LONE WOLF: HANGIN' WITH STEVE BERLIN

Words by Scott Caffrey


Los Lobos
Los Lobos is easy to take for granted. As certified musical trailblazers, their path has always been a more difficult one. Trailblazing involves struggle and strife, misguided criticism, and can take eons for anyone to recognize it as a worthy pursuit. But as their latest album The Town and the City attests, it's clearly the only thing this 32-year-old quintet knows.

Being a maverick in the '80s music business was tricky, to say the least. A band making its own decisions was either a big gun or had some credibility in the hit parade. But even then, those breaking artistically free were often castigated to the "eclectic" bin. If they were ever heard from again, it was in the underground scene. A select few of these bands, however, made it out with their careers intact, and have become the New Legends.

Los Lobos is one of these legendary bands. They made their name by consciously, constantly, and creatively moving in the opposite direction of their last recorded step. And it worked because they're damn good. It's one of the ballsiest moves in rock 'n' roll, and they don't get enough credit for doing it. Because no matter how beloved any band is, making the anti-album is always a risk. But for The Wolves, these moves are normal, and they have come to define Los Lobos's career.


Los Lobos
As history has vindicated, "eclectic" is now a badge of cool. And the guys in Los Lobos wear it well. While most people know them for their hit Ritchie Valens covers on the La Bamba soundtrack, not enough know them for the brilliant musical grandeur that comprises Kiko. So today, they command something of a comfortable middle ground – they had a whiff of big time stardom and have earned their stripes underground.

The group's continued success and rabid fan-base speak directly to the accessibility of their diverse music. On stage, their schizophrenic setlists foster a self-professed mission of intercultural and intergenerational harmony. Their shows have become something akin to a hip family reunion. It's such a loose and friendly atmosphere that you can walk up, meet each one, and even request "La Bamba" if you absolutely have to hear it. The thin line between success and failure has been kicked out of whack, bent out of shape, and moved clear to the other side by a quartet of Chicano friends from East LA – David Hidalgo, Louie Pérez, Cesar Rosas, and Conrad Lozano – and their lone recruit, Steve Berlin.

Born September 14th, 1955 in Philadelphia, Steve Berlin moved to Los Angeles at the ripe age of 19 after getting a call for a can't-miss gig. He quickly became a hot commodity as a session saxophonist, and it was during his stint with The Blasters that Berlin remembers seeing Los Lobos for the first time. The year was 1980, and Los Lobos were opening for Public Image, Ltd. at the Olympic Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles. The punk audience threw everything they could – literally and figuratively – at the long-haired, fuzzy foursome as they played their way through a set of traditional, acoustic Norteño music. The gutsy display fascinated Berlin, who would later equate the impact to "finding a tribe of Indians living under a freeway underpass."


Steve Berlin
It wasn't until the second time he saw them live, as openers for his own Blasters, that Berlin was gripped into a healthy obsession. "We ended up hanging out and I remember many, many times where I would do a gig with The Blasters or somebody else and then go screaming across town to catch the Lobos encore. Anything to get to play with them, to me, was what I would do. No matter how far, or how ridiculous the commute was, I was gonna be there just because I enjoyed it so much."

With fascination eventually turning into full-time work, no decision was ever really made for Berlin to join as honorary Chicano. "I played with them long enough, and worked with them long enough. It wasn't like they came to me and said, 'Would you?' I was sort of like, 'Hey could I?' So it all kinda melded into one big thing, I guess." Berlin would go on to co-produce their Grammy-winning EP ...And a Time to Dance with T-Bone Burnett in 1983 and more-or-less officially join Los Lobos sometime in 1984.

With his position in the band now firmly in place, Berlin continued playing countless sessions all over Southern California with a diverse array of bands, including the Beat Farmers, Translator, and Flesh Eaters. But as you'll soon read, it was a "record label family" assignment on Paul Simon's landmark Graceland that would shake Berlin to his core. And though Graceland amounted to a painful learning experience that none of the members have forgotten, one year later Los Lobos finally enjoyed their first taste of commercial success with La Bamba.

