Despite their 1977 album title, “Just Another Band from East L.A.,” Los Lobos is far from that. This Rock and Roll quintet has remained relevant for nearly four decades, by weaving a musical tapestry filled with Rock n’ Roll, Country, Tex-Mex, Blues, R&B, Folk, Rockabilly, Boleros and Nortenos influences. This eclectic mixture of musical styles has kept this band on the forefront of music’s biggest stages, and delighted fans both old and new with each passing album. Simply put, Los Lobos are not “a great Chicano band,” as many journalists tend to categorize them; they are a great band, period. Founding members Louie Perez, David Hidalgo, Conrad Lozano, and Cesar Rosas, along with subsequent member Steve Berlin, have continued to elevate music by pushing the bar and bringing music of the past to new fans, all in the same breath. This same line-up has remained intact since 1973, a testament to their dedication to the one thing that keeps them going strong; the music.
With group members hailing from the urban sprawl of East Los Angeles, Los Lobos’ early influences were the key to their current sound, as they heard and saw so many different types of music throughout their childhoods. Citing influences like Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, and Aretha Franklin, the neighborhood friends began picking up instruments and aspiring to be rock and roll musicians. After one afternoon spent digging through member Cesar Rosas’ mother’s record collection, the boys stumbled upon some traditional Mexican music, and immediately tried to play some of the songs for fun. They were frustrated when the songs didn’t come as easy to them as the rock and roll tunes they practiced, but this frustration led to a respect for traditional Latin and Mexican music, something that would instantly influence and stick with the band throughout their career.
Rather than wait for a record deal, the ambitious quintet released their first album, “Si Se Puede,” on their own in 1976, something that wasn’t often done in those days. This is just one of the visionary aspects of this group that they don’t get much credit for. With the indie rock movement in the ’90’s, as well as the “jam band” fever created by groups like The Dave Matthews Band and Phish, most critics and fans seems to forget that Los Lobos was doing this way back in the ’70’s! The group’s debut album began to create a buzz, so they followed it up with 1978’s “Los Lobos (Just Another Band from East L.A.), which also did well. They came strong again in 1983 with an EP called “…And a Time to Dance,” and by then, the music industry had taken notice. They won a Grammy for Best Mexican-American Performance for the song “Anselma.” Warner Bros. officially signed the band and immediately sent them into the studio with now legendary producer T-Bone Burnett, who has worked with the likes of Elvis Costello, Tony Bennett, B.B. King, and Robert Plant. The result was 1984’s “How Will the Wolf Survive,?” a critically acclaimed major label effort that made Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums of All-Time list, and thrust the band into mainstream consciousness. This led to the group’s most popular and influential project to date; they began working on the music for the Ritchie Valens biopic, “La Bamba.”
After meeting the Valenzuela family, Los Lobos was asked and requested by the family to reproduce Ritchie’s music for the movie’s soundtrack in 1987. The group was honored, and put their heart and soul into several of Ritchie’s hits, most notably, “La Bamba,” which hit number one on the Billboard charts. The soundtrack went double platinum and earned the group a reputation of being “The La Bamba boys;” something that became a gift and a curse all at the same time. Though they were great at playing vintage rock and roll, Los Lobos was also more eclectic and experimental, and when some of these new La Bamba fans checked out the other albums, they assumed everything sounded like “La Bamba.” The group switched directions and released an album shortly after the “La Bamba” soundtrack entitled “By the Light of the Moon,” which also received high praises from the critics. In 1989, the group again won the Grammy for Best Mexican American Performance for the album “La Pistola y la Corazon,” a collection of traditional Mexican Folk tunes. After releasing “The Neighborhood” in 1990, the band put all of their effort into the amazing and widely critically-acclaimed album “Kiko” in 1992. This album showcases the band’s songwriting and playing abilities like no other album in their catalog. A vast departure from their more commonly known styles, this album pushed the bar and defined the group’s creativity in an amazing collection of songs. After scoring the 1995 film “Desperado,” Los Lobos were again awarded a Grammy, this time for the instrumental suite “El Mariachi,” which took home the honor Best Pop Instrumental Performance.
Beyond the Grammy awards and millions of albums that this legendary group has sold, lies the most important legacy of the band, and that is their gift and appreciation for music. Los Lobos are widely respected among their peers, and have performed alongside the likes of Bob Dylan, U2, and The Grateful Dead. The group also refuses to forget where they come from, as evidenced by their boycotting of Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 Immigration Law. They pulled out of their June performance and issued this statement on their website www.loslobos.org: “We support the boycott of Arizona. The new law will inevitably lead to unfair racial profiling and possible abuse of people who just happen to look Latino. As a result, in good conscience, we could not see ourselves performing in Arizona. We regret the inconvenience this may have caused the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community, Casino Arizona, Talking Stick Resort and our fans, but we feel strongly that it is the right thing to do.” This conviction helps the band continue to rock on in 2010, as they are busy prepping for the August release of their 19th studio album, “Tin Can Trust.” The group remains undaunted and determined to continue to spread their gospel of great music across the world. “As we always say, if it’s good music, it’ll always come across. People can sense the sincerity of the musicianship, and the vocal styles. The traditional music, or folk music, you just can’t go wrong. The heart is in it. It’s the truth,” says founding member Cesar Rosas. La Verdad, indeed..