Louie Pérez is a founding member, drummer and song writer of the legendary rock group Los Lobos. The group is one of the longest lasting successful collaborations in music history. They are responsible for numerous hits including Will The Wolf Survive, Kiko By The Lavender Moon, La Pistola y El Corazon and the record breaking La Bamba. Latinopia wondered how the group came together and what brought about their first album. We sought out Louie Pérez to hear it in his own words.
IN HIS OWN WORDS
I grew up in East Los Angeles, California on January 29th, 1953. Boyle Heights and the Belvedere area. My father was carpenter and my mother was sewing machine operator. My father passed away when I was eight years old. So I didn’t get to know him. My mother loved music, she always sang and I grew up listening to rancheras.
My mom would drag us down to downtown Los Angeles to the Million Dollar theater to the variedades, the Mexican variety shows. M first experience with live music I was sitting in the Million Dollar theater, a mariachis comes on stage. It looked like there were fifty of them up there. Big fanfare, the main attraction comes on stage, it may have been Miguel Aceves Mejía, but he comes out on a white horse! Singing on horseback. My first experience with live music!
I was in high school in 1968 an d1969. The Beatles had already arrive and the East L.A. sound with the Midniters was already there. The East L.A. sound, especially the Midniters became our stand-ins for the Beatles. All of this had a great deal of influence on me. David Hidalgo and I shared an interest in music. We listened to music together. After high school all we did was listen to music and play music. We were able to create our own musical universe.
David and I, for at least a couple of years. I already knew Conrad Lozano from the neighborhood, because he lived a couple of blocks away from me. He had his own band. David knew Cesar Rojas because they lived in the same neighborhood. We were separated by the Interstate 5 freeway. Cesar had his own band as well., a soul music, mid of tower of power band. And David and I had our band, we played together.
It wasn’t like a light went on over our heads, a foquito, and we said, wow let’s star a band. We were friends in high school before there was ever music. I knew Conrad from the neighborhood and Cesar knew David. So out of high school we hung out as friends. Everybody had their own band but we hung out as friends.
We started Los Lobos kind of on a lark. I think it was my mom or Cesar’s mom had a birthday and we decided we were going to learn Las Mañanitas. Now these are rock and roll kids. We never paid much attention to Mexican music. Oh, it played as the soundtrack of our lives, as an underscore. But we never paid attention to it. Because by the time we were tall enough to reach the knob on the radio we were listening to everything else. And we were part of the whole homogenization that happens to culture in the United States.
You become part of the larger scheme of things. We started listening to Jimmy Henricks, the Byrds and Bob Dylan, all the stuff that was going on and the last thing we wanted to listen to was Mexican music. But we thought this would be a novel idea, we’d learn a song for mom. We did the Mañanitas, She cried. We got this incredible sensation of moving someone with our music. Mexican music started to interest us. We started to dust off the old records at mom’s house. We started listening to Miguel Aceves Mejía again and suddenly we were like kids in a candy store.
But we approached it with this rock and roll attitude, what is in it for us? We discovered at that point that the music was actually very challenging to our musicianship. Once we realized that it wasn’t easy to play like this. When we heard the trio Los Panchos–we thought that Erik Clampton was the best guitar player in the world–and then we listen to the requinto player from the Trio Los Panchos and he is playing lightening fast licks! So this really got us interested. And it was challenging because it was not easy to play.
And then it just opened up this Pandora’s Box. We were looking for instruments. We went to pawn shops. We’d see these instruments hanging in the windows. We’d hold up a record cover with instruments and say, look there is one! And we’d match them up that way and we’d buy them for fifteen bucks. And then we had to figure out how to play them! And how to tune them!
Classical training in music. None of us ever had that. We were all self-taught. We gravitated to music because we had an ear for it and because of that ear we were able to fold that into the instruments. I guess we were all destined for it and we had talent.
We started playing Mexican music and we finally decide that we wanted to do this full time. We went to rehearsals,. We all of us, one by one, left our groups and started playing Mexican music. And during this time a lot of the bands were saying, What are you doing that for? We finally named the band Los Lobos after our first real gig.
We had to put our name on a contract. We played at East Los Angeles college student lounge and we started playing Mexican music and it was so strange. I looked out there and I could see the student s weren’t sure if they wanted to clap or not. This was not hip. This was not the cool thing to do. The kids were saying, they look just like us but they are playing the music of our parents, the music we are trying to get away from.
Concurrent to what was going on in 1973, was the Chicano movement and people were beginning to learn about their culture. Young people were going into the Chicano studies classes in the colleges and there was this whole renaissance of everything Chicano.
The first time we ever put down anything down as far as recording was for the United Farmworkers of America. A benefit album. We were the house band for the album. After that we continued to keep playing over the week-ends. The way I tell the story is, fi you are Mexican American and you were married between 1973 and 1980, we probably played at your wedding, cause we never had a Saturday off.
By 1977 and 1978 we met other Chicanos who were involved in different parts of media. We met dancers and painters and we started to meet filmmakers, writers. In the same way that we found something that liberated us to play whatever we wanted to do, to play Mexican music, in the same way it happened to Chicano artists whether they were dancers or painters, filmmakers or writers. They all found what they loved and what they believed in and how they could say something through their particular talents.
So we met Jesús Treviño, we met Luis Torres, Adolfo “Rudy” Vargas, David Sandoval. They were all the upstart young writers and filmmakers and producers who were doing a lot of
different things. We met up with them when they asked us to play some music for a film they were producing. And then they turned around and said, hey we should help these guys make a record. So in 1978, we went into the studio on their dime. The whole production cost maybe 1800 bucks. That was a lot of money in 1978. And we made out first record produced by Luis Torres. Just Another Band from East L.A.