Lobos have been the most successful Chicano rock band of all
time. They’ve managed to achieve a level of success
and maintain it continuously since their major label debut
in 1983. Aside
from their commercial success, they seem to consistently be
a favorite of the most respected rock critics. They
are equally adept on their rock & roll instruments as
their traditional Mexican acoustic gear, and sing and play
authentically in English and Spanish. They have a unique
chemistry, which was helped by the fact they played together
for ten years before their major label debut. David
Hidalgo is the chief lead singer and the most accomplished
musician; playing guitar, violin, accordion, lap steel guitar
and a range of different Mexican acoustic instruments, all
with great ability. He also co-writes most of the groups
songs with Louis Perez, who I believe is the chief lyricist
and the most cerebral of the group. His main instrument
in the band is drums, but he’s a guitarist who got the
drummer job by default much like Paul McCartney, also originally
a guitar player, became The Beatles’ bass player.
Cesar Rosas provides a bluesy edge with his vocals and second
lead guitar, as well as writing a few songs for each album.
He also sings most of the Spanish language songs. On
electric bass and guitarrón is my old high school friend,
Conrad Lozano, who played with Tierra for a short time in
the early 70’s. All the aforementioned Lobos attended
my alma mater, Garfield High School in East Los Angeles.
In the early 80’s they added sax player Steve Berlin,
who defected from The Blasters.
Louie, Cesar, and Conrad all originally played rock &
roll and r&b like other Chicanos in East L.A. in the sixties.
In 1973, they decided to learn to play traditional Mexican
styles. After eight years, hundreds of gigs and a Mexican
repertoire of 150 songs, they returned to their rock &
roll roots, inspired by the burgeoning punk scene of the early
80’s. They opened for Dave Alvin and the Blasters
at the Whiskey with a combination of rock and traditional
Mexican music that blew away a stunned punk crowd. They
soon signed with Slash Records and the rest is history.
I knew David, Louie, and Conrad long before their notoriety.
I saw Los Lobos play at various gigs, including a house party
for our mutual friend, the late great artist Carlos Almaraz,
in the early 80’s. I remember them playing inside
the house while most of the people were outside talking, not
realizing that in a short time they would become a famous
band. I got to know Cesar in 1995 when I sang back up
on a track of their Grammy nominated children’s album,
“Papa’s Dream.” My father, Lalo Guerrero,
narrated the record, wrote lyrics to a couple of songs and
sang lead on a few tracks. The album was billed “Los
Lobos with Lalo Guerrero.” Later that year, Cesar
and I backed up rock & roll hall of famer Eric Burdon
at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, California.
Los Lobos have the following albums to their credit:
“Just Another Band from East L.A.,” a collection
of traditional Mexican folk music independently recorded and
released in 1978. “And a Time to Dance”
(1983), a seven song EP, which had both rock & roll and
traditional Mexican music. The song “Anselma,”
a norteño song, won a Grammy award in the Best Mexican American
Performance category. “How Will the Wolf Survive”
(1985), their first full-fledged album on a major label, which
included the great song and record “Will the Wolf Survive.”
The song made the charts and was covered by country music
legend Waylon Jennings. “By the Light of the Moon”
(1987), which included “One Night One Time in America.”
This song, which was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Rock
Performance category, was also used in the Sean Penn-Robert
Duvall movie, “Colors.” Also in 1987, Los
Lobos recorded seven of the tracks for the “La Bamba”
motion picture soundtrack, including the remake of Ritchie
Valens’ version of “La Bamba,” which sold
two million copies and reached #1 in 27 countries including
the U.S. It was also nominated for a Grammy in the Best
Song of the Year category. “La Pistola y el Corazón”
(1988), a return to Mexican folk music, which earned the group
a second Grammy in the Best Mexican-American Performance category.
“The Neighborhood” (1990), which featured the
artwork of the aforementioned Carlos Almaraz on its cover,
is a collection of blues and country flavored music.
“Kiko” (1992), a real artistic leap for the group.
Here they started to experiment with different sounds and
textures and more sophisticated production. My favorite
cut on this album is “Kiko and the Lavender Moon.”
“Just Another Band from East L.A.” (1993), a collection
of the best from the previous albums. “Colossal
Head” (1998), another step up in their musical and recording
evolution. It contains a song entitled, “Mas y
Mas,” which is dedicated to my dad, who's talent and
legacy they acknowledge. "This Time" (2000),
a collection of mostly blues and rhythm & blues oriented
songs, with the exception of my two favorite songs on the
album, a cha cha entitled "Corazón," and a cumbia
called "Cumbia Raza." Also, a four CD set
has been released in (2000) entitled "Los Lobos' "El
Cancionero Mas y Mas" by Rhino/Warner Archives.
It traces the band from their first self-financed album through
their entire career to this point. "Good Morning
Aztlán (2002) is a hard driving record, produced by John Leckie
(Radiohead, The Verve). It also features a bilingual
folk song, Cuban salsa, and 70s inspired r&b. Their
next album, released in May of 2004, "The Ride"
features guest appearances by the likes of Tom Waits, Elvis
Costello, Bobby Womack, East L.A.'s Little Willie G., Garth
Hudson, Mavis Staples, Ruben Blades, Dave Alvin, Richard Thompson,
and others. In 2005, "Live at the Fillmore"
was released on CD and DVD. In 2007, a great CD called
"The Town and the City" was released. It's
a great sounding record with some good songs. My favorites
are "Little Things," a soulful mid-tempo song with
nice changes and a great bluesy melody written by Hildago
and Perez and sung by David Hidalgo, and "Chuco's Cumbia,"
written and sung by Cesar Rosas. The latter song may have
been influenced by my dad's pachuco recordings of the late
40s. For more details and updates of their recording
and "live" activities, visit their website at www.loslobos.org.
Lobos have spread the gospel of rock & roll and traditional
Mexican music all over the world. They’ve performed
with artists, such as U2, The Clash, The Eagles, and The Grateful
Dead. Their songs have been utilized in many motion
pictures, and they’ve won respect in the music industry
and with the public, as a group with talent and integrity.
These are the ingredients that have helped the wolf survive
for the last 40 years and will help them continue on.