Interview: Louie Perez of Los Lobos, The Wolf Survives
Los Lobos coming to The Egg, Sunday, September 26th
We’re all different, but most of humanity is the same in the fundamentals that are important, and that’s what’s going to save humanity in the end.
“Absolutely,” says Louie Perez of Los Lobos, a band of brothers by other mothers of Mexican-American heritage from east L.A. Forty eight years into their career, they’ve released a new CD called Native Sons that covers songs with roots in the fundamental and ongoing American struggle. “This country is made up of different things. It’s not just one thing. It’s an apple and oranges thing. My father was stationed in Nusan in the Philippines. He loved his country, and he went out to protect it.
“He came back home and died at 46 because of a weakened heart he got from malaria he got in World War II, but he loved his country. They dropped him down in the fields in the middle of the Philippines, and they had to throw together an airstrip, land the planes, unload the cargo, and get out of there before they bombed the shit out of them. This was what he did. He died at 46, (but) he got the soldier’s medal of valor which is the same medal JFK got for PT109, Now, JFK got a book and a movie. My dad got a bad back and malaria.”
Native Sons’ title cut is an homage to Los Angeles, but like so many of their songs, it has universal appeal: “I was a fool to run away and forget where I came from. I think about the day you take me back. I’m your native son.” Also included are two Buffalo Springfield hits from the ’60s, “Bluebird” and “For What It’s Worth” with its prescient lyric: “Everybody look what’s going down. There’s battle lines being drawn. Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.”
“When we first set out to find America with a trailer full of instruments, we didn’t know what we’d find, but we found more similarities than differences, and I don’t think we looked through rose-colored glasses, but we found America was incredibly forgiving and tolerant,” says Perez.
Los Lobo’s lineup is the same since they formed in 1973 except for “the new guy” Steve Berlin who joined in 1984. “We all grew up together in the same neighborhoods. We were friends before we were musicians and with the exception of The Beatles who didn’t last that long, There’s some deep stuff. Anything that goes on, they’re my brothers. It’s like a wrestling match in the grass. When it’s all over, you’re back to being brothers again. If somebody asks about something, they want or need, everybody generally goes along with it. It only happens with family. It’s like jumping out of a plane with a parachute.”
Los Lobos all come from the same ethnic roots, and they’ve expanded their musical vision to the whole world. And that isn’t an easy job these days. Perez describes how they responded to the pandemic. “We’d been working every day, and we were so exhausted, but we needed to decompress. We didn’t talk to each other for a couple of months, and when we gradually came back together, I think we had to get away from it to fall in love with it again.
“Being out there and playing music and having that union is so important for music to be performed and to be absorbed by the audience. That’s the thing we missed the most. You don’t realize it until you get back on the road. You’re just digging deep and playing hard. It’s phenomenal and what a difference between us playing a live stream on stage to a big screen (vs. live in front of an audience.)”
But the pandemic has changed the paradigm. “If you meet somebody for the first time that’s in your mind, ‘Is this guy gonna kill me?’ It’s probably extreme or maybe not. You just size people up. Before we would meet somebody, and if you’re open enough, this person has their own vibe, and you feel like you’ve known them forever. Now, there’s a criteria, that checklist you have. It’s unfortunate.”
Los Lobos is currently on New West, the latest in a series of labels. I told Perez that another veteran act, Robben Ford, had told me in effect, labels don’t mean anything anymore. They don’t really exist. What does it feel like vs. 40 years ago when they started?
“Oh, it’s like night and day. Now? These are all one-off deals. There’s no seven record contracts. There’s none of this.”
And suddenly he was gone from our conference call with an officious recorded voice: “This conference call has ended.”