The East LA chicano-rock pioneers talk us through their Great American Music

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LOS LOBOS
THE RIDE
HOLLYWOOD, 2004

Los Lobos celebrated their 30th anniversary by throwing an extended party at Rosas’ home studio – with the tape rolling.

HIDALGO: What was cool about that was that we got to work with our heroes and friends. The thing that moved me the most about it was that it just took a phone call. We called Elvis [Costello]: “Hey, we’re doin’ an album, do you want to be a part of it?” “Sure.” Same thing with Rubén Blades, Mavis Staples, Richard Thompson, Tom Waits, Dave Alvin – all our heroes and friends. That meant a lot to me. It’s a friendly record.

BERLIN: The first one was Bobby Womack, who sang the crap out of his track [a medley of “Wicked Rain” from Kiko and his own “Across 110th Street”]. Bobby was all cut live, and César overdubbed his vocal, once he got up the courage.

CESAR ROSAS: Just to be in the same room with Bobby Womack was awesome. Thirty seconds after we met, he’s singin’ my song to me, sayin’, “What do ya think about this?” It was remarkable to me ’cause I didn’t really know him, but he hung out, he told stories, we had a meal together. At one point he goes, “Al Green called me and wanted me to be on his record, but I told him I was busy working with you guys.” We’re like, “You turned Al Green down for us?!”

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LOS LOBOS
THE TOWN AND THE CITY
HOLLYWOOD, 2006

The band cooks up a concept album from scratch: an ambitious, emotional song cycle probing the Mexican-American experience.

PEREZ: Some records take on their own lives, and this one sure took on a stubborn-ass life. We had about a month before we were scheduled to go into the studio, so we spent it writing, or attempting to write. We were getting desperate when David came up with “The Valley”, and this atmospheric thing that was going on made it feel like this is the place where everything starts – literally and metaphorically – because all the swirling sounds gave it the feeling of a creation myth or something. At that point, the idea of the lyric started to come – the idea of travel or a journey and finally settling into a place. I imagined indigenous people or migrants coming over a hill and looking down into this valley, and they realise that they’ve finally arrived at a place they can call home. So I wrote it, gave it to David and he said, “Great – let’s cut it.” As David kept giving me new stuff, I started to get an idea of where to take the rest of it, but everything was still a mystery that was unfolding, and I had to just go with it. At that point, we realised that “The Valley” was the beginning of this journey or adventure, and then it finally settles down, and the epilogue is “The Town”, which is about going back to where you started from. It was like it had come from deep inside ourselves. This was the one where we finally decided not to hold anything back.

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LOS LOBOS
TIN CAN TRUST
SHOUT! FACTORY, 2010

On their 14th and most recent studio album, the seasoned East LA músicos still manage to deliver at a remarkably high level.

BERLIN: Tin Can Trust was done outside César’s studio for the first time in three albums and 10 years, which was very healthy for us. Working in a real studio again, funky as it was, put us back in a place where we could just go with the vibe of the room, and it rewarded us greatly just to play together.

It was also evocative for everybody to be back in East LA after 30 years. We weren’t trying to go retro, but it inevitably fell that way by virtue of what we were doing and where we were, and the fact that the songs were unadorned and put together on the spot. That was the shape the record told us it wanted to be. We always put our faith in our muses when we start a record. When we look back on that one, I think we’ll realise that it was miraculous in a way.

HIDALGO: Right in the middle of it, César and I went out on the road with the Experience Hendrix tribute, but we had a deadline and needed to get the album done. So whenever we had a day off somewhere – San Francisco, Denver, Fort Worth, Chicago – Steve would come out and record us in whatever studio he could book. That was a little bit trying, but it still beats working.

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