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The Chicano Wave

Chapter 5: Rediscovering Heritage: Los Lobos & Flaco Jimenez

[LOS LOBOS - "I WALK ALONE" ON AUSTIN CITY LIMITS] ["I walk alone, if I can't walk with you..."] Narration

During the 1980's, a band from East Los Angeles readily crossed cultural borders with their music, ignoring barriers of language and race.

They called themselves Los Lobos — 'The Wolves'.

They'd been young rockers from East L.A.'s Garfield High in the 1970's, when the Chicano movement inspired them to put their electric guitars on the shelf and explore their musical roots.

LOUIE PEREZ, Los Lobos (VO) The Mexican music was always (OC) available, but, you know, being young kids growing up on Rock and Roll, you know, we didn't really care about it too much. (VO) But as, as the Chicano cultural renaissance started to take hold it fed into, you know, the notion of us playing, you know, traditional music.

[Los Lobos 1975]

CESAR ROSAS (VO) We were doing it just for fun in, in our backyards, you know? And, just kind of learning old Mexican songs. (OC) Just as a hobby, really. And that's how it all started.

LOUIE PEREZ (VO) We found these instruments in, in pawnshops and secondhand stores, And we didn't know what they were. And then we sought out local musicians Mexican nationals who played this music (OC) in, in restaurants and bars. And we sought them out to find out, like, how the heck do you play this thing? How do you tune it?

[CONCERT - "MEXICANO/AMERICANO"]

DAVID HIDALGO (VO) My brother-in-law took me to a party (OC) and he had an accordion in his closet. He said, "Take it home." And so I took it home and started fooling around. (VO) And we worked our way around to conjunto music or Tex-Mex.

[CONCERT - "MEXICANO/AMERICANO"]

[By my mother, I am Mexican By destiny I am American I am of the golden people I am Mexican-American.]

CESAR ROSAS (VO) We started buying records. (OC) I had Los Alegres De Teran records, and then started, you know, getting the Flaco Jimenez records. (VO) It was like learning all over again, you know? Going to school again. Going, like, "Wow, Flaco Jimenez.."

[FLACO JIMENEZ PLAYS IN BAR]

Leonardo Jimenez — known as Flaco, the skinny one — began playing conjunto accordion as a child in the 1940's. He has almost single-handedly re-popularized this style of Tex-Mex music, recording with everyone from Dwight Yoakum and Bob Dylan to the Rolling Stones.

FLACO JIMÉNEZ (VO) My dad, Santiago Jiménez, (OC) and Mr. Narciso Martinez are considered the pioneers of this kind of Tex-Mex sound (VO) that "oompah" sound. The settlers from Germany settled around the Texas area. They brought this kind of music, that polka music.

[ARCHIVE: GERMAN BAND]

Then came my dad, (OC) in 1936, with Narciso Martinez, were the first ones that introduced this Tex-Mex sound (VO) the accordion sound.

[ARCHIVE: NARCISO MARTINEZ PLAYS]

[NARCISO MARTINEZ]

It was just instrumentals; no lyrics; it was just polka, polka or waltzes.

[SANTIAGO JIMENEZ, FLACO'S FATHER]

But then my dad managed to put lyrics on the same beat, but with lyrics.

[ARCHIVE: SANTIAGO JIMENEZ PLAYS ACCORDIAN w/ BAJO SEXTO; BOTH SING] [ "Every day as evening comes I look over in your direction So I can flirt with you Without your mother noticing."]

FLACO JIMENEZ (VO) The first recordings were made in 1930s.

MAX BACA (VO) They would record just with the accordion (OC) by itself, and the accompaniment part was this--

FLACO JIMENEZ The bass lines.

MAX BACA -- of the accordion.

[FLACO DEMONSTRATES PLAYING BASS NOTES WITH HIS LEFT HAND ON THE ACCORDIAN]

MAX BACA So then the bajo sexto comes in, and it's, this instrument here is a twelve-string bass/rhythm instrument. So it kind of took that sound there, the accompaniment part of the accordion, and they incorporated it with the--

FLACO JIMENEZ So it's like the brother of, of the accordion.

MAX BACA So now we would, that same song he just did, that was a kind of an "oompah" sound, German sound. So now we're with the bajo sexto, would sound-

[FLACO AND MAX DEMONSTRATE]

[ARCHIVE]

FLACO JIMENEZ (VO) Back when I first started, I recorded in some a garage studio, way out there in the outskirts of town you know. Start recording and some chicken just passed by, you'd just kick it and start it and keep on playing, you know?

[ARCHIVE - RECORDING IN GARAGE STUDIO (ARHOOLIE EXTRAS)] [Chicano, I am Chicano, And I like doing things my way. Though I am treated as third class, I am really first class Proud to be a Texas Mexican.]

FLACO JIMENEZ (VO) There was no kind of respect for this kind of music, you know. It was just like, (OC) ah, that's cantina music. That's whatever, you know.

[FLACO DEMONSTRATES PLAYING THE BLUES ON HIS ACCORDIAN W/ MAX BACA ON BAJO]

(VO) Then around 1955 Rock and Roll came along, so I got interested in Rock and Roll plus you know the Blues.

MAX BACA (VO) Flaco can blend into just about any kind of music there is: Rock and Roll, Blues Country...

[FLACO & MAX PLAY & SING COUNTRY TUNE, "TOGETHER AGAIN"] [ "The key to my heart you hold in your hand And nothing else matters We're together again."]

[CONCERT - FLACO WITH LOS LOBOS]

By the late 1980's, Mexican-American music was enjoying unprecedented popularity.

And when Los Lobos recorded La Bamba for a movie about the life of Ritchie Valens, a whole new generation fell in love with Chicano rock.

LOUIE PEREZ (VO) And it became a huge, huge hit, / and I guess most people expected us to do La Bamba number 2. But we just decided um (OC) we want to take all that focus and put it on what we were really about for those first ten years -- playing traditional Mexican music.

[LOS LOBOS PERFORM- "LA PISTOLA Y EL CORAZON"] ["I don't know how to tell you I don't know how to explain That there is no cure For what I am feeling For what I am feeling."]

Ignoring conventional music-business wisdom, Los Lobos followed La Bamba not with more Rock and Roll, but with an all-acoustic album of Mexican folk songs, La Pistola y El Corazon, "The pistol and the heart."

LOUIE PEREZ (VO) Everybody from coast to coast said, "Hey, Los Lobos committed commercial suicide." But for us it was a proud moment, (OC) it was cool that, that some kid in Tokyo was going to be able to listen to a huapango. It was cool that somebody in Helsinki, Finland was going to be listening to a, a son jarocho.

[ARCHIVE: LOS LOBOS SING "LA PISTOLA Y EL CORAZON"]

(VO) And then we got complimented for our suicidal tendencies by, uh, getting a Grammy award.

[ARCHIVE: LOS LOBOS SING "LA PISTOLA Y EL CORAZON"]

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