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The Jam Session: Los Lobos

In honor of summer, and driving, and all that, the official Jam Session beer this time around was Carling's Black Label. In cans. Attending: Bill Kuhn, Glenn Brooks, Jason Staczek, Mark Oppfelt and Scott Boggan.

Los Lobos  Colossal Head
the review

"Manny's Bones"
MO We're enjoying here Los Lobos' latest and greatest effort, "Colossal Head", produced by Mitchell Froom...
GB And Tchad Blake.
MO "Manny's Bones", one of my personal favorites on the album.
GB Now the four of you saw these guys live, right?
MO That we did.
BK At the beautiful Showbox in Seattle. This is quite a departure for the Los Lobians.
MO Yeah, this whole album is.
JS Of course, it sounds just like the Latin Playboys record, though.
MO That's... Yeah.
JS So it's hard to say, you know, what's up with Mitchell Froom, whether this is Mitchell Froom's record...
MO Good point.
JS ...or David Hidalgo.
MO But he's been playing with these guys for like the last four albums.
SB So what was his involvement with the Playboys? Did he play keyboards?
JS I guess so...
SB ...or co-wrote or what?
JS He's one of the Playboys.
GB And he's also married to, what, Alanis Morrisette?
MO No. Suzanne Vega.
GB Oh, yeah.
BK It's a fine distinction.
GB Now did these guys have that 12 foot bass drum on the show?
SB Naw, they were kind of going through the motions, I think.
GB Is that right?
MO Yeah. And when the big Stonehenge thing came down, they kind of lost it.
BK This to me sounds like Morphine kind of slowed up.
MO There's that bass.
SB Slowed up?
MO Jason, is that bass sax or baritone sax?
JS I think that sounds like a bass sax.
SB That'd be the bass sax.
JS Too much for baritone.
BK At one point they hauled out that sax that's about 12 feet long.
JS The one on the stand. The big daddy.
MO It was like an alphorn. I thought they were going to do a Ricola commercial right there.
GB The vocals sound really far back in the mix here.
BK Really far back.
MO They really push them back. It's a pretty upbeat song for a song that's lamenting about the death of Manny.
GB Who was Manny?
SB Fishin' buddy.
MO No, he was a drinking buddy.
BK Fell into that fishin' hole and that was it?
MO That's Ringo on drums.
SB It's got that sound.
JS You know they got that sound live, though. I think they pulled it off. It sounded just like the record.
SB Yeah.

