Not long after Los Lobos' Louie Perez called me last week, we got to talking about our kids. He has several, and spoke of his oldest son who, when he graduated from high school, announced that he was moving out of the house. His plan was to spend a couple of years "concentrating on the band."
"He had a band with the other Los Lobos kids," Louis recalled. "I gave him a counter-proposal: 'If you go to school I'll pay tuition, get you some wheels and pay your rent.'"
The proud dad noted that his son chose college and ended up class valedictorian. I had to point out that Louie made a quite different choice when he got out of high school.
"I ended up devoting my whole life to being a musician. I'm not exactly proud to say it, but I have the distinction of never having a job. When you tell people you're a musician, everybody looks at you and says, 'But what's your real job?'
"Sure, we went through that whole period of struggling. We formed the band in 1973, well before any of us had wives or children. The girls knew what they were getting into, and they supported us and we stayed with it through a lot of hills and valleys. There were tough times, but we all believed in what we were doing; we were young and full of piss and vinegar and we all held in there and struggled."
In the beginning the band played rock 'n' roll, but began a lifelong exploration of traditional Mexican music on the side.
"In high school I had a band with David [Hidalgo]. Cesar [Rosas] had a big soul band. Conrad [Lozano] had this power trio, a Blue Cheer kind of thing. We were all friends and hung out together. After high school we got this crazy idea to learn a Mexican song to play for one of our moms on her birthday, a mañanitas kind of thing, a serenade you do to wake up people on their birthday. When we went to learn it, we thought, 'This is pretty cool shit,' and started to explore more.
"We soon realized how challenging the music was, and we dove right in. It wasn't something that was really popular among our peers. Everybody was trying to learn American rock songs to play in Top-40 clubs, or to play in backyard parties that got busted by the cops. Playing that old music wasn't cool. Most minority kids like us growing up in the hood were all about homogenizing and becoming part of mainstream. We wanted something different."
Over the years, as the band from East L.A. found success with their Mexican-tinged take on rock, they continued their roots exploration. When the Los Lobos "Acoustic En VivoTour" comes to HSU next Tuesday, Feb. 13, at the Van Duzer, they'll play a full set of traditional music, then a second drawing on the band's extensive catalog, including tunes from their latest, The Town and The City.Got a favorite Los Lobos song you want to hear? Go to www.loslobos.org and make a request.
Jambalaya continues to ramp up the music with four shows this week. First, on Thursday, Feb. 8, it's a three-band rock fest on the heavy side with locals The Ravens, The Bloody Hollies, a punky trio from San Diego and Zelazowa, a more alt. rock-ish outfit from Philadelphia.
Friday at the Jam it's a slightly different version of Djali Kunda Kouyate, the locally based band that usually includes African vocalist/dancer Assane Kouyate, sometimes along with Assane's twin brother, Ousseynou, who lives in Oakland. Assane surprised many locally when he suddenly relocated to the Southwest. Ousseynou will lead the band Friday. On Saturday afternoon he shifts into griot mode, telling a Senegalese story as part of a Black History Month family celebration at the Graves Museum that also includes Bara Dance and Drum and the Arcata Interfaith Gospel Choir.
Saturday at the Jam, catch a jam by local pickers Moses Lincoln Johnson, who typically play Wednesdays at Six Rivers. If you've been paying attention you know the string band scene is thriving locally, with plenty of hot bands making the rounds - they're out in force this week along with a few like-minded touring groups.
Thursday, it's the monthly Humboldt Brews gig by venerable local bluegrass pickers Compost Mountain Boys. Friday, HumBrews has Feed and Seed, a young bluegrass band out of Bellingham. Next Tuesday they bring in Ida Viper, a bluegrass/old-timey/swing combo from Portland.
Remember I mentioned that a few bluegrassy bands that came through last weekend were on the way to some festival? I've since learned that it's the San Francisco Bluegrass and Old Timey Festival, which wraps up this weekend. Now we're getting bands on the way home. Among them: The Breakmen, an outfit from Vancouver, B.C. who play a Humboldt Folklife show at the Jambalaya Monday, Feb. 12, with special guest Ivan Rosenberg (a former Arcatan) on dobro. The band name is a pun of sorts - "break men" in that they play instrumental breaks, but also referencing the great Jimmie Rodgers, aka "The Singing Brakeman." There's a song called "Leavin' on a Midnight Train" on the band's eponymous debut album that I mistook for one of Jimmie's - it's an original. I also dug "Sweetheart of the Rodeo," with its Gram Parsons/Cali-country-rock feel. Joining the Breakmen at the Jam, The Striped Pig Stringband, who you will recognize as Devil's Dream Stringband. I ran into Jason Saturday at Arts Alive and he explained that the band was tired of the old name. He also gave a history of the striped pig, which has something to do with the Prohibition era, but I'll have to get him to tell me the story again.
