More than three decades have passed since Los Lobos released their debut album, Just Another Band from East L.A. Since then they’ve repeatedly disproven that title—Los Lobos isn’t “just another” anything, but rather a band that has consistently evolved artistically while never losing sight of their humble roots.
Los Lobos were already East L.A. neighborhood legends, Sunset Strip regulars and a Grammy Award winning band (Best Mexican-American/Tejano Music Performance) by the time they recorded their major label debut How Will The Wolf Survive? in 1984.
Although the album’s name and title song were inspired by a National Geographic article about real life wolves in the wild, the band—David Hidalgo, Louie Perez, Cesar Rosas, Conrad Lozano and Steve Berlin—saw parallels with their struggle to gain mainstream rock success while maintaining their Mexican roots. Perez, the band’s drummer, 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, a world wide smash single (“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. The band chronicles a key moment of their expansive journey on Disconnected In New York City, a dynamic live album that marks the band’s 40th anniversary and launches their new association with 429 Records.
Steve 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. Though he wasn’t jamming with the others way back in the “Krypton days” (as Perez calls it) in the barrio garage, Berlin felt it was important to find a special way to mark his cohorts’ 40th year--just as they had done on their 30th by inviting special guests (Dave Alvin, Bobby Womack, Elvis Costello, Mavis Staples) to be part of their 2004 date The Ride.
Around the time of their last big anniversary Rolling Stone magazine summed up that distinctive, diverse and spontaneous Los Lobos aesthetic perfectly: “This is what happens when five guys create a magical sound, then stick together for 30 years to see how far it can take them.” Most fans know that the group came together from three separate units. Hidalgo, the band’s lead vocalist/guitarist (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 plays guitar and mandolin, 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. “Like if you hang around a barbershop long enough, you’re going to get a haircut.”
Looking back at the historical and cultural sweep of the band, Lozano sees the release of Disconnected In New York City as Los Lobos coming full circle. “A lot of people forget that though we were rock musicians when we got out of high school, the band started off as an acoustic outfit,” he says. “We wanted to play Mexican folk music because those were our roots and there was this whole Chicano awareness thing happening back in the early 70s. We started to pay attention to our traditions and culture and focused on those styles of music for years. We studied music from every region of Mexico, learned how to play all these authentic instruments. So that’s what we did for ten years until we decided “We were playing this restaurant gig for two years, and some small local clubs, playing the same songs, when people in the crowd started shouting out, ‘Do you know any Beatles or Grateful Dead tunes?’” Lozano adds. “Soon we got fired from the restaurant and headed back to the garage to write our first original songs that were rock with some accordion on them: ‘Let’s Say Goodnight’ and ‘How Much Can I Do?’ We made a little tape and gave it to the guys in The Blasters, which included Steve Berlin, when we went to see them live on Sunset Strip. They loved our tunes and invited us to open their show at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go, which was the first time Los Lobos performed on the other side of the Los Angeles River. We played some originals and old favorites by Hendrix, Cream, The Yardbirds and Beatles – all the stuff we loved as kids. The icing on the cake is that the audience loved it, too.