It surely doesn’t suck to be a rock star.
You get to travel to exotic locales, demand waffles at any hour, and stay up as late as you want, as often as you want.
You also get a helicopter.
Having had the chance to meet or speak with some successful musicians, it’s still an abstraction to me to think of them dealing with the things – trivial or not – that we mere mortals must.
But even successful musicians, obviously, do have friction in their lives.
In 2002, I had the opportunity to interview Louie Perez of Los Lobos, coinciding with the band’s then new album Good Morning Aztlan. It was the perennially critically-acclaimed act’s third straight album on a different label.
Mammoth Records, which was issuing the release, would fold a couple years later.
Los Lobos had fifteen years separating them from their brief period of mainstream success with the music from the bio-pic La Bamba.
Since their last album, three years earlier, band member Cesar Rosas’ wife had been abducted and murdered.
As I interviewed Perez, he was courteous and pleasant, giving well-considered answers, but something seemed not quite right. I think I flat out asked him if he was OK.
He noted some of the adversity that the band had endured.
He sounded worn.
“But you’re in Los Lobos, man.”
(I think I actually said “man”)
“How cool is that?”
“Yeah, it is pretty cool,” he agreed, seeming to be re-energized at the thought.
It’s not every day you get to cheer up an integral part of a truly great band.
Impossible to pigeon-hole, here are four songs that hardly scratch the surface of the breadth of Los Lobos’ catalog…
Los Lobos – Will The Wolf Survive
from How Will The Wolf Survive? (1984)
I remember knowing of Los Lobos through the glowing reviews when How Will The Wolf Survive? was released in 1984. And I remember hearing Will The Wolf Survive on Q95, an album-rock station which was among my staples at the time.
I didn’t get it.
(some years later, I would finally catch up)
Los Lobos – Kiko And The Lavender Moon
from Kiko (1992)
Children of immigrants, Los Lobos cut their teeth, in the words of All Music Guide, “playing parties, wedding receptions, restaurants, bars, and anyplace else where someone might pay them for a gig” for a decade before finding success.
Drawing on the music of their Latino heritage, the band incorporated traditional folk, country, R&B, and rock into the mix with virtuoso musicianship.
In 1992, Los Lobos released Kiko, their collaboration with noted producer Mitchell Froom, and proved that they could do experimental rock as well as any of the modern rock bands of the period.
Los Lobos – Tony Y Maria
from Good Morning Aztlan (2002)
With the upcoming election, there will no doubt be folks hopping mad over illegal immigrants. Of course, there would be no work for illegal immigrants if the CEOs of companies hiring them would be held accountable, but that won’t happen.
The lovely Tony Y Maria details the struggle of the titular characters, a couple wanting nothing more than a life together and to provide for their children. It’s a simple, plaintive song that is a reminder that, at the heart of the arguments and debates, there are real people.
Los Lobos – The Word
from Good Morning Aztlan (2002)
Good Morning Aztlan found Los Lobos working with producer John Leckie, known for his work with bands like XTC, Radiohead, and Stone Roses. Not that the soulful The Word would remind a listener of any of those bands.
Instead, The Word simmers and soars, with a groove and socially-conscious lyrics that evoke the spirit of early ’70s R&B.
It’s intoxicating, thought-provoking, and altogether glorious.