Saturday, December 12, 2015

Los Lobos: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Justifications and Excuses, Part XII

Los Lobos is one of the greatest stories in the history of American popular music. They started out as a freaking wedding band, playing for their friends and clients in East L.A., building a following that led them to record an EP in 1983, ...And a Time to Dance. The sales of that EP led them to buy a van, which enabled them to start touring beyond Southern California for the first time in their career. I think it was drummer Louie Perez who, reflecting on this time of playing small halls and ballrooms around the country, later got off one of the all-time great quotes (in a magazine I have since lost, so I apologize if I have it slightly wrong): "We discovered America through the service entrance."

They were grown-ass men by this time, around 30 years old and with families, before they could really even make a living with Los Lobos. Eventually, their norteno roots-rock intersected with a popular biopic of Ritchie Valens, and they topped the charts with "La Bamba." They shrugged it off with characteristic modesty, saying they were just glad they could get Ritchie Valens a Number One hit.

"La Bamba" was also pretty much the end of Los Lobos' commercial success (after the soundtrack hits, they literally never had another single on the Hot 100), because they were more interested in doing what they wanted than in expanding their audience. They made experimental stuff, relasing new albums sporadically, to the point that they got dropped by Warner Brothers in 1996.

The weird thing about Los Lobos is that they sparked a revolution that never happened. The songs from the La Bamba soundtrack and especially the ones from 1984's How Will the Wolf Survive were full-on Chicano rock, an unmistakable blend of Mexican-American influences and classic Chuck Berry-derived rock & roll. How Will the Wolf Survive? was named to Number 30 on Rolling Stone's top albums of the 1980s, and No. 461 on that august magazine's list of the Top 500 albums of all time. In other words, it's real good.

With that album, Los Lobos managed to sound both original and comfortable at the same time, and seemed to herald a new genre that never quite arrived. Who followed Los Lobos - Cypress Hill? Los Lonely Boys? Alien Ant Farm? I'm sure I'm missing something here, and feel free to help me out in the comments, but I can't see where the Los Lobos influence ended up.

I would be totally fine with having Los Lobos in the Hall of Fame, and strongly considered voting for them. I like pretty much everything about Los Lobos - their attitude, their career path, their modesty, and most of all their music. But given their lack of hits, and the fact that I have a hard time seeing their footprints, for now I am going to vote NO for Los Lobos.


  1. I have to agree with you again, just as I do with NWA. However, there is something wrong with a world that remembers and honors NWA while Los Lobos is virtually unknown. I've seen them in concert twice and they are just as wonderful live.

  2. I think your judgement is really wrong on this one.

    Two things. I'd say Los Lobos is a significant influence on the emergence of "Americana" as a thing. At least, that's my impression.

    Add that to their quality and longevity...seems to me that they're well over any line you want to set. I mean, they have a well-reviewed album this year at the end of their 4th decade, and have never really churned out a dud...not a lot of bands that have done that.

  3. That's an interesting proposition. I think Americana traces all the way back to the Band, but I'd be interested to see someone trace Los Lobos' influence in the genre.

  4. I own and enjoy several Los Lobos albums, but not a lot of them are really, truly great, IMHO. For all their good attitude and perserverance, hese guys are borderline Hall of Very Gooders.

    On the other hand, I would say they deserve induction based entirely on David Hidalgo's voice; I would be content if his were the last voice I ever heard.

  5. Kiko, The Neighborhood, and Colossal Head are as good a trio of albums as have *ever* been recorded; each unique and special. They stand up with the giants of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Commercially, while the band didn't have pop billboard "hits", they have consistently been staples of the small niche AAA radio format (Adult Album Alternative) that specializes in playing a lot of what we now tend to lump together as Americana.

    As far as influence, it's certainly widespread in the ever increasing hispanic culture in this country.

    Their impact immediately on their fellow musicians was huge, as evidenced by the major bands who have covered their music, such as Jerry Garcia, Phish, Waylon Jennings, Robert Plant, Dave Alvin, and Pop Staples.

    But I will admit that finding more modern major bands who are obviously directly influenced by them can be hard to spot - Ozomatli was one you didn't already note. But, Los Lobos' fearless trailblazing provided an influential example even to bands that followed a bit different musical template: The Mars Volta, Rage Against The Machine, At The Drive-In come to mind.

  6. Thank you for that perspective. I almost mentioned Ozomatli as a band directly influenced by Los Lobos, but I'm not familiar enough with their work to make that judgment.