From there, Berlin's reputation as a producer continued to grow. He helmed sessions for acts as diverse as Faith No More, The Tail Gators, and his former Blaster-mate Dave Alvin. He remained a stalwart on the alternative rock scene and worked with the likes of The Replacements, John Lee Hooker, Leo Kottke, Sheryl Crow, and The String Cheese Incident.

Armed with obvious studio acumen, Berlin works hard to make the recorded Lobos sound meet the band's vision. And because of this prowess and thirst for record making, he spent every necessary minute poring over everything that was needed to create the wonderfully complicated The Town and the City. "Let's put it this way – I was the only guy there every single day. A lot of guys got to take some days off, but I didn't."

The Town and the City falls perfectly in the Los Lobos canon. It has an undeniable patience and tranquility, even when the guitars are jacked up. It also focuses on one big theme close to the band's heart: immigration. This is an album about people feeling out of place. It's about the hardships that come with being, and feeling, different.

The intricacies of sound presented on the album sway from the heart-wrenching laborer's lament "Hold On" (I'm killing myself to survive)" to the anthemic guitar power of "The Road to Gila Bend." Along with the unique sensibilities of producers Tchad Blake and Robert Carrazza, the band is still able to emit those subtle, strange, and weird noises – like the effulgent feedback guiding the listener through "The Valley." The Town and the City demands attention and repeat-listening. It's far too heady to get it all in one sitting. This album is the culmination of a musical family, living life together. Once again, Los Lobos has opened the doors to its collective heart and spoken for the world at large.

 
It was really a grind virtually every single day of making this record. Which is not to say it wasn't edifying. I mean, it's art. We knew what it was there for. It's not like it's supposed to be fun.
-Steve Berlin on making The Town and the City
 

JamBase: Congratulations on The Town and the City. You guys must be pretty proud.

Berlin: Thank you very much. You know we're still in that, more like the pain of childbirth is still too apparent to feel the joy of pride, I guess. It will take a little while before actual pride shows up.

JamBase: It's a very heavy-duty album.

Berlin: Yeah, that is true.

JamBase: But were you able to have any fun doing it?


Steve Berlin :: Producer
Berlin: Ummm... No [laughs]. How honest should I be? I'll put it this way, we've been blessed, almost for decades, with records that either made themselves, or were incredibly fun to make, or just painless. Like The Ride just had one amazing moment after the other, with all these guest-stars stopping by and stuff.

I really don't remember a single day of making this album, where I'd go home and go, "Boy, that was cool" or you know, "Gee, I'm really glad I have this job." It was really a grind virtually every single day of making this record. Which is not to say it wasn't edifying. I mean, it's art. We knew what it was there for. It's not like it's supposed to be fun. It's certainly not in my contract that it has to be fun. But I don't remember a single moment relaxing or laughing or having a nice day at work. It was always two steps forward, one step back. Every day.

Is there anything any of you were able to point to...

No, I wish I could tell you. It wasn't apparent to me, that's for sure. It wasn't anything I could have fixed, or addressed or dealt with. It just seemed like the nature of the songs and the nature of the material just demanded that kind of application. And you know, I hate hearing more than anything in the world, musicians complain about making music for a living. So certainly I am well cognizant of the fact that I have the best job in the world.

Now, that said, and that clearly understood, it was still just really hard rock-pushing-up-a-hill-and-falling-down-again type of work, that's for sure.

Well there is that old saying, "Sometimes you have to struggle for your art." And even just speaking as a fan, you guys made a beautiful album here.


Los Lobos
It seems to be very well-received. That point is really gratifying, because you never know what people will think about it. So it certainly does my heart good to hear all the nice things people are saying about it.

How involved in the production were you?

