28 Years and Counting

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

In 1974, four high school friends decided they’d form a band. David Hidalgo, Conrad Lozano, Louie Perez and Cesar Rosas, all from Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, began playing rock and roll, getting booked to play weddings and other functions.

It was not long before their music began to take a different direction. Perez explained: “The four of us used to hang out - we had a lot of time on our hands when we weren’t rehearsing or gigging at weddings or whatnot. During the day We’d get together with a couple of acoustic guitars, and We’d sit in the backyard and learn these old Mexican songs from our parents’ records.”

This interest in Latino music became a pivotal influence in the band’s sound and career. The band, of course, is Los Lobos, and its history spans more than 20 years of hit albums, movie soundtracks and almost annual Grammy nominations.

Los Lobos’ first steady professional gig was somewhat more hunble than the places the band plays these days. Then, back in 1978, the members were happy to be entertaining diners at a Mexican restaurant in L.A. Originally the four friends played only. acoustic guitars, but a friend of Hidalgo’s who had been stationed in Germany with military gave him an accordion.

Perez tells the story: “He brought it over to the restaurant, and we learned a few more Tex-Mex ttmes in that style. Then we got more involved in trying to get a truer sound, so we brought out a small drum kit. Then Conrad [Lozano] brought in a small bass amp and his electric bass. We began to electrify so that we could be closer to the actual Tex-Mex kind of sound, but we realized how close that was to the rock and roll format and songs. We brought our bigger amps, and we started playing real loud. Soon after that, we got fired.”

They may have lost their restaurant gig, but the members of Los Lobos realized they were on their way to forging their own unique style. They combined the sounds of Tex-Mex, country blues and folk with the traditional Mexican songs to form an original sound that began to attract an enthusiastic following.

In the late 1970s, they released “Los Lobos De Este Los Angeles" and soon were playing at some of L.A.’s most prestigious clubs They recruited sax player Steve Berlin and in 1983 released “... And a Time to Dance,” which won a Grammy for Best Mexican-American Performance.

Years of hard touring and recording followed, and in 1987 the band tasted mainstream success, reaching No. 1. with “La Bamba,” from the soundtrack of the movie of the same name. It was a fitting achievement, as the film chronicles the life and times of Ritchie Valens, one of the few Mexican-Americans to top the charts before Los Lobos.

Today Los Lobos is still recording, still touring and still playing music. This Friday the band plays at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz on a tour that will visit Europe in the new year.

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, October 31, 2002

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