More stringiness next weekend: Devil Makes Three and Hillstomp hit the Jam for a two-night run, Feb. 17 and 18. Tix on sale now.
Four Shillings Short is another sort of string band exploring a different territory. The duo consists of California girl Christy Martin and her Irish husband, Aodh Og O'Tuama from County Cork, who are basically wandering minstrels traveling the country playing music that draws on Celtic and Indian influences on guitar, banjo, mandolin, hammered dulcimer, tin whistle and sitar, among other instruments. Catch them at Muddy's Hot Cup Thursday, Feb. 8.
Also in an Irish mode: The step-dancing Trinity Irish Dancecompany who hit the Van Duzer Friday, Feb. 9.
It's the second Friday in the month, and that means Arts! Arcata and music in stores around town. Fred and Wilma will be at Garden Gate -- that would be guitarist Jeff Kelley and vocalist Peggy Martinez. It's "a not easily categorizable guitar/voice duo," according to Peggy. At Northtown Books, check out a free screening of the latest issue of Wholphin, the DVD magazine put out by the McSweeney's crew. Meanwhile, The Metro plays host to soulful bluesman Earl Thomas. Earl also performs the following night at Trinidad Town Hall for a Valentine dinner/dance thing benefiting Trinidad School.
The Eureka Chamber Music Series deviates slightly from the usual string quartets and opera this Friday, Feb. 9, bringing in acclaimed pianist Anton Nel for an evening of Haydn, Debussy, Chopin and Schumann at the Calvary Lutheran Church. Showtime is at 7:30 p.m.
Looking for classic rock? Gary Lewis and the Playboys play Saturday, Feb 10, in the Cher-Ae Heights Bingo Hall. Gary, son of comedian Jerry, started the band in the mid-'60s, originally landing a gig at Disneyland. They had eight gold singles, but I have to admit all I remember is "This Diamond Ring," a catchy number that hit No. 1 in 1965. BTW, you can download it from Gary's MySpace.
A Valentine's Day show at Blue Lake Casino features Billy Richards and the Coasters. A question often arises with groups like this: Is it the real thing? In this case I'd have to say "Not exactly." The Coasters are official rock 'n' roll legends, the first group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Originally derived from The Robins, a vocal combo who had a hit with "Smokey Joe's Cafe" by the songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the group was hugely successful from 1955 until 1961, with numerous Lieber- and Stoller-penned hits including "Charlie Brown," "Young Blood" and "Yakety Yak." Of course, there were personnel changes over the years. According to his booking agency, Billy Richards joined in 1962, just after the original band's heyday. Carl Gardner, from the original Coasters, holds the legal rights to the name and sued various bogus groups until he turned the rights over to his son, Carl Jr. who leads a group that tours as "The Original Coasters."
Deadhead alert: Friday and Saturday at Red Fox Tavern it's a two-night run of "How Sweet It Is," a tribute to the late/grate Jerry Garcia by the Avalon Allstars, a truly all-star combo that includes Melvin Seals and Stu Allen from the Jerry Garcia Band plus Martin Fierro, Greg Anton and Liam Hanrahan, all from Zero, "plus special guests." (Could that mean Ruben Diaz?)
For the hiphoppers, High Art Productions celebrates its 1st anniversary at Mazzotti's on Thursday, Feb. 8, with a hip hop extravaganza featuring One Block Radius with Z-Man, Marty James of MDA, Illadapted, Franco from Fortuna's Dirty Rats and J the Sarge of OptiPop, backed by legendary LA producer Fat Jack.
Among the many people I met at last summer's Reggae on the River was Winston van Ewijk aka Winstrong, a young dreadlocked cat from Surinam who was hanging out backstage with Ishi Dube and the sound crew. He slipped me a CDR with a couple of tunes, which I promptly lost. No problem - the songs are on his MySpace. He mixes roots and dancehall well in irie songs mostly about his love for the Emperor. He's playing Mazzotti's Sat., Feb. 10 with Ishi as special guest.
No news on Reggae. Is that good news? We'll see.