"Little Japan"
MO This next tune's called "Little Japan".
SB Which's a very modern sound for these guys.
BK This is pretty heavily produced for these guys, too.
JS I don't think they'd argue with you.
BK A little wah-wah, like Shaft is gonna come waltzing out from around the corner.
MO Kind of like the Beastie Boys. They've been sampling some old 70's tunes.
GB It's very tasty.
SB I think Mitchell really shaped this tune, though. You know it could have just been a straightahead...
GB You have to admire Los Lobos, though, for going this far out. After "La Bamba"...
MO Exactly.
GB ...and so on. I mean they're always pushing in one direction or another.
JS Well they've been doing it so long they must be itchin'.
GB A lot of bands at that point either pack it in or wind up doing their greatest hits tours and these guys haven't.
BK I think they must be frustrated. You know, all these years of playing and they really aren't that big of an act.
JS Like a festival band still.
BK I mean Showbox is a fun place to go see them, but it's a 500-seat venue. Or 500-stand venue.
GB Yeah, that kind of surprised me.
SB Well then they're lumped with...they're playing this big pseudo-Dead show at the Gorge.
JS The HORDE thing?
SB Yeah.
GB What are they, one of the six opening bands for Phish?
MO There you go.
SB I dunno. Is Phish playing that one? I think it's a Mickey Hart four hour drum solo ending the evening.
MO Well it's interesting. You bring up a good point, Bill. The first time I saw these guys, the BoDeans and Los Lobos opened for U2 on their "Joshua Tree" tour up in BC Place, you know, which is like 75,000 people packed into a big dome.
JS How did that go over?
MO Basically a bunch of beaners playing "La Bamba", you know, was kind of how it went over.
SB Who are these hosers then, eh?
MO But that was kind of their 15 minutes of arena rock fame, and it didn't go over that great because they just don't translate. We saw them in a small venue. They just stand there. And that's exactly what they did. And they're all wearing dark sunglasses in a dark room.
BK This is a nice track, though.
GB This is like the mid-'70s, no, mid-'80s... Where am I? What decade?
MO You're in the '90s, Glenn.
GB ...The Talking Heads, David Byrne/Brian Eno experimentation stuff finally picked up again and someone moving it forward a bit.
BK That's funny. I just picked up that CD the other day at the big rummage sale in the Pike Street Market.
GB "My Life In the Bush of Ghosts"?
BK Yeah, which...I mean, it's so fresh, and you listen to it and it's so much the basis for what everyone did for 15 years after that. It's amazing to hear it again. I hadn't played it because I only had it on vinyl.
BK Byrne and Eno together.
MO Joint title?
BK Yeah. Just amazing piece of work.
SB Great album.
BK It's got all that middle eastern chanting stuff on it. It's got the exorcism going on.
GB By the way, we should mention that this session is fueled by Black Label.
MO Black Label Beer. Actually...
GB In honor of the...
MO Now, that's not completely true. We've got a couple holdouts. We've got some Red Hook drinkers over here.
JS We ran out of Black Label.
MO Wrong. Wrong.
GB This is in honor of the theme of great driving tunes. Black Label, of course, is the great driving beer.
MO Because it looks like a Coke can at a distance.
GB And you can drink through a whole 12-pack and not even feel it.
JS Not that we recommend drinking while or before driving. If you must drink, and we must, do it in a studio.
GB Well this is nice, spooky stuff.
MO Very.
BK Oh, yeah.

"Mas y Mas"
MO Now this next song is also a fave. "Mas y Mas". Definitely one of the more traditional songs on the album. You'd almost think Carlos Santana stepped in and was doing some of these lead licks here. Real tasty, real tasty.
SB Mixing in the English with a little of that east LA lingo there.
MO He sings in English, then he says chimichanga a couple times, so.
BK What do you call chimichangas in English? Chimichangas.
MO "Mas y Mas". There it is. That means "more cannonballs". And there's that dirty guitar that's prevalent throughout the album.
BK It does have the Santana sound to it.
SB Absolutely.
GB But the bottom is not Santana.
JS No. It's El Chicano.
BK This is Luis singing, right? I think so.
MO Right there.
GB Leaving on a jet airliner.
MO But there's your bass sax in the background. Hardcore.
JS They get a lot of guitar tones on this record...
MO Yeah.
JS ...lot of different guitar tones.
MO Yeah. A lot of different flavors.
SB Yeah. Here's a total Hendrix thing.
MO I still say Carlos. Right here.
SB Definitely there's Carlos in there.
MO The way he's bending those notes. Coming up here. Playing off his pickups.
BK It's hard to believe this and the last song were on the same album.
MO Exactly.
GB How do you guys think the album works as an album?
SB It's a very mixed bag, but there's a cultural thing holding it together, I think, that's pretty unique.
MO I would agree. Generally, when I've recommended this album to people, it's like, Los immediately get an image in your head of a latino band, but it's like, just give it a shot. Everyone I've recommended it to has been pleasantly surprised because it is so all over the board.
JS Yeah. I've had it playing in the house, people walk in, they go, "Who's this? What is this?"
MO The disappointment for me was this was one of my favorite songs, and in concert it didn't blow me away. They didn't just pull out the stops and just let this one rip.
JS Did they play this one? I don't remember.
JS There's not much accordion from David Hidalgo on this record.
BK No.
JS Which is a shame, because I love his accordion playing.
MO If it's there, you aint' hearing it.
BK This is like a set closer tune.
MO Oh, yeah.
MO But in their case, it wasn't. Santana all the way. Total Santana right there.
JS Have to give you that.

