They are one of the great American rock bands. America is still a melting pot, rock ’n’ roll is melting-pot music, and any band of dudes from East Los Angeles raised on the traditional music of their parents and grandparents, while also being influenced by Ry Cooder and Link Wray, X and N.R.B.Q. should be OK in anyone’s book.
These are guys that have been steeped in punk, garage, classic rock, doo-wop, blue-eyed soul, and a wealth of other styles that have been part of the American musical landscape since the birth of American rock ’n’ roll. The catalog is deep and diverse, and their contemporaries range from John Doe and Dave Alvin to the late Jerry Garcia, all who loved them. If there was ever a band to straddle the genres of America’s best styles of music at the independent level while dipping a toe into the mainstream pool, it’s Los Lobos.
They are an American treasure, a rock band that has bucked trends and flown their own flag for 40 years, playing straight-ahead, no-frills, honest American rock ’n’ roll. Los Lobos is as classic as the most recognizable riffs that have been stuck in your head for decades, while also making records that are as new as next week. Durango is lucky that Los Lobos continues to pull through town every two years: They return to the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College next Friday (Jan. 19).
Forty years is a long time, something no musician thinks about when they start scratching out songs in a basement or garage. It certainly wasn’t thought about by saxophone and keyboard player Steve Berlin, who also has done time in The Blasters, The Flesheaters, and played in and produced the more recent project, Diamond Rugs, with members of Deer Tick and The Black Lips.
“We were kids; that would be ridiculous to think that’s’ what I’m doing for the rest of my life,” said Berlin. “It was just how it went down. No short answer. As we got into it, it was looking like it was going to last, is one way of putting it. You look back now I still can’t quite believe we’ve been at it this long, but here we are.”
They’ve put out 22 records, going back to the 1980s when they were a fringe band on the Los Angeles punk scene. “How Will the Wolf Survive” was a breakthrough, with its title-track hit amongst soul and rock numbers. 1996’s “Colossal Head” is a favorite of Berlin’s. “Good Morning Aztlan” has a driving guitar-laden title track, and the most recent “Gates of Gold” proves their stability. Their cover of “La Bamba” for the film about Richie Valens no doubt still pulls in some royalty cash. But they’ve also stood a test of time in the shitty music world. Theirs is not music that people just consume like bad cheeseburgers. Los Lobos is in that echelon of respectable outfits that even the highest level music dork likes. And despite their prolific studio output, it’s the fact that they get out – and seem to stay on the road – 40 years into a career that continues to find them growing their fan base. Not liking them isn’t really an option because they’re that cool.
“We’ve been really lucky, and we’ve cultivated a fan base that has stuck with us through all of it,” Berlin said. “To a certain extent, we’ve never really relied on the record making to supply us with anything other than new songs to play.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. firstname.lastname@example.org.