The iconic East Los Angeles band Los Lobos is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Their blend of rock ’n’ roll and traditional Mexican music has stayed consistent over generations. Members of the band, which formed when they were in high school, reflect with The World's host Marco Werman on their staying power.
Cesar Rosas, left, Conrad Lozano, Louie Perez, and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos perform at the 2023 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival on Sunday, April 30, 2023, at the Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans.
It’s rare to come across a musical act that remains consistent over time, much less one that stays true to its roots and doesn’t change its lineup for 50 years.
But that’s the case with the band Los Lobos.
It wasn't the plan when its members were much younger, back in high school during the late '60s.
Los Lobos at a music studio in East Los Angeles.
Marco Werman/The World
“We were all rock ’n’ roll musicians before this whole thing started,” said Conrad Lozano, the band’s bassist.
Los Lobos bassist Conrad Lozano.
Marco Werman/The World
He said it was amazing that the band lasted so long.
Los Lobos band members (left to right) Louie Perez, Conrad Lozano, David Hidalgo, Cesar Rosas and Steve Berlin.
Courtesy of Piero F. Giunti
[Just] the fact that we were young Mexican Americans in the neighborhood, learning this music that we never expected to learn and enjoying playing, Lozano said, and being able to share it with the neighborhood and other people.
International fame for the band came with the movie "La Bamba" in 1987.
The title song that made Richie Valens famous in 1958 was his rock cover of an old Mexican folk tune.
Thirty years later, when Los Lobos performed it for the film, they got it up to number one on the US charts, partly because they already had a rock background, but they also knew how to give Mexican songs the party treatment.
“We took it a real distance. We learned a lot [about] the different areas of Mexico, the territories; the music is different, the instrumentation is different, the Veracruzano, the Huasteco and all that stuff,” Lozano said.
But the band always loved rock ’n’ roll music.
For 10 years, the band studied Mexican folk music, and then the band started to get back to its original rock ’n’ roll sound.
Los Lobos band member Louie Perez.
Robert Corsini/Native Sons Films
“We kind of brought the things that we learned over the years,” he said, and the group paired it to rock ’n’ roll as they started to write music.
“And the fact that we are all sons of immigrants …,” said Louie Pérez, the band’s lyricist. “… it didn’t take too much thought to realize that there were certain subjects that we needed to address.
Songs like “Is This All There Is?” pierced the bubble of the American dream by reflecting on the world and stories Los Lobos are intimate with.
Many of those compositions are rooted in the immigrant experience, but as a co-writer of many of those songs, Pérez said that, after 50 years, the main message of the band spreads much wider.
“There are more similarities than differences. In all of us. And we discovered that by traveling around the US,” he said. “And that’s the greatest thing about this country … that we are, but we seem to have lost sight of that.”