About 30 years ago, a little-known band from East Los Angeles called Los Lobos burst onto the national scene when their cover of Ritchie Valens’ old hit “La Bamba” went all the way to No. 1. Three Grammy Awards and countless shows later, the band is still together, still recording, and set to headline KRCC’s Blues under the Bridge Festival July 7.
The band has lasted longer than most relationships, so I start off by asking saxophonist Steve Berlin if the band has a secret formula for making it work for so long.
“All of us are on our first marriages,” he laughs. “We’re wolves; we mate for life.”
Despite being nearly 70, Berlin doesn’t look all that different from the inscrutable bearded guy in dark sunglasses and a fedora who started off with rockabilly-punk rock pioneers The Blasters before joining Los Lobos in 1984 after co-producing their 1983 EP, And a Time to Dance. The founding members—David Hidalgo (vocals, guitar, accordion, lap steel, violin); Cesar Rosas (vocals, guitar, mandolin); Conrad Lozano (bass) and Louie Perez (drums)—met in an East LA high school.
“It would be very challenging if we were starting off now,” Berlin tells me. “A band now has to be entrepreneurial from the very start. Back when we got going, there was no idea of us ever owning anything. We just went out and did it.”
Because the band has always been noted for exceptional, rollicking live shows, I ask if the task of coming up with new material in the studio can be daunting.
“The hardest part is doing something that doesn’t sound like something we’ve done already,” Berlin says. “Sometimes, we’ll come up with a thing that’s great, then play it and realize, yeah, we already did that—six albums ago.”
Berlin acknowledges that this is not an entirely bad thing. “We have a palate,” he says. “We work with it.”
Los Lobos’ latest release is Gates of Gold, an album focused loosely around the idea of a Mexican immigrant’s journey to the United States. Though it came out three years ago, Berlin says the record has taken on a new urgency as a result of the national conversation around issues like DACA and the prospect of a wall spanning the Mexican-American border.
“The immigrant story just emerged,” Berlin says. “We didn’t set out to do it. We were writing these songs and only afterward saw what they had in common.” He pauses, thinks for a moment. “I think if we did it now, it would be a much angrier record.”
What can Colorado Springs fans expect at this year’s Blues Under the Bridge? “It’s a blues festival,” Berlin says with a chuckle. “So it’s going to be the blues, but our take on it.”
Blues Under the Bridge
The annual downtown blues fest wails again on July 7 under the Colorado Avenue bridge. Along with the rockabilly-Mex-R&B fusion of Los Lobos, you can also catch the following artists, along with others.
More info and full lineup: bluesunderthebridge.org
Chris Thomas King Band
The Louisiana master of blues fusion has won Album of the Year honors from the Grammy and Country Music Awards.
Kerry Pastine and the Crime Scene
Expect a rollicking roots-rock party with a hint of danger from the rising Denver act.
Grant Sabin & the Juke Joint Highball
The local blues favorite always brings the wail.