Let's put it this way – I was the only guy there every single day. A lot of guys got to take some days off, but I didn't.

Did that upset you?

No, that's just kinda what I do and how I approach it. I do that because I genuinely enjoy the process. I actually like making records, seeing how they get put together, come together. I've made some over the years that have been hard. So I know what a hard record is like. But there is still joy in art. I'm sure da Vinci had bad days, and Mozart had bad days, and Monet had bad days, or bad weeks, or bad projects, you know? You just gotta get through it. You make the best thing you can and hope the world appreciates it. Not that I'm putting myself or us on their level; I'm just saying that not all art is made in joy. A lot of times it's made in pain and you're sort of focused on a task and whatever that task entails you get it done. And that's pretty much how we do it. We just kinda found a song in there and just really ground it out.

How are the new songs for you guys to play live?

It's good. I mean they've been well-received. Some of them actually fit right in and people seem to really dig them, and some like "Hold On" require a little bit more of an adventurous audience. We've been playing it in the set every night. And sometimes, if it's a festival, or a really happy crowd or something, you just don't want to bring them down. How much do you want to play the new songs? It just feels like it would be a cruel trick to throw that song at them. You know we're judicious about it, but I'm happy with it.


The Blasters
Now I'm gonna ask you to go all the way back. What was your original motive for moving out to LA?

It was '75 and my motive was being bored shitless in Philadelphia. Some guys I was playing with were, at that time, backing a group called the Soul Survivors. Remember "Expressway (To Your Heart)?" And they moved out, and within weeks, had gotten a gig backing up both Billy Preston and Gregg Allman. That's a pretty nice parlay. So they called me up in '74, I guess it was, and said, "Come on out, the pickins are easy."

Go figure. I came out in Christmas of '75, and they instantly lost both of those gigs. Like, within 20 minutes. Gregg went into rehab and Billy went and, I don't know, beat up his wife or something like that.

Oh shit... welcome to Hollywood.

Those gigs disappeared in a hurry. But I was just happy to be in LA.

So you liked it right off the bat. Do you remember some of the first things you did?

Oh, I loved it. I got some work relatively quickly. It wasn't instantaneous. We became a band, and we actually put out a record on Casablanca. Which is cool. I mean, that was the cocaine and disco label of all time. So we got to see, first hand, what that was like, which was pretty funny.

When did you start with The Blasters and about how long did you stay with them?

That would be... all those dates are fairly hazy.

And they're hard to find.


The Blasters
Yeah, I know. They are hard to find. For instance, I've always told people that I joined Lobos like '82 or '83. And then we put out this live show, Live in '84, and I'm introduced as "Steve Berlin of The Blasters." And it's January, 1984. I remember the show very clearly. And in my mind, I was well into Los Lobos by the date of that show. All my dates are a little bit off. So I eventually had to move a few dates forward [both laugh]. If they're still calling me of The Blasters, it probably means that I was still working on the first record at that point.

I can only get bits and pieces of your recollections about when you saw them for the first time. Was it a pretty automatic thing that you wanted to work with these guys?

I was amazed, as was everybody else that was there. The first time I saw them was the infamous PIL [Public Image, Ltd.] show. I didn't see myself playing folklore, Latin American music. I didn't have a shred of that in me. So the very first time was more like, "God, those guys are brave for just standing there and taking spit and shit and other stuff thrown at them." So, it wasn't that moment.

The moment where they sort of came into everyone's consciousness was opening for The Blasters at The Whisky. They blew everybody away. They were just so realized. Everybody else, even The Blasters, at that moment, were still experimenting. I remember in The Blasters, we had a concept, a sound, a great rhythm section, and a great songwriter. But everybody – X, you name it – we were all just kinda like experimenting. Everybody was trying stuff out – trying sounds out, trying identities out. And here were these four guys from ten miles away who might as well have been ten solar systems away. Playing this fully realized music, largely self-composed, with all this great flavor and stuff like that.

