Los Lobos
David Hidalgo (vocals, guitars) – Louie Pérez, Jr. (vocals, guitars) – Cesar Rosas (vocals, guitars, bass, Hammond B3 organ) – Conrad Lozano (vocals, bass) – Steve Berlin (saxes, midisax, keyboards)

For all the trailblazing musical acts who’ve emerged from Los Angeles, very few embody the city’s wildly eclectic spirit more wholeheartedly than Los Lobos. Over the last five decades, the East L.A.-bred band has made an indelible mark on music history by exploring an enormous diversity of genres — rock-and-roll and R&B, surf music and soul, mariachi and música norteña, punk rock and country — and building a boldly unpredictable sound all their own. On their new album Native Sons, the multi-Grammy Award-winners map their musical DNA by covering a kaleidoscopic selection of songs from their homeland, ultimately creating a crucial snapshot of L.A.’s musical heritage.

Produced by the band at Nest Recorders in East L.A., Los Lobos’ 17th full-length takes its title from its sole original song: the heavy-hearted and soul-stirring “Native Son,” a loving homage to L.A. that sounds right at home amid so many classic tracks. In a nod to their neighborhood, the album opens on the wide-eyed frenzy of “Love Special Delivery” by Thee Midniters, an East L.A. garage band and one of the first Chicano rock groups to ever score a major hit in the U.S. “We grew up on Thee Midniters and felt like they were representing us, so their music means a lot,” notes Hidalgo. Another track plucked from the ’60s, “Misery” finds Los Lobos tearing through a smoldering breakup song from soul singer/songwriter Barrett Strong. (“He’s a Motown artist, but he came to L.A. when Motown came to L.A.,” Berlin points out.) From there, the band ventures further into the decade with a medley of two Buffalo Springfield greats, first taking on the lush and sprawling folk-rock of “Bluebird” then breathing new life into the chilling social commentary and iconic guitar harmonics of “For What It’s Worth.” “That one felt fitting for what’s going on in the political climate at the moment,” says Berlin of the latter. “It still completely rings true.”

Elsewhere on Native Sons, Los Lobos drift into more delicate territory with tracks like “Jamaica Say You Will,” a tender reimagining of a Jackson Browne song they first discovered back when Pérez and Hidalgo used to listen to records together after school. (A quintessentially Californian fable, the song brings Browne’s nuanced storytelling to a tale of an impossibly lovely girl who works in an organic orchard by the ocean in Malibu.) Later on the album, the band shares their stunning update of the Beach Boys’ existential-blues song “Sail On, Sailor,” an early-’70s track originally sung by longtime Los Lobos friend Blondie Chaplin. “‘Sail On, Sailor’ was one that seemed like it would be easy, but once we broke the eggshell it revealed itself to be a lot more complex,” says Berlin. “The genius of so many of these records is all the layers that meld together in a way that isn’t very obvious at first.” And for the climax to Native Sons, Los Lobos deliver their epic cover of “The World is a Ghetto,” a majestic piece of psychedelic soul from War. Graced with a gloriously unhinged guitar solo, the track features guest appearances from Little Willie G. (who sang on War’s original recording), Jacob G. (Willie’s son), R&B legend Barrence Whitfield, and world-class percussionist Camilo Quinones. “We decided you can’t do an album about L.A. without War — but figuring the song out was another challenge,” says Hidalgo. “The thing about War is that the songs are intense and relaxed at the same time,” adds Berlin. “It’s another song that’s deceptively simple, and took some time to figure out how to get the feel that War seemed to pull off so effortlessly.”

In a particularly meaningful moment for Los Lobos, Native Sons includes a fiery cover of “Flat Top Joint” by the Blasters, the seminal L.A. roots-rock band who helped pave the way for their signing to Slash Records in the early ’80s. “There’s no place in the world I’d rather have been than L.A. in 1981, ’82, ’83,” says Berlin, who played in the Blasters prior to joining Los Lobos. “Every night there’d be something incredible happening all across the city — you could go to four different places in one night, and it would all be amazing.” Having formed in 1973 (and gotten their start playing spirited renditions of Mexican folk music at parties and in restaurants), Los Lobos quickly found their footing in L.A.’s punk/college-rock scene and began sharing bills with bands like Public Image Ltd. and the Circle Jerks. After making their major-label debut with 1984’s critically lauded How Will the Wolf Survive? (co-produced by Berlin and T Bone Burnett), they went on to achieve such triumphs as contributing a smash-hit cover of Ritchie Valens’s signature song “La Bamba” to the 1987 biopic of the same name, winning three Grammy Awards, collaborating with the likes of Elvis Costello and Ry Cooder, and earning massive critical acclaim for such albums as Kiko (a 1992 release hailed by AllMusic as “the musical equivalent of a Luis Buñuel dream sequence, balancing beauty and menace with intelligence and a skill that’s little short of dazzling”).

As with all of their catalogue, Native Sons reveals Los Lobos’ ability to merge genres and styles with both sophistication and playful spontaneity, an element that’s perfectly reflected in the album’s unbridled joy. “I played it for a friend and his first response was that it’s a party record — which sounds right to me,” says Hidalgo. Beyond that undeniably feel-good quality, Native Sons essentially serves as a love letter to Los Angeles and the endless possibilities to be found when all boundaries are shattered. “I couldn’t say there’s a common thread for all these artists, but in a way that’s exactly what makes L.A. great,” says Berlin. “You’ve got R&B and punk rock and rock-and-roll and folk, and somehow it exists together in this one weird city that we all call home.”

