Los Lobos – Not Just Another Band from East L.A.
I’m going to write about East L.A. I’m going to write about the fruit vendors, the sewing women in the sweatshops, the smell of the tortilleria, the sounds that waft through the air on Saturdays from backyard parties, the Mexican music that was played, the dresser-top altars in Catholic homes.
— Louie Perez, Los Lobos
If you had visited East Los Angeles on an autumn Saturday in 1978, you might have stumbled across a social gathering at a senior-citizens home in the morning, a wedding reception in a parish hall in the afternoon, and a backyard barbecue roast in the evening. And at every function you might have seen the same four scruffy musicians, their dark beards barely disguising their youthful, early-20s faces.
They called themselves Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles — the Wolves of East Los Angeles. Whether performing beneath crepe paper sagging from masking tape or party lights strung between palm trees, these neighborhood pickers strummed acoustic guitars and harmonized sweetly on the Mexican-American folk songs of their parents’ generation.
You might not have recognized that this folkloric quartet would go on to win Grammys, score a #1 single and become one of the best rock bands of the ’80s and ’90s. But everything that happened later had its roots in those days in 1978. And every chapter of that story — from 1978 through the present — is told on Rhino Records’ new 4-CD, 86-track box set, El Cancionero — Mas Y Mas: A History Of The Band From East L.A. (due out November 7).
At the end of those 1978 gigs, Los Lobos would announce that they had copies of their new album, Just Another Band From East L.A., for sale. If you were smart enough to buy one for ten bucks, you could have resold it for $50 ten years later, for only a thousand copies of the vinyl record with the bright yellow cactus cover were ever pressed. Only now, 22 years later, has the album been available on CD (Hollywood Records reissued it in September).
If you took that album home in 1978 and dropped a needle on it, you would soon realize it wasn’t a typical Mexican folk album. Yes, all the vocals were in Spanish and all the guitars were acoustic, but the songs came not just from the heartland of Central Mexico but from everywhere — Cuba, Bolivia, Northern Mexico — and there was even an original from the lead guitarist. Moreover, the tunes were played not with the patient fatalism of real folk music, but with the impatient, rhythmic push of North American rock ‘n’ roll, despite the absence of drums and amplifiers.++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
An excerpt of this article appeared in the The Best of No Depression: Writing About American Music, which features 25 of the finest articles from the magazines back issues, and was published in 2005 by University of Texas Press to help celebrate the magazines 10th anniversary. Due to our agreement with UT Press we are unable to include this article in our online archive.
The Best of No Depression is the only place you can find these articles other than our back issues. Visit the No Depression store to buy your copy for only $10.
The 300-page volume includes co-editor Grant Aldens award-winning 2001 feature on Billy Joe Shaver, co-editor Peter Blackstocks 1998 Artist of the Decade piece on Alejandro Escovedo, senior editor Bill Friskics-Warrens 2002 cover story on Johnny Cash, contributing editor Paul Cantins deep exploration of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-era Wilco; and many other high points from our print heyday.
Table of contents for The Best of No Depression:
Preface, by Grant Alden and Peter Blackstock
Los Lobos, by Geoffrey Himes
Alejandro Escovedo, by Peter Blackstock
Jon Dee Graham, by Peter Blackstock
Billy Joe Shaver, by Grant Alden
Ray Wylie Hubbard, by John T. Davis
Flatlanders, by Don McLeese
Ray Price, by David Cantwell
Johnny Gimble, by Bill C. Malone
Johnny Cash, by Bill Friskics-Warren
Rosanne Cash, by Lloyd Sachs
Lucinda Williams, by Silas House
Buddy & Julie Miller, by Bill Friskics-Warren
Kasey Chambers, by Geoffrey Himes
Loretta Lynn, by Barry Mazor
Patty Loveless, by Bill Friskics-Warren
Kieran Kane, by Peter Cooper
Paul Burch, by Jim Ridley
Hazel Dickens, by Bill Friskics-Warren
Gillian Welch, by Grant Alden
Ryan Adams, by David Menconi
Jay Farrar, by Peter Blackstock
Jayhawks, by Erik Flannigan
Wilco, by Paul Cantin
Drive-By Truckers, by Grant Alden
Iron & Wine, by William Bowers