"Can't Stop The Rain"
MO This next song's called "Can't Stop The Rain", and a big pet peeve of mine is to listen a song and say it sounds just like so-and-so...
JS But go ahead, say it, Ope.
BK Let's hear it, Ope.
MO But. But. Jason shot me down on this one. I could have sworn they brought in Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top to sing this song. And Jason's comment to me was, "Are we listening to the same album, Ope?" So, I'm just going to throw that out at the group and have you folks...
SB It's got that sound.
MO This has got a ZZ Top sound, gentlemen.
SB It's got that east LA...
MO East LA ZZ Top sound.
JS Lowrider...
SB ...lowrider bass and kick.
MO Which ain't too far from...
SB From east Texas.
MO Thank you.
BK Remind me again on what exactly was ZZ Top's unique contribution...
SB Touring with a buffalo and a rattlesnake and a vulture on stage. On the Texas tour.
BK And you know, that hasn't been done again.
SB No. Nobody's taking a buffalo out on the road with them, and I wonder why?
MO ZZ Top. They were never known to use a lot of flute in their, ah...
SB The bass on this is awesome, though.
BK Yeah. It really is.
SB Way up front.
GB What is that? That's not a flute. What is that?
MO It might be keyboards. That's my suspicion.
BK Well at the show at the Showbox, he was playing a flute-like, clarinet-like thing. I couldn't quite see what it was...
GB Another fadeout.
JS How do you end a groove, though? You gotta fade a groove.
GB You don't have to fade a groove....
MO The next song is called...
GB Funkadelic never faded.
JS No. Cause they only had one song per side.

"Everybody Loves A Train"
MO Alright. Here's the next track, folks, called "Everybody Loves A Train". This is a little bit more...even bigger departure, we got the real megaphone-type production going on here with the vocals. Really pushed back.
BK I thought everyone loved a clown?
GB I thought it was "You can't stop a train."
BK It takes a train to laugh, a clown to cry.
MO I could see Leon Redbone doing a song like this.
JS (in a snarly voice) Yeah. I could too, Opie.
MO This one actually, they did well live, I thought. I was kind of curious how they'd pull this one off.
JS You know, it was funny how the crowd really picked up, I thought, once they launched into the Mexican music...
MO Oh, absolutely.
JS ...the crowd went nuts after they stopped with this crap.
MO Four white guys were there to hear "this crap".
SB Bunch of guys that just came from Taco Time...
MO Too much bourbon in us to really...
JS It was a young crowd...
BK I thought it was a very mixed crowd.
SB It was like a Backstage crowd.
BK Yeah. It was a Backstage crowd. Exactly. There were people who were older than me, amazingly.
JS I didn't see anybody there older than you, Bill.
SB But you're right, the Backstage crowd, they're a good-times crowd, and this new album isn't exactly all good times....
MO Here we go. Here's your John Fogerty guitar.
SB It's not latino party music.
GB This is not a serious song. It's not like lyrically it's down.
SB No. But..."La Bamba".
BK You're not going to stay there and bop along to this.
SB Yeah.
JS Are they going to have to carry that "La Bamba" deal for the rest of their career?
MO Yup.
BK Yeah. Right. One more stab at this. No one thinks a lot of this stuff sounds like Morphine? (silence)
BK No.
MO I don't know enough to say one way or another.
GB Morphine doesn't swing as hard, though.
BK I dunno. Sometimes.
MO There's that sax I love.
JS Guttural.
MO You feel it in your...
JS ...huevos...
MO your cannonballs. And this...Glenn, you'll be happy to know. No fade out here.
GB So. There's an answer to the question of how do you end a groove like this. There you go.
JS That was a fade out of sorts.
GB (groans)
MO Alright, that's it, gentlemen.

Copyright © 1996 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.