Forgive Los Lobos guitarist, drummer and principal lyricist Louie Perez for not being all that excited about his band's upcoming album. It's a collection of classics from the Disney songbook, made at a time when Los Lobos had a rosier relationship with the Mouse and His Minions. Now that the band has been dropped from Disney imprint Hollywood Records, though, Perez sees working the record as little more productive than a proverbial trip to Pinocchio's Pleasure Island.
"Finally, after two years, we twisted their arms enough to where they are gonna release it, whatever that even means anymore, on September 1," says Perez, who adds that even at this late date, the album has no title. "I think we are a little bit detached from it now. We're not exactly rolling up our sleeves to work on this record, because we don't really have anything to do with the label, and I think they are doing the same."
Perez says not to expect an original studio record from the band until early next year at the soonest. Lobos' recent experience with Disney is a shame, because the band sincerely loved this stuff once upon a time, as you can tell from its 1988 recording of New Orleans hepcat Louis Prima's rollicking Jungle Book tune "I Wanna Be Like You" (which was rerecorded for the upcoming record). The band grew to appreciate the Disney songbook in the same way that many who have taken the time to study it have.
7 p.m. Sunday, April 26, on the Bud Light World Music Stage at the Houston International Festival, downtown Houston. Call 713-654-1719 or see www.ifest.org for information.
"When you hear this music as kids, you kind of think nothing of it," says Perez. "But then as you get older, you come to realize that this stuff was written and performed by the top pop performers and songwriters of the day."
It's even more of a shame that the band was dropped at all. Los Lobos are nothing short of a national treasure. Maybe their blend of norteño, cumbias, boleros, blues, country, funk, soul and good old rock and roll is not the signature sound for all of America, but it certainly is for that part which some view as "Aztlán," which includes both Texas and the band's East L.A. home turf. Over the years, Perez has studied not just Mexican-American music but also the culture up close in both Texas and California (and everywhere in between).
"Mexican-American culture is more integrated in Texas than it is in Southern California," he says. "We're both states that border Mexico, so there's no surprise that there is a huge Mexican-American demographic, but culturally it's diffeent. Food's different — the food we get here in California is not as much of a hybrid, it's more Mexican national."
Cultural blending has always been apparent in Tex-Mex music, for example. "The Germans brought the accordion, which is so huge in the legacy of Mexican music and Mexican-American music," he says. "Like norteño music. It wasn't till later on that we realized that the roots of it were in German polka, and there's no 'kinda' about it."
Perez adds that even today, Texans are more willing to embrace Spanish than Californians. One "Anglo Texican" the band counted as a friend was the tragic Sixth Ward-bred, Austin-based blues-bass boss Keith Ferguson. A former member of 1960s Mexican gangs in Houston, Ferguson parted ways with the Fabulous Thunderbirds just before they enjoyed their stay atop the mountaintop of the pop charts.
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When Los Lobos played as part of the Super Bowl festivities here in 2005, they dedicated "Más y Más" to Ferguson. The Spanglish-language and careening, almost crazed, frontera rock of the song absolutely encapsulated Ferguson's full-tilt spirit.
And "Más y Más" also serves as a mighty roar in favor of cultural cross-pollination. Just as Mexico is the fusion of two cultures — Spanish and native Mexican — so Los Lobos are the fusion of Mexican and American.
"The way this band formed was the same way any other kids in America did it," Perez says. "We listened to rock radio and learned how to play instruments and we wanted to emulate our favorite musicians. And then we rediscovered the music that we had heard in the background all our lives. We picked up an acoustic guitar and tried to play a Mexican song and thought, 'Wow, we can't be so cavalier about this. This shit's kinda difficult.'
"We got fascinated by that and over time, without even knowing it, we created this hybrid, just like the Pogues did with Irish music."