Recently we had the opportunity be a festival opening act on a bill that included a band I have been following for probably 30 years. Los Lobos remains one of the great musical treasures of our time with a career spanning more than 40 years and 17 albums, a host of awards and guest appearances, collaborations and side projects. The music crosses genres in a way that few bands are able to do and does so effortlessly. They will play acoustic shows on a range of traditional Mexican instruments as easily as they will rock out to a great blues shuffle or blasting rock extravaganza. Our recent show with them was at a small festival in Valparaiso, Indiana; and despite the size of the show and venue relative to other places I have seen them perform, they just absolutely lit up the night. Few of those attending were sitting by the end as there is no way to rock with Los Lobos and not move your feet.
We were also able to spend a big part of the afternoon with two of the members sharing stories about family and life, talking guitars and other musicians we were following and being influenced by, etc. I’m happy to report that these guys are wonderful, down-to-earth humans as well as off the chart talents on a level I feel is hard to match today. If you have not blessed your ears and soul yet with the music of Los Lobos you need to get hip.
One thing I have been aware of for a long time is an assumption that many make. They hear the name of the band and think, “Oh yeah. That’s the band that played La Bamba in that one movie, right?” That’s true, but it’s sad that this is where knowledge of the band starts and ends. Some of the most impressive work in their catalogue comes from directions that surprise many. You want virtuoso level guitar work -- David Hidalgo was part of several Eric Clapton Crossroads Guitar Festivals because he remains one of Eric’s favorite players. Check out The Neighborhood (especially live versions), Don’t Worry Baby, I Walk Alone, Más Y Más, Whisky Trail and the stunning and soulful playing on Just a Man. David is also one of the best vocalists out there today. You want funky, driving bass? Check out the amazing Conrad Lozano on Revolution, The Neighborhood, Peace and so many others. You want fuzzed out grunge rock, check out Viking.
These guys are also innovators and inventors in the studio as can be heard with the groundbreaking Kiko album and (my favorite) Colossal Head. They have collaborated with John Hiatt, Bobby Womack, Richard Thompson, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Disney, Sesame Street, Warren Haynes and many more. There are stories of love, loss, hope, faith, revival, social justice and calls to action in their music with beautiful and powerful lyrics and world class musicianship and songwriting on all levels. As a guitarist their recordings are full of to-die-for guitar tones, and the rhythms will sear your soul (in a good way).
The title song from one of their first albums, Will the Wolf Survive, says it best.
Sounds across the nation
Coming from your hearts and minds
Battered drums and old guitars
Singing songs of passion
It's the truth that they all look for
The one thing they must keep alive
Will the wolf survive?
I can say with certainty that The Wolf is definitely alive!