Rock, Folk, Tejano Band
"It became a mission, almost a crusade ... bringing music together to bring people together." — Los Lobos's Louie Pérez.
During their twenty-five years together, Los Lobos has emerged as one of the most respected and original bands around. Combining rock, folk, blues, R & B, country, and Tex-Mex with traditional Mexican music, they've continually tried new sounds and confounded anyone who tries to classify them.
David Hidalgo, Conrad Lozano, Louie Perez, and Cesar Rosas formed Los Lobos (Spanish for "The Wolves") in 1974. They were high school friends from East Los Angeles. "We were friends before we were ever a band. I think that's one of the reasons we've been around as long as we have," said Perez, drummer and multi-instrumentalist, in a record company biography.
Singer/guitarist Hidalgo has been playing guitar and listening to rock music since he was eleven. He learned the drums and played in a Christian rock band in the early 1970s. Guitarist Rosas moved to Los Angeles from Sonora, Mexico, when he was seven. He taught himself guitar in high school. Bassist Lozano was a musician who had been playing in another Los Angeles band, Tierra. Perez, who learned guitar at twelve, joined the band as a guitarist (he later switched to drums when the band decided they needed a drummer.)
It wasn't like the band set out to be the adventurous, unique outfit they are today. Originally they were a garage band. "After awhile, trying to match licks with [guitarist Eric] Clapton got a little old and we started listening to the music we'd grown up with," said Perez in a press release for The Neighborhood. "We pulled out all those records we used to beg our parents not to play around our friends and found an incredible wealth of music. These guys were doing amazing things with their instruments and we started trying to pick up on it."
They played at weddings and parties, before getting their first real gig at a Mexican restaurant. "It wasn't even a real Mexican restaurant, one of those tourist joints," said Rosas in Guitar World. "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."
The band started getting more equipment and experimenting with an electric sound trying to get closer to a Tex-Mex sound. Then they realized how close the songs sounded to the rock and roll format. "We brought our bigger amps and we started playing real loud. Soon after that, we got fired," said Perez in a record company bio. But the band had discovered its sound.
They raised money from their friends and recorded an album Just Another Band from L.A., for the New Vista label. They sold the record at their shows, which were becoming increasingly popular around Los Angeles. It was an active time on the L.A. music scene, when a lot of bands were fans of roots rock. At one show, Los Lobos opened for rockabilly group the Blasters and made friends with the band. The Blasters' saxophone player, Steve Berlin, was especially impressed by Los Lobos and eventually signed on as their sax player. The Blasters also helped Los Lobos get a deal with their record label, Slash.
In 1983 the band put out their major label debut, the EP ...And a Time To Dance. The record earned the band their first of many Grammy Awards, this time for the song "Anselma." And maybe even better, after the EP sold 50,000 copies the band had enough money to buy a second-hand van for touring.
With a little more money to work with, the band recorded How Will the Wolf Survive? which mixed traditional Mexican songs, rock and roll, and blues. The record caught the attention of Paul Simon, who asked the band to sing on his Graceland record, and Elvis Costello, who had them sing on King Of America. The band worked on their own music, too, and came up with the more pop-oriented By the Light of the Moon.
Anyone who hadn't already heard of Los Lobos certainly did in 1987. That's when the band's version of Ritchie Valens' "La Bamba," from the movie of the same name, became a number one hit. But instead of following the record up with a commercial release, Los Lobos tried something different entirely — a recording of traditional Mexican songs called La Pistola Y El Corazon, Spanish for "the pistol and the heart." "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. The All Music Guide to Rock gave the record four out of five stars, saying it "isn't a history lesson, but a celebration of their heritage and its joyous music, which means that it's just as exciting and entertaining as their rock and roll records."
Los Lobos took two years off and returned with The Neighborhood. It was recorded informally. "We didn't want to run the songs into the ground. When you think about something too much, things tend to lose some spirit and heart. So we would just roll tape and go with our instincts," said Perez, in a press release for the record. Rolling Stone called the record, along with How Will the Wolf Survive? and By the Light of the Moon "masterpieces." In retrospect, Hidalgo views the record differently. "It's not a bad record, but the business side of that record took us out for a while. It came out while we were on the road, and it didn't get any push. Nobody even heard about it, and we came back from the road in debt," said Hidalgo in Guitar Player.
In 1992 the band came out with what many critics and fans think is their best record, Kiko. On the record, they mixed their roots music with a glossy, atmospheric production. The record made "album of the year" in newspapers across the country, including the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune. An inventive video for the song "Kiko and the Lavender Moon," didn't get much airtime on MTV, although it did win an MTV award.
The band celebrated twenty years together by releasing a two-CD compilation, Just Another Band from East L.A ... A Collection, including material from live shows, out-takes, and material from their early indie records. Before regrouping for their next big release, the members of Los Lobos worked on various side projects. They put out the children's record Papa's Dream and worked on songs for the movies Desperado and Feeling Minnesota. Hidalgo and Perez teamed up for the Latin Playboys, an avant-garde roots band.
The band recorded Colossal Head quickly, trying to catch the first sparks of inspiration. "We were working really fast," said Perez in a press release for Colossal Head. "We couldn't second guess ourselves. I would be writing something in the studio lounge, and it was like 'Are you ready to record that yet?' But I really think that the first thought is usually the best thought."
Unfortunately, many critics didn't agree. Entertainment Weekly gave the record a "B-," saying they "waste too much time groaning leaden beat-generation platitudes." Rolling Stone was even harsher, giving the record two out of five stars and saying the band was "still searching for the right balance between experimentation and craftsmanship, and between concepts and passion."
For three years after Colosaal Head, the band members were busy but the band itself seemed to disappear. Hidalgo and Perez prepared to release their second album as the Latin Playboys. Cesar Rosas did a solo album. And Hildalgo did another side project. The band also got a new label, moving from Warner to Hollywood. In 1999, all of the side projects were released at the same time that the band released a new album called This Time, which showcased the many new sounds all of the individual Los Lobos members had been working on.
Grammy, Best Mexican/American Performance, "Anselma," 1984
Golden Eagle Award, Best Film Soundtrack, "La Bamba," 1988
Grammy, Best Rock Performance By A Duo or Group, La Pistola Y El Corazon, 1988
MTV Music Video Awards, Breakthrough Video, "Kiko and the Lavender Moon," 1993
Grammy, Best Pop Instrumental, "Mariachi Suite," 1995
How Will the Wolf Survive? (Slash/Warner Bros.), 1984.
By the Light of the Moon (Slash/Warner Bros.), 1987.
The Neighborhood (Slash/Warner Bros.), 1990.
Kiko (Slash/Warner Bros.), 1992.
Just Another Band from East L.A.: A Collection, (Slash/Warner Bros.), 1993.
Colossal Head (Slash/Warner Bros.), 1996.
Andrews, Jon, "Colossal Head," Downbeat, June 1996, p.
Eddy, Chuck, "Colossal Head," Entertainment Weekly, March 22, 1996, p. 75.
Forte, Dan, "Los Lobos," Guitar Player, July 1995, p. 38.
Himes, Geoffrey, "Colossal Head," Rolling Stone, April 18, 1996, p. 70.
Hochman, Steve, "Los Lobos," Rolling Stone, October 1, 1992, p. 34.
Thompson, Art, and Ellis, Andy, "Flex Mex: New Twists from Los Lobos," Guitar Player, October, 1996, p. 68.
Contact Information: Slash, 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505.
U*X*L Biographies. U*X*L, 1999.
Reproduced in Discovering Collection. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale. December, 2000.