Los Lonely Boys – Princes Of Pedernales
The Spanish-speaking Southwest is replete with dichos — proverbs — that touch on all aspects of the human condition. One popular dicho, which has many similar iterations, states: “La oracion del padre el hijo la reza.” Or, for the espanol-impaired: “The son repeats his father’s prayer.” We gringos tend to put it more prosaically: Like father, like son.
Though there is no way of knowing if this particular dicho was ever repeated in the household of a family named Garza in San Angelo, Texas, the proverb became prophecy for the three sons who grew up in that home.
Today, the boys — Henry, JoJo and Ringo — hold court as Los Lonely Boys, a band with an auspicious debut album, an enviable word-of-mouth buzz around Austin and the rest of the state, and a powerful patron in their corner.
All of that must occasion a great deal of satisfaction in the heart of Ringo Garza Sr., whose own musical trajectory, thought stunted, helped launch his sons into their own place in the limelight.
“I was just so inspired by my dad at such a young age,” said Henry, 25, who received his first guitar at age 4 (and shortly thereafter mastered his first song, the Peter Gunn theme). “I wanted to be just like Dad — he played guitar, and I saw all these young girls screaming and going crazy, so immediately it was like, ‘I wanna be like my dad, man!’ When you’re a kid, your parents are your gods, and our dad was our biggest influence on us.”
It was a propitious day to be talking about fathers and sons. As he spoke on his cell phone from San Angelo, Henry was en route to the Garza patriarch’s 53rd birthday. He’d picked up a DVD player and a disc of the Western movie Tombstone for presents, and the day was to be given over to a cookout a la familia. (Their mother, Mary, though divorced from Ringo Sr., remains a pivotal figure in the boys’ lives as well.)
Along with his brothers, bassist JoJo, 23, and drummer Ringo, 21, Henry is following in his father’s footsteps. Though Los Lonely Boys’ mixture of rock, blues, bilingual lyrics and musical horsepower is light years removed from the conjunto and norteno repertoire of Los Falcones, the band Ringo Sr. formed with his own brothers, the lineage is distinct, perhaps inevitable. Henry burned up a couple of cell-phone minutes pondering what alternatives to a life in music he might have pursued. Nothing viable came to mind.
Watching Los Lonely Boys onstage, and listening to the tracks on their eponymously titled debut album (released in August on the Or Music label), it is easy to cite additional influences that transcend family: the churning, Steve Ray Vaughan-style shuffle kickoff of “Crazy Dream”; the long, spiraling Santana-esque workouts of “Onda” and “Real Emotions”; the peppy Tex-Mex tune “Senorita”, reminiscent of the Sir Douglas Quartet by way of Los Lobos. “La Contestacion” is a nod to the brothers’ Latino roots, and the swaying, ’50s-style, doo-wop-esque ballad “More Than Love” owes more than a little to Tex-Mex pioneers such as Sunny & the Sunliners and the South Texas dancehalls Los Falcones once frequented.
Yet while some touches on Los Lonely Boys are unmistakably derivative, los hermanos Garza bring to other tracks a sensibility of their own that seems evolved beyond their years. “Heaven”, the track being pushed to radio, is layered with the kind of tongue-in-groove harmonies only DNA can impart, while “Hollywood”, with its whistling B3 organ (courtesy ex-SRV sideman Reese Wynans) and sunny nylon-string guitars, sounds like an improbable crossroads halfway between Memphis and Monterrey.
Onstage, they blend original material with occasional covers from sources as diverse as Stevie Wonder, Waylon Jennings, the Beatles and Ritchie Valens, juicing up the show with some classic rock-star touches: a vato-meets-Chuck Berry sort of sideways duckwalk, and that guitar-behind-the-head move which traces back at least to T-Bone Walker. Visually, they complement one another: JoJo, the matinee idol with carefully-coiffed hair, six-string bass and angelic voice; Ringo, a barrel-chested figure with an omnipresent bandana who looks as though he ought to be tending the cabrito at the Sunday afternoon barbecue; and Henry, who, with his raven’s-wing of dark hair and brooding, passionate demeanor, has showbiz charisma to burn.
Rock, Tejano, blues, Texas shuffles, Latino grooves, bilingual lyrics…like their best regional predecessors, the Garzas do their most distinctive work when they dip into the myriad musical strains that have historically crossed paths in the Lone Star State.
“This record definitely speaks of where we are right now,” asserted Henry. “We’d done some recordings before, but I never was personally really proud of the performances or the quality. This one, I can honestly say with all my heart, man, I’m so proud of it.”
