By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Photo by Gregory Bojorquez
Photographer Gregory Bojorquez and I roll down Atlantic Boulevard in East Los, bumpin’ 2Pac through the speakers of Greg’s fat pale-yellow ’78 Coupe de Ville. We make a right on Sixth Street, then another quick right on Frasier, and pull up next to a metallic-green ’66 El Dorado. The ranflabelongs to Conrad Lozano, bassist for Los Lobos. Celebrating their 12th album, The Ride, and 30 years as a band, the group have returned to reminisce at Garfield High School, where founding members Lozano (class of ’70), Louie Pérez (class of ’71), David Hidalgo (class of ’72) and Cesar Rosas (class of ’72) got started. It’s been 20 years since the four and Steve Berlin, who joined in 1983 and is also here today, released their major-label debut, How Will the Wolf Survive?
“I remember metal shop used to be right here,” says Lozano, pointing to an empty classroom by the entrance gate. Laura Alvarado, one of Garfield’s assistant principals, walks us over to the lunch area, where all the food fights go down. Hidalgo gestures toward the new school layout: “All of this was just grass, none of this was here.”
Word quickly gets out that Los Lobos are on campus. Interim principal Onofre di Stefano shows up with a poster, and the group sign it. But before this becomes an autograph session, we walk into one of the buildings for a photo shoot.
“My locker used to be right here,” says Pérez, tapping on one.
“Do you remember the combination?” someone asks. The band, eager to see the rest of the school, can’t stand still while being photographed.
“Hey, is Woessner still around?” asks Lozano.
“Yes,” says Ms. Alvarado. “His class is just down there.” I’m amazed — Tom Woessner was my A.P. European-history teacher when I was a senior (class of ’90). “Man,” says Lozano, “I was late to Woessner’s class all the time. I got thrown out of his class.” He strolls down the hall to pay a surprise visit, and student and teacher reunite — a nice moment.
Band, principal, vice principal, teachers and students crowd over to the field bleachers, where students are jogging around the track.
“I remember running around the track,” says Rosas, sporting his signature black shades. “And then when we got to the ROTC building, I’d stick my middle finger out at all the preppies.”
Steve Wright, the longtime cross-country coach, approaches. He remembers seeing Los Lobos at a dive called Manny Lopez’s on Atlantic. “Right there,” he says, pointing. “Me and, like, three other people. They played every Thursday for a $1 or $2 cover.”
Since we’re right above the cafeteria, the topic quickly moves to Los Lobos’ favorite subject, food.
“Remember the grilled cheese?”
“Oh, how about the Bulldog Burrito, all deep-fried.”
“How about those breakfast cinnamon rolls — and the coffee cakes, man, those were good.”
The varsity football team is out on the field for spring practice; I ask if the guys ever went to the East L.A. Classic. (The Garfield-Roosevelt football game is the largest high school rivalry west of the Mississippi.)
“Oh yeah,” says Pérez. “We’d go to Shakey’s and throw chingasos” — punches, that is. “You’d walk in and the whole place was throwing.”
In the bleachers, before we begin our interview, Los Lobos decide to grub on a big, fat, brown-stained bag of tamales and other Mexican goodies Pérez has picked up from his old neighborhood. I bust out my microcassette.
“Let’s test it out,” says Hidalgo. He pulls out a chicharrónand snaps it into the recorder. Pérez takes it up a notch, biting down on a chicharrón. I rewind and play back.
Eighth-grade plastic shop at Stevenson Junior High, just down Whittier Boulevard, is where Hidalgo first encountered Rosas. “We were both sniffing laminating fluid,” jokes Hidalgo. Pérez and Lozano lived a block from each other, but wouldn’t meet till they got in trouble together at Garfield.
The four finally converged in an art class, discussing rock & roll instead of drawing & painting.
“We were all silly troublemakers,” recalls Hidalgo.
Hidalgo, Rosas, Lozano and Pérez were members of different neighborhood rock groups. “We all had bands,” says Rosas, who played in a Tower of Power–style crew. Lozano was in the Chicano Eastside outfit Tierra. The four friends jammed out as Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles (the Wolves of East L.A.), a name derived from the norteño band Los Lobos del Norte. When Lozano began spending more and more time with Los Lobos, Tierra gave him an ultimatum. You know his response.
Los Lobos began to play Mexican folk music they heard around their parents’ house: corridos, rancheras, norteños.
“No one else our age was doing it,” says Hidalgo.
They performed everywhere — restaurants, backyard parties, quinceañeras. “We played all around the neighborhoods for 10 years, and we played for anyone that would hire us. We played a lot of weddings around East L.A. and Montebello,” says Rosas.
“Moleand all the beer we could drink,” adds Hidalgo.