It was an amazing moment. Just because everybody thought that they were hip, thought that they knew what was going on, and clearly had some total other world happening that we didn't know anything about. So that, to me, was the most intriguing part. How could I have missed this? How could I have not been aware of this? I gotta find out and I gotta learn more about it. And then they said, "There's a saxophone tradition in this music. Do you want to learn some of these songs?"

Fuck yeah! Let's go!

 
I have plenty of recollections of working on that one [Graceland]. I don't know if you heard the stories, but it was not a pleasant deal for us. I mean he [Simon] quite literally – and in no way do I exaggerate when I say – he stole the songs from us... The guy was clueless... He's the world's biggest prick, basically.

-Steve Berlin on making Graceland with Paul Simon

 

Talk a little bit about your audience. They're a pretty close-knit group, pretty tight.

I know from the traffic on the website and stuff. We always laugh and say "Conrad's had a beer with all of them." It certainly does seem to be a symbiotic relationship. We certainly don't put ourselves above anybody, that's for sure. We're not holding anything at arm's length. A lot of times, we've put the hardcore fans in our employ. We have guys all over the country right in [message board] The Neighborhood there. They're not just hanging with us, they're working. It works out well.


David Hidalgo by Tim Owen
Maybe I can ask you to talk a little bit about your bandmates. We could start anywhere, but let's start with David.

Well, you know, he's the only genius [laughs]. He's always surprising all of us. The ideas are endlessly fascinating. It's always the funnest moment of any record when he puts out the new demos. It's very exciting. He's always very shy about it. But it's almost always amazing.

How about Cesar?

What you see there, is what you get. He's the blues master of the two. There's not a lot of the intricacy to the personality on stage. The gentleman you see is the gentleman that he is. He grounds us in many ways, I think – in his songwriting and his sensibility. Whereas Dave and Louie are both prone to taking flights of fancy, he's got his feet on the ground most of the time.

It's a Lennon-McCartney, kinda one-up-in-the-air, one-down-on-the-ground kinda thing.

They do seem to have a lot of that magic on a lot of their songs.


Cesar Rosas by Michael Weintrob
They're definitely polar. It's what creates. It's what avoids boredom - the fact that they have such different sensibilities and are such different songwriters. Different everything, really. It's good. Going back and forth between the two is what makes for an interesting evening. We get too off in one world, going back to the other world is always exciting.

How much do you contribute to the writing of the songs these days?

Very little, really. I think my strengths tend more towards orchestration. Dave and Louie songs come in, more often than not, almost completely done, if not completely done. Cesar's probably contributed a few melodies over the years. I don't have what a great songwriter has. I don't wake up in the middle of the night with a song in my head. And I wish that I did. I have the ultimate respect for anyone who has that gift. And I just don't think I do. I've worked with enough great songwriters to know that what they have I don't have. I have nothing but the highest respect for those guys.

But I think all of us in the recording process contribute something special. My antenna's generally focused on orchestration, thinking about sequencing. Because I'm trained as a producer, I take a much longer view of stuff than guys who are just wrapped up in a part in a song at a moment, you know? I'm always thinking, "How does this song fit into the sequence?" and "Where is this song gonna go?" It's the way I've come to think about this stuff. I think it's a helpful viewpoint to have.

Did I miss anybody? Did I talk about Louie? He's kind of the soul of the band. He's the songwriter, so what we are in terms of the song is Louie. It's his point of view. It's his sensibility. He's very quiet. Where there are discussions or disagreements or something like that, he almost never really steps up. But when he does, it's because he has to, because he's making a powerful point about something. Myself, I probably talk to him more than anybody else in the band just because we have a really good running discourse about everything.

You know what? I bet everyone in the band would say that. I think all of us have talked to him a bunch.


Louie Pérez by Matt Schwenke
After the success of La Bamba, he was adamant about doing the folk album (La Pistola y El Corazon). We all said, "Why now?" But in his own unerring, effective way, he knew that if we didn't do that right then, we might have had a much rougher ride to our career.

