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
“We could go to any barrio, and somebody knew who we were,” says Lozano. (In the Bloods-and-Crips film Colors, Los Lobos’ music shows up in South-Central.)
The band started doing shows at Cal State L.A., and at East L.A. College, which they attended; young professors used them to re-introduce Mexican folk music to their peers and the younger generation. Los Lobos’ folkloric outreach was so successful that PBS taped a 1975 special on the group.
In 1978, Los Lobos recorded their first album, the independent release Just Another Band From East L.A., which contains classic folk songs such as the Mexican bolero “Sabor a Mí.” That disc is so rare, Pérez doesn’t even own a copy. “We printed a total of 600 to 800 copies,” he says. “The last 400 printings had side one on both sides.” “Those are real collectibles,” laughs Hidalgo. “They’re worth, like, 50 bucks.”
Two momentous events would change their lives. In 1980, a group called the .45s canceled on an opening slot for John Lydon’s Public Image Ltd. at the Olympic Auditorium. A friend from another band on the bill, Tito Larriva of the Plugz, got Los Lobos the gig. They were pelted with everything that wasn’t tied down, but they got their name out there.
Then one night at the Country Club, they met Phil Alvin of the Blasters and gave him a five-song tape of music they had recorded in Lozano’s garage.
“We’re from East L.A.,” Hidalgo told Alvin. “What part of East L.A.?” Alvin asked — then he recognized them from the PBS special. A month later, he called them: “Hey, you wanna open up for us?”
The Blasters were the hottest band in L.A. at the time, doing five nights at the Whisky. On January 22, 1982, Los Lobos blew away the packed punk crowd. The guys from the other side of the river were now part of the Hollywood punk scene, where they would bill with the Germs, X and the Circle Jerks, even opening for the Clash.
Steve Berlin, with the Blasters at the time, met Los Lobos at the Whisky; they told him their music had a saxophone tradition and invited him to jam. He performed with both bands for a while, but “I thought life would be a lot more fun playing with these guys.”
Everything moved quickly. In 1982, Los Lobos signed to Slash Records. “Slash was it,” says Berlin. “Everybody was on Slash or SST. All the punk bands signed with SST. We weren’t quite punk, so we signed with Slash.” In ’83 they recorded the EP And a Time To Dance, and won a Grammy for the song “Anselma.” Warner Bros. scooped up the group, and How Will the Wolf Survive?was released in 1984. By the Light of the Moon, which included the killer “One Time One Night,” followed in 1987.
In 1988, the band returned to their acoustic tradition with La Pistola y el Corazón,which won them a second Grammy for the title song. 1990’s full-on rock album The Neighborhood followed. In 1992, having “nothing to lose,” says Berlin, Los Lobos took a leap and began experimenting with different sounds on KiKo. 1996’s Colossal Head continued in a similar adventurous style. 1999’s Hollywood Records premiere, This Time, was a collection of eclectic R&B. The multiflavored Good Morning Aztlán dropped in 2002. The new one, The Ride, mixes exciting new material with old songs featuring legendary performers.
Los Lobos’ schedule is full today; they’re due in Echo Park for another photo shoot. Signing copies of The Ride, they accept Garfield T-shirts from the student body — “These are extra-large, right?”
Berlin suggests I jump in the car with him and Pérez and finish up the interview on the ride to Echo Park. Berlin drives, talking about his days with the Plugz and the Blasters, and the challenges of a Philly-born Jewish guy playing with four Mexicans: “I had no exposure to the folk music they were playing — it was very exciting.”
Berlin also comes up with some insider history: “Slash signed Los Lobos and a band called Green on Red on the same day. Bob Biggs [president of Slash at the time] said he was more excited about signing Green on Red. He thought Green on Red would be big stars.”
At the Jensen Recreation Center on Sunset Boulevard, the guys have pressing matters to attend to before the shoot. From a Mexican street vendor, tour manager Armando Tavares has bought them all fruit salads with powdered chile, which they devour immediately — the tamales were obviously not enough. But they’d rather be eating tacos from King Taco on Third Street in East L.A., or burritos from El Tepeyac in Boyle Heights. Wolves are carnivores, after all.
Tavares says it’s not uncommon for Los Lobos to drive to an East L.A. taquería after a show at the Greek Theater; he demands that Hidalgo tell “the tortilla story.” It seems they were touring in Switzerland, and Lozano was the only one carrying prepackaged Mexican food — hard to find in the Alps. Hidalgo got a craving and nudged a tortilla out of Lozano. They went to a restaurant, but Hidalgo couldn’t make the waitress understand that he wanted the tortilla heated up to complement his bacon and eggs. So he shouldered his way back to the kitchen griddle and flipped it himself, bewildering the staff and cracking up the band.