They called themselves Los Lobos – “The Wolves.” David Hidalgo, Louie Pérez, César López and Conrad Lozano met in 1973 at Garfield High School in Alhambra, California, and quickly bonded over their love of rock and roll. But as the Chicano movement with its accompanying cultural renaissance took hold in the 1970s, they began to explore their musical roots in the traditional songs of Mexico.
"We'd get together with a couple of acoustic guitars and sit in the backyard and learn these Mexican songs,” says Louie Pérez. “We pulled out all those records we used to beg our parents not to play around our friends and found an incredible wealth of music.”
They honed their craft at weddings and birthdays, playing for whatever they could get. “If you’re Mexican American and if you got married in L.A. between 1973 and 1981, we probably played at your wedding,” says Pérez. Writer Diane Rodríguez saw them perform in 1975 at an event in East Hollywood: “They played songs we had heard all our lives. Mexican songs. Corridos. Rancheras. Huapangos. But they weren’t Mexican. They were American kids, like a lot of us, just reinventing and redefining themselves with old rhythms and songs. Their Mexican roots didn’t embarrass them. They weren’t calling themselves Spanish. They were speaking to a whole generation longing to make a mark, struggling to make a difference.”
With their unique blend of Tex-Mex, country, R&B, rock and roll, and traditional Mexican songs, Los Lobos became one of the hottest bands of the 1980s. In 1984, their second album, How Will the Wolf Survive, drew critical praise. "While rarely flashy, even a casual listen offers all the proof you might need that Los Lobos were a band of world-class musicians,” declared music critic Mark Deming. Their first real commercial success came in 1987 with their version of “La Bamba” for the film of the same name about the life of Mexican rock and roll star Ritchie Valens. It became a Number-1 hit song.
They followed with an album of traditional Mexican songs in Spanish, La Pistola y El Corazón (The Pistol and the Heart). They were warned that an all-Spanish album was commercial suicide, but it sold a respectable 100,000 copies and, more importantly, earned the band a Grammy Award in 1989.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s the band toured extensively throughout the world, opening for such acts as Bob Dylan, U2 and the Grateful Dead and recorded over twenty albums. David Hidalgo and another band member, César Rosas, would return to their pure roots once again as members of Los Super Seven in l998.
With more than 20 albums, their stylish Chicano “vato” (Mexican homie ) aesthetic, lyrics that address the problems of their East Los Angeles neighborhood and their occasional forays into traditional mexican music, Los Lobos defined Chicano rock cool for a generation. In 2015, they were nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Credit: Los Lobos