Los Lobos at 50: Cal-Mex rock vets celebrate storied history

Chris Riemenschneider, Star Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

Kind of like how they famously billed themselves as "just another band from East L.A." early on — as if tons of groups went from playing Mexican restaurants to joining the Los Angeles punk and roots-rock scene to landing a No. 1 hit — Los Lobos are not making too big of a deal of their 50th anniversary this year.

"We've never been much to draw too much attention to ourselves," said Louie Pérez, lyricist and multi-instrumentalist in the Grammy winning band.

"Fifty years is a big deal, but we're kind of doing what we always do: going around the country to our favorite places and doing what we do best on stage in front of a bunch of people. That's still a celebration for us, whatever year it is."

Pérez and the other three co-founding members of the group are in tow for the tour, along with longtime producer/multi-instrumentalist Steve Berlin.

That's maybe the top reason for them to celebrate: Even in their 50th year, Los Lobos are still an all-original band. No doubt that will be a theme of a documentary being made on the band for release next year by "20 Feet from Stardom" filmmaker Doug Blush.

Talking by phone last week before a show with Little Feat in Indianapolis, here's what Pérez had to say about the incomparable history of Los Lobos.

—On the early days of the group performing traditional Mexican music around East L.A.: "We were rock 'n' roll kids first, and then we discovered traditional Mexican music later. We got completely smitten by it, because it was challenging. But we did it mostly to make money to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. We played colleges' cultural center type gigs, but there wasn't much money in that, so our last recourse was to play in these Mexican restaurants and weddings.

"We did that stuff for the best part of 10 years, until we sort of found ourselves in the punk rock and rockabilly scene with the Blasters and landed our record deal [in 1983]."


—On bringing that music to the American mainstream via 1987′s Richie Valens biopic soundtrack "La Bamba," the title track of which became a No. 1 hit: "It spun us around a little bit. Up to that point, we had a couple critically acclaimed records, and so we were on track with what we worked for as a band. But then 'La Bamba' happened, and we very unexpectedly became rock stars with a worldwide hit.

"We were proud, though. Being where we came from, we were very aware that for nine weeks there was a 100-year-old Mexican traditional song atop the Billboard charts played by four Mexican kids from East L.A. It really meant a lot.

"And we took that limelight, that success, and turned it around and shined it even further on our own culture, because we followed that up with an acoustic record of traditional Mexican music from regional parts of Mexico ['La Pistola y el Corazón'], which a lot of people thought we were committing commercial suicide doing."

—Why another album of new songs is still far off, following 2022′s "Native Sons," their tribute album to other L.A. bands: "We've just been [performing] a bunch since COVID and haven't found the time. David [Hidalgo] and I, we just kind of compartmentalize and spend a lot of time with our families when we're not on the road. When the time comes, we'll do another record. We've always set out to not just write new music on demand. We like it to be very spontaneous. We'll go into the studio and have ideas, and then pretty much David and I and Cesar [Rosas] write as we're recording. It's a little harrowing for the songwriters that way, but it's cool."

—On what keeps the band members all going into their 70s: "There's no retirement center for rock 'n' roll seniors. You gotta go just as hard as you did as a kid. There's nothing that's going to make the drive to Duluth any shorter or easier. So we just have to face that and just kind of slow down. Physically, we can't do those long tours anymore. The last one we did was three months with the Tedeschi Trucks Band [in 2022], and after that we said we just can't do that anymore. The most we got is maybe 10-12 days.

"That's also a result of COVID, when we were forced to learn how to spend more time at home. I learned how to put it, how to putter around the house, and discovered that me and my wife actually like each other. We all learned to be better husbands and to enjoy being grandfathers. I think we've earned the right to enjoy our families and stay home, as much as we still love our band, too."

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