-twenties he was elected band drummer when Los Lobos began to go electric. "We couldn't see bringing anybody new into the band. And when we got into the Tex-Mex format, which had drums, I just sort of fell into that," he explained to Guitar Player.
Bassist Lozano began playing British Invasion rock 'n' roll when he was 16. Before joining Los Lobos, he played in another L.A. band, Tierra, which had a hit single with "Together." After juggling his time between the two bands, Lozano decided to become a full-time member of Los Lobos in 1973, about six weeks after the group had formed. He plays both the electric and acoustic bass in addition to the guitarron and providing vocals.
Basically self-taught, Rosas took some lessons early on guitar, in order to learn a bit about theory and chord work. With influences like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and the blues Kings--Albert, B.B., and Freddie--Rosas provides the crunch for Los Lobos. In addition to guitar, he also plays the bajo sexto, mandolin, and the vihuela, and his vocals offer a distinctly rough contrast to Hidalgo's.
"You have to understand, the band does work and evolve around David," Lozano said of Hidalgo in Musician. "His playing is so strong; his talent is still being tapped." A musician's musician, Hidalgo began his musical career as a drummer in the early 1970s, playing in a Christian rock band. He had already been playing guitar since he was eleven, growing up on the standard rock influences like Chuck Berry and the Ventures. However, Hidalgo expanded into more sophisticated areas and began to absorb the work of guitarists like Les Paul, Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt, Merle Travis and others like Hank Williams and the Hawaiian lap-steel players. His capabilities extend from guitar and violin to accordion and drums. "There are certain things you can only do on certain instruments," he told Guitar Player. "It's just that I wanted to hear those sounds, and nobody in the group played them, so I figured I'd try."
Steve Berlin joined the group after working on their EP. His full tenor and baritone saxophones add another dimension to Los Lobos' sound, as on the 1950s-styled party tune "I Got Loaded." "It got silly trying to do both the Blasters and Los Lobos, and since I got to play so much more with Los Lobos, it was more fulfilling," he told Down Beat. Berlin also co-produced their first LP, How Will The Wolf Survive? and continues to do production work for other bands in Seattle.
"Whoever has the best handle on it takes it." Hidalgo said in Guitar Player to Art Thompson and Andy Ellis, about the way the band approaches their music. "Because when we're in the studio, we try to keep things moving. There's no ego thing. It's like, Oh, you got it down? Just do it. Keep the ball rolling, so we never get in a rut. That's the way we work." Another part of the magic of Los Lobos is that every song the group does covers different territory, from Tex-Mex polkas to New Orleans rhythm and blues. As Perez pointed out in Guitar Player, the group defies categorization. "As far as this band is concerned, coming from a diverse background and diverse musicianship, I think it would be unfair to stick us under one label."
by Calen D. Stone
Los Lobos's Career
Group name means "The Wolves" in English; group formed in Los Angeles, CA, to perform Mexican folk music, 1973; performed as an all-acoustic band, 1973-81; as acousto-electric band, 1981-; released first major album, How Will the Wolf Survive?, 1984; had crossover hit with "La Bamba," 1987; returned after two-year hiatus with The Neighborhood, 1990; went experimental with Kiko, 1992; released career retrospective, Just Another Band From East L.A.: A Collection, 1993;
Los Lobos's Awards
Grammy Awards, Best Mexican/American Performance for "Anselma," 1983; Best Mexican-American Performance for "La Pistola Y El Corazon," 1989; Best Pop Instrumental Performance for "Mariachi Suite," 1995; selected Band of the Year and Best New Artist, Rolling Stone critics' poll, 1986; Billboard Latin Music Awards, Lifetime Achievement Award, 2001.
- Selected discography
- Del Este de Los Angeles (independent release), 1978; reissued, Hollywood, 2000.
- ... And A Time to Dance (EP), Slash/Warner Bros., 1983.
- How Will the Wolf Survive? , Slash/Warner Bros., 1984.
- By the Light of the Moon Slash/Warner Bros., 1987.
- La Bamba: The Original Soundtrack , Slash/Warner Bros., 1987.
- La Pistola y El Corazon Slash/Warner Bros., 1988.
- The Neighborhood , Slash/Warner Bros., 1990.
- (Contributor) The Mambo Kings (soundtrack), Asylum, 1991.
- Kiko , Slash/Warner Bros., 1992.
- Just Another Band from East L.A.: A Collection , Slash/Warner Bros., 1993.
- Papa's Dream (children's album), Music for Little People, 1995.
- (Contributor) Desperado (soundtrack), Epic/Sony, 1995.
- Colossal Head , Warner Bros., 1996.
- (Contributor) From Dusk Til Dawn (soundtrack), Sony, 1996.
- (Contributor) Feeling Minnesota (soundtrack), Atlantic, 1996.
- This Time , Hollywood, 1999.
- El Cancionero--Mas y Mas: A History of the Band from East L.A. , Rhino, 2000.
May 4, 2004: Los Lobos' album, The Ride, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_6/index.jsp, May 7, 2004.
- Down Beat, May 1984; February 1985; April 1985; April 1987.
- Guitar Player, March 1984; May 1984; January 1985; February 1987; October 1987; December 1988; July 1995; October 1996.
- Guitar World, September 1986; February 1989.
- Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, September 28, 1993; May 15, 1996.
- Musician, April 1987.
- Grammy.com, http://www.grammy.com (February 4, 2002).
- "Los Lobos," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 4, 2002).
- "Los Lobos," RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com (February 4, 2002).
Los Lobos Lyrics
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