Los Lonely Boys – Brothers in arms
Cottonfields And Crossroads speaks of family bonds and how those bonds are tested by divorce, recounting the hard times the boys endured when they left their mother Mary Ellen and their sisters in the early 1990s to follow their father to Nashville. Enrique was tired of being Enrique. He wanted to be Ringo, so he decided to blow off the family conjunto playing bailes on the weekend singing in Spanish to pursue his dream of singing country in English, just like Freddy Fender and Johnny Rodriguez. He declared himself the Missing Outlaw, the other guy besides Willie and Waylon (although, as Henry later told the Boston Herald, “Willie and Waylon didn’t know who he was”).
His sons were his band. They played seven nights a week, anywhere they could, covering it all, especially Cash, Kristofferson, Willie and Waylon. If the kids had it tough in Texas, they had it tougher in Tennessee, where they scraped by and were considered novelties, the only Mexicans in their schools.
The film veers into touchy territory. The camera rolls while the band’s blue Dodge van shuttles the 200 miles between San Angelo and Austin, covering the boys’ achingly difficult decision to break away from their father as a musical entity in the late 1990s.
The rest is a blur. Their manager, Kevin Wommack, sees the talent. The Saxon Pub’s Joe Abels observes, “These kids wanted to play.” Willie Nelson gives them studio time to make an album, plus a gig at Farm Aid. An in-store appearance at Waterloo Records signifies their arrival. They win Band of the Year honors at the 2004 Austin Music Awards. They win a Grammy. They come home.
After the movie credits rolled and the lights in the screening room went up, the boys posed for photographs with Galan, with Dan Rather — the proud father-in-law of David Murray, who worked on the film’s musical score — and with Tony “Ham” Guerrero, the onetime godfather of San Angelo’s La Onda Chicana scene. (In this crowd, Ham was a bigger heavyweight than the former CBS news anchor.)
Following a two-and-a-half-hour break and a private party with open bar at the Mexic-Arte Museum, the Boys delivered the movie’s afterward. “What’s going on everybody?” Henry shouted out as he took the improvised stage at the museum, grinning from ear to ear. “Y’all ready for some of the new songs on the album?” The response was predictable.
So Los Lonely Boys proceeded to play their second album, Sacred due out July 18 on Epic, a name Henry thought up when the original title Orale, Spanish for Listen Up, was scrapped after too many radio programmers mangled the title too many times (one Austin disc jockey pronounced it “Oracle”. Joining the brothers was Michael Ramos, an Austin veteran who left his longtime keyboard gig with John Mellencamp to tour with Los Lonelys. The concert was the tryout gig for Ramos, who performs on his own as Charanga Cakewalk. He passed the test.
All the right people were packed into the main exhibition gallery, including numerous homies from San Angelo and Austin; their father, Ringo Sr.; and various kinfolk and friends. With a sweaty throng obscuring the paintings on the wall, the Garzas served notice they were back for Round Two, ready to duke it out all over again.
“My Way”, a midtempo declaration of independence, announced they’re going to be the ones calling the shots from here on out. The lyrics could just as well be addressed to their record company (“Don’t tell me how to sing my song”) as to their main squeeze (“Don’t tell me how to live my life”). “Diamonds”, a wistful missing-my-baby ballad that leads off Sacred, was showcased as the single that will try to emulate the improbable success of “Heaven”, mainly because it comes closest in texture, tempo and harmony, though the subject matter (“I’m looking at a rainbow way across those hills…I ain’t never been a rich man”) is a little bit different.
Of all the songs, “Oye Mamacita” provided the most accurate road map to where Los Lonely Boys are headed. Kicking off with a grinding, congafied blues-rock beat, JoJo wailed about his ruca, or main squeeze, in a missive that was nothing but lowdown, dirty, and very direct in his declaration of love and his need for a little kiss and then some. The music was relentless, and expansive.
They even gave a nod to their Nashville period and their father with “Outlaws”. (On the album, Henry and JoJo sing a line each, followed by Willie and Ringo Sr., who adds the cryptic phrase, “You don’t know who I am.”) Throwing in belly-rubbers such as “I’ve Never Met A Woman”, made more emotional by pinpoint vocal harmonies, and throwing out hooks left and right, such as Michael Guerra’s finger-popping accordion riffs slipped into “Texican Style”, a languidly delicious summer song that stirs of memories of listening to War while cruising in a lowrider, there was no doubt this tierra — this turf — is theirs.
It was poetic to see popular art being made among the fine art hanging on the walls. Both had strong Latino ties, but both had appeal that transcended ethnic background. LLB and Rufino Tamayo go together better than one might expect. Going from the edge of desperation to the crest of something big in four short years is a work of art unto itself. Now they served notice they were on to something maybe even bigger.
Selena may have been the Queen of Tejano music, the regional sound identified with Mexican-Americans in Texas, but Los Lonely Boys transcend Tejano, conjunto, and every regional and ethnic sound from the region. In that respect, not since Los Lobos stormed onto the scene 25 years ago has a group of Mexican-Americans made music with such resonance beyond their traditional borders. And not since Carlos Santana took the baton from Richie Valens nearly 40 years ago, with his Mexican-ness proudly showing, has anyone done it with so much firepower and finesse.
They’re not so lonely anymore. On this album, they’re joined by heavy friends including Willie, keyboardist Mike Finnegan (of Electric Ladyland renown), Lennie Castro on percussion (the Jacksons, AWB), co-producer John Porter (Roxy Music, Billy Bragg, the Smiths) on guitar and piano, country producer Mark Wright (Lee Ann Womack, George Strait, Gretchen Wilson) co-producing a couple tracks, Jimmy Hall from Wet Willie guesting on harmonica, organist Reese Wynans from Double Trouble, a San Antonio whiz kid named Michael Guerra on button accordion, Austin tenor giant John Mills, the Doobie Brothers’ Pat Simmons as co-writer, and Fort Worth by way of Nashville songwriter Gary Nicholson adding a few lines to another tune.
At the end of the day, though, it’s really just Los Lonely, Lonely Boys.