Friday, July 12, 2013


I was first inspired to start this blog when thinking about the American Sabor exhibit that I mentioned in my introductory post. I was thinking "How cool is it that all this Latino music that we think of as foreign comes from right here is the USA?"  In many cases, even the musicians themselves were born here, not, well, there. They are the children of immigrants, living out their version of the American Dream.

I proposed a regular column to one of the folks that is kind enough to publish my musings, discussing the music released by these US / Latin hybrids, but there really wasn't room for it at the time. So, I filed the idea and let it gestate over the winter.

I've since decided that, A.) I would start a blog, and B.) it would address more than just music and certainly more then Latino music. But.. to honor that original intent, can I just say the Los Lobos is one of the greatest rock bands of all time? And that this fact (that's right, I'm not calling it an opinion) is wholly attributable to the way they have stayed true to a vision of their own roots music (Mexican folkloric, American R&B) while constantly expanding outward to encompass just about every imaginable style?

Like many a punk rocker in the early 80's, I discovered Los Lobos when their first widely distributed EP " ...And a Time to Dance" came out on Slash, a label that was home several L.A. punk bands like X, the Germs, Fear, and the Blasters. To my ears, its songs were an unconnected mix of blues, early rock n' roll (they covered Richie Valens' Come on Let's Go here way before La Bamba propelled them to fame in 1987) and Mexican folk music, which I knew little about. But I loved it. If fact, I got impatient when their first full album, How Will the Wolf Survive, came out, wanting more Mexican and less rock, thinking, under my highly misguided idea of what was authentic, that's what they were supposed to do

What I didn't know at the time was that Mexican East L.A. supported a thriving Chicano rock scene that loved R&B. Mexican music was what their parents listened to. Los Lobos, L.A. born rockers all, were one of the first bands to rediscover the value of the old stuff, playing it alongside the R&B and rock that they'd been cranking out since they first picked up guitars. Their genius lies in their understanding that American R&B is every bit authentically theirs as the rancheras, corridos and norteñas that they lovingly played on their 1988 release La Pistola y El Corazón.  As creative and adventurous musicians, they grew by leaps and bounds, taking in virtually every influence they could get their hands on, because all of that belongs to them too. By the time they released their 1992 masterpiece, Kiko, their songs were a seamless blend of all these influences. Yet, in terms of identity, they've remained fundamentally the same band that released Just Another Band from East 1978.

The indispensable box set (get the CD if you can - it's lavishly packaged and crammed with insightful commentary) El Cancionero Mas y Mas documents an incredible 25 or so years of growth, including live recordings and side projects like Los Super Seven and Latin Playboys.  I'm especially fond of the Latin Playboys tracks, avant garde soundscapes that evoke a stroll through the barrio, but all the previously unreleased live stuff acknowledges and pays tribute to a world of influences.

After over 30 years as a band, they still tour incessantly, playing everything from state fairs to prestigious concert halls and, if you're lucky, the occasional club gig. Catch 'em if you can.

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