Still, the wolves survive 

Los Lobos hit the highway with Los Lonely Boys

Twenty years after their unexpected chart success with  La - Bamba, Los Lobos are still defying trends.
  • Twenty years after their unexpected chart success with La Bamba, Los Lobos are still defying trends.

In nearly 35 years together, Los Lobos have forged a career outside the mainstream. The only commercial breakthrough came in 1987, when Los Lobos (Spanish for "The Wolves") scored a hit covering Ritchie Valens' "La Bamba," which was featured in the movie of the same name. Yet the anomaly never repeated itself. And while Los Lobos retain a rabid concert following, it often seems that these influential roots-rockers don't get the success they deserve.

"One way to stay above the fray for over 30 years is, I don't really worry about ... whether we're getting our proper due for influencing anybody," saxophonist-keyboardist Steve Berlin says of the band's pioneering mix of Mexican and American musical genres. "I'm happy we're still here, and to the extent that we are an influence, that's great.

"But it's not like it bothers me [that] people don't mention us first and foremost. I think it's just the way it is now just this cloud of music, and everybody just draws what they want from everywhere."

That said, there is something of a teacher-and-apprentice element to Los Lobos' current co-headlining Brotherhood Tour with the multi-platinum Los Lonely Boys.

"It's pretty obvious they spent a lot of time listening to us growing up, and they took it their own way," Berlin says. "So I think that will be interesting, on a nightly basis to see a timeline of music, from us to them and how we used these influences and the heritage."

Looking forward, Berlin said Los Lobos currently have no plans to begin recording a follow-up to 2006's The Town and the City. However, a children's album featuring classic Disney songs "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah," "When You Wish Upon a Star," "I Wanna Be Like You (The Monkey Song)" and more is due out this holiday season.

It's more evidence that in the decades since its major-label debut, How Will the Wolf Survive?, the quintet has transcended genre.

"If there ever was a moment [for pigeonholing], it might have been right after "La Bamba,'" Berlin says. "People thought that's all we were about, so we did our due diligence to change that attitude by putting out a folkloric record right afterwards.

"I think we survived by being trend-less. Even when there was a trend to follow in the Latin craze, we didn't really change anything or do anything. We just kind of watched it go by. So I think frankly refusing to conform or pay attention to passing waves of trends was one way to stay alive.

"And where we are at now, the funny thing is, I think a lot of the trends have sort of crested and gone away. Now we're just left with, for the most part, it's not even crappy pop music. But, basically, the story is: Can you play? Obviously, we can. That's a trend that we frankly welcome. It fits our skill set just fine."


The Brotherhood Tour:
Featuring Los Lobos and Los Lonely Boys
World Arena, 3185 Venetucci Blvd.
Thursday, July 31, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $25-$35, all ages; 576-2626, worldarena.com.


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