“We’re a Mexican American band, and no word describes America like immigrant. Most of us are children of immigrants, so it’s perhaps natural that the songs we create celebrate America in this way.” So says Louie Perez, the “poet laureate” and primary wordsmith of Los Lobos, when describing the songs on the band’s new album, Gates of Gold.

The stories on Gates of Gold are snapshots of experiences that Perez and his band mates have had, based on where they are emotionally and how they respond to evolving life circumstances.
After celebrating their 40th anniversary with the cleverly titled 2013 live album Disconnected In New York City, the hard working, constantly touring band – David Hidalgo, Louie Perez, Cesar Rosas, Conrad Lozano and Steve Berlin – leaps headfirst into their fifth decade with an invitation to join them as they open fresh and exciting new Gates of Gold, their first full length studio album since 2010’s Tin Can Trust (a Grammy nominee for Best Americana Album) and second with Savoy/429 Records.

The dynamic songwriting, deeply poetic lyrics, thoughtful romantic and spiritual themes and eclectic blend of styles on the 11 track collection has resulted in an American saga in the rich literary tradition of legendary authors John Steinbeck and William Faulkner.  Yet true to form, these typically humble musical wolves started in on the project without any grand vision or musical roadmap. Over 30 years after Los Lobos’ major label breakthrough How Will The Wolf Survive? – their 1984 album that ranks #30 on Rolling Stones list of the 100 greatest albums of the 1980s – their main challenge when they get off the road and head back into the studio is, as Berlin says, “trying not to do stuff we’ve already done. To a certain extent, we are always drawing from the same multi-faceted paint box, and we sound like what we sound like. We’re proud of what we feel is an honest body of work. We just want to keep finding new ways to say things.”
In the band’s early recording days – those years just before and after “La Bamba,” their worldwide crossover hit from the 1987 film which reached #1 on the U.S. and UK singles chart – they prepared for album recording sessions with top producers like T-Bone Burnett   with pre-production that included multiple rehearsals and “outlining” what the project was going to be. The more spontaneous approach to writing and recording that they took on their 1992 Mitchell Froom co-produced set Kiko still exists today; Rosas says, “When I listen to our catalog, doing things more spontaneously in the studio has led to some of our best work.” Unlike many bands that write, gather and catalog material between studio releases, Los Lobos prefers to create their magic on the fly when they decide it’s time to record.

The journey to Gates of Gold began with Hidalgo bringing in a batch of ideas, outlines and chord progressions with no lyrics. As he and Perez began fleshing things out, developing grooves, melodies and lyrical themes, Hidalgo, his son, drummer David, Jr. and bassist Lozano began tracking those tunes. As Hidalgo and Perez began collaborating on their songs, Rosas, as per his trademark “lone wolf” songwriting approach, took his basic tracks to his home studio to complete the handful of tunes that flesh out the set. The sole cover on Gates of Gold is the other Spanish language tune, “La Tumba,” an accordion laced folk piece connected to the Mexican Norteno tradition (related to polka and corrodes) whose theme, says Perez, is very dark, “about following your lover to the tomb.” It’s very familiar to fans as a frequent staple of Los Lobos’ live performances.

Back in 2003, when Los Lobos was celebrating the 30th Anniversary of their humble beginnings as a garage band in East L.A., Rolling Stone summed up their distinctive, diverse, freewheeling fusion of rock, blues, soul and Mexican folk music: “This is what happens when five guys create a magical sound, then stick together…to see how far it can take them.”  Originally called Los Lobos del Este (de Los Angeles), a play on a popular norteno band called Los Lobos del Norte, the group originally came together from three separate units. Lead vocalist/guitarist Hidalgo, whose arsenal includes accordion, percussion, bass, keyboards, melodic, drums, violin and banjo, met Perez at Garfield High in East LA and started a garage band. Rosas, who had his own group, and Lozano launched a power trio. “But we all hung out because we were friends and making music was just the natural progression of things,” says Perez, the band’s drummer. “Like if you hang around a barbershop long enough, you’re going to get a haircut.”

Berlin is Los Lobos’ saxophonist, flutist and harmonica player who met the band while still with seminal L.A. rockers The Blasters. He joined the group after performing on and co-producing (with T-Bone Burnett) their breakthrough 1983 EP …And A Time To Dance. Los Lobos were already East L.A. neighborhood legends, Sunset Strip regulars and a Grammy winning band (Best Mexican American/Tejano Music Performance) by the time they recorded How Will the Wolf Survive? Although the album’s name and title song were inspired by a National Geographic article about real life wolves in the wild, the band saw obvious parallels with their struggle to gain mainstream rock success while maintaining their Mexican roots.

Perez, once called their powerhouse mix of rock, Tex-Mex, country, folk, R&B, blues and traditional Spanish and Mexican music “the soundtrack of the barrio.” Three decades, two more Grammys, the global success of “La Bamba” and thousands of rollicking performances across the globe later, Los Lobos is surviving quite well — and still jamming with the same raw intensity as they had when they began in that garage in 1973. They don’t get in the studio as often as they did a few decades ago – Tin Can Trust came four years after their previous album of all originals, The Town and the City – but when they do, the results are every bit as culturally rich, musically rocking and lyrically provocative as they were back in the day.

“It’s not always the easiest thing finding time away from our touring schedule and families to find time to make an album,” says Berlin, “but recording Gates of Gold, I have to say it’s great to be back in the proverbial saddle again. It reminds us of the fun we have had making new music over the years, and it’s nice to have the opportunity to create something of value.”