If their Texas origins are pivotal in the evolution of Los Lonely Boys’ musical fusion, then Nashville also deserves a hand — make that a backhand — for the role it played in their evolution.
In the early 1990s, after Los Falcones parted ways following the death of one of his brothers, Ringo Sr. packed up his sons and moved to Nashville. The boys became their father’s band, covering Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings hits (“My dad used to call himself the Missing Mexican Outlaw,” says Henry today). But, Music City wasn’t in the market for any more outlaws, Mexican or otherwise.
“I think it’s tough for anyone who tries to make it in that town,” says Henry in retrospect. “Especially coming from where we were coming from, and trying our new sound, and playing the music that we were playing. It just didn’t go too well in Nashville….It’s just so damn hectic that it seems impossible to get anything done or feel like you’re getting anywhere.”
Add to that the reactions Henry and JoJo encountered as the only two Tejano kids in their school (“People would come up to us and say, ‘What are you?’ They would freak out. They thought we were Indians or Iranians or something,” Henry told another interviewer), and Nashville was not the sort of experience that is recalled fondly at holiday gatherings.
Still, the years weren’t wasted. “We got a lot of good things out of Nashville, like all the practicing and just getting serious about the whole situation,” Henry acknowledges. They also, inevitably, grew up and away from their father, as their own musical personas began to evolve and mature. The Garzas returned to Texas, but not as a family band; instead, a separate brothers-in-arms entity called Los Lonely Boys was launched into its own distinct orbit.
Ironically, they soon acquired another musical mentor and father figure. In 2001, the brothers went into Arlyn Studio in Austin and recorded sixteen songs in one day (among other things, the brothers’ work ethic is semi-ferocious). Arlyn’s owner, producer Freddy Fletcher, was impressed enough to pass a tape along to his father-in-law, Willie Nelson.
Fletcher recalled, “Kevin [the band’s manager, Kevin Wommack] had a two-song demo of the boys, and he played me that. I listened to those harmonies and saw that they wrote their own songs and I said, ‘I love these guys.’ And, good grief, you know, they’re kids. Willie came off the road, and I played it for him, and he went, ‘Holy shit…'”
Not long thereafter, Los Lonely Boys were setting up to play at Momo’s, a small upstairs club on West Sixth Street in Austin when…well, let Henry pick up the tale:
“Freddy told us he had invited Willie to come see us play, and we believed him…but we didn’t believe him, you know? But sure enough, in walks this guy who looks and walks and talks exactly like Willie Nelson! He and his wife sat down at a table in front, and me and my brothers are just flipping out.
“We did the show and got off on a break, and we each went up to him individually. And he was wearing this shirt that had a bunch of guitars on it, and I think we each said, hey, that’s a bad shirt! And he said thank you very much. Then, about three weeks later after we had met him, he and his wife went out and bought three identical shirts and gave them to us!” He laughs at the memory.
Nelson’s largesse didn’t stop at a new wardrobe. In a very real sense, he took the youngsters from West Texas under his wing. Los Lonely Boys’ debut album was recorded at his Pedernales Studio, and Willie himself added a guitar track to the song “La Contestacion”. He invited the band to play at his Farm Aid and Fourth Of July Picnic extravaganzas. And he tagged them to open a tour for him on the West Coast.
“I think the reason that Willie takes a liking to us is the fact that we’re not trying to bullshit anybody,” Henry suggests. “I guess he can really see that me and my brothers are just about music, and living that life of music. I think that he can see the desire and hunger in us for that dream to come true. And I think that, being the man that he is, he just kind of says, ‘Come on, boys!’ We always tell him that he reminds us of our father. He’s identical to our dad, but with different-colored skin.”
And, like Nelson, the Garzas know the importance of staying grounded. Despite the allure and professional convenience of Austin, Henry, JoJo and Ringo are staying put in their hometown of San Angelo, an isolated town bisected by the Concho River, away out on the distant mesquite-studded reaches of the Edwards Plateau.
San Angelo’s charms, to the outsider, are not immediately apparent, but it feels like home to Henry. “We’ve got everything we need here,” he says. “We want to raise our families where we were raised. The people are really nice, the schools are really good…it’s a perfect little town, man.”
And, besides, a dream can thrive anywhere. “There’s nothing more important in life than la familia,” Henry declares passionately. “And that’s what we do it for — we do it for each other. We’re not doing it to be the next big thing or to be on magazine covers. We’re not doing it for the money. This is what we do. It’s a way of life.”