What a visionary. That kind of thing sometimes signals the death knell for a band...

Yeah, I know. He truly is. And it's not like we would have done La Bamba II, III, and IV. I just remember him being adamant about it.

Speaking of doing a lot of different records and working with a lot of amazing songwriters, I own a ton of the records that you've done over the years. One, in particular, I'd like to ask you about is Paul Simon's Graceland. I obsessed over that thing when I was young. Do you have any recollections of working on it?

Oh, I have plenty of recollections of working on that one. I don't know if you heard the stories, but it was not a pleasant deal for us. I mean he [Simon] quite literally – and in no way do I exaggerate when I say – he stole the songs from us.

Really...


Paul Simon by David Atlas
Yeah. And you know, going into it, I had an enormous amount of respect for the guy. The early records were amazing, I loved his solo records, and I truly thought he was one of the greatest gifts to American music that there was.

At the time, we were high on the musical food chain. Paul had just come off One Trick Pony and was kind of floundering. People forget, before Graceland, he was viewed as a colossal failure. He was low. So when we were approached to do it, I was a way bigger fan than anybody else in the band. We got approached by Lenny Waronker and Mo Ostin who ran our record company [Warner Bros.], and this is the way these guys would talk – "It would mean a lot to the family if you guys would do this for us." And we thought, "Ok well, it's for the family, so we'll do it." It sounds so unbelievably naïve and ridiculous that that would be enough of a reason to go to the studio with him.

We go into the studio, and he had quite literally nothing. I mean, he had no ideas, no concepts, and said, "Well, let's just jam." We said, "We don't really do that." When we jam, we'll switch instruments. Dave will play drums, I'll play something. We don't really jam. Especially in that era. Louie will be the first to tell you this – he was made to play drums. They forced him to play drums. He's not really a drummer by trade. He's never practiced a moment in his life. Not once in his life did he sit down at the drums because of his love for drumming. The other three guys made him play drums in the early days, so he sort of became drummer by default. He hates playing the instrument, I think. Again, you should ask him, but I don't ever ever, ever get the sense that he was one of those dyed-in-the-wool, John Bonham, let's-play-drums-for-three-days-straight kind of guys. So consequently, as the core band was comprised then, we never jammed - never ever. Not by accident, not even at soundcheck. We would always just play a song.

So Paul was like, "Let's just jam," and we're like, "Oh jeez. Well alright, let's see what we can do." And it was not good because Louie wasn't comfortable. None of us were comfortable, it wasn't just Louie. It was like this very alien environment to us. Paul was a very strange guy. Paul's engineer was even stranger than Paul, and he just seemed to have no clue - no focus, no design, no real nothing. He had just done a few of the African songs that hadn't become songs yet. Those were literally jams. Or what the world came to know and I don't think really got exposed enough, is that those are actually songs by a lot of those artists that he just approved of. So that's kind of what he was doing. It was very patrician, material sort of viewpoint. Like, because I'm gonna put my stamp on it, they're now my songs. But that's literally how he approached this stuff.

I remember he played me the one he did by John Hart, and I know John Hart, the last song on the record. He goes, "Yeah, I did this in Louisiana with this zy decko guy." And he kept saying it over and over. And I remember having to tell him, "Paul, it's pronounced zydeco. It's not zy decko, it's zydeco." I mean that's how incredibly dilettante he was about this stuff. The guy was clueless.

 
Everybody was trying stuff out – trying sounds out, trying identities out. And here were these four guys from 10 miles away who might as well have been 10 solar systems away. Playing this fully realized music, largely self-composed, with all this great flavor and stuff like that.
-Steve Berlin on first hearing Los Lobos
 

Wow. You're kidding me?

Clue... less about what he was doing. He knew what he wanted to do, but it was not in any way like, "Here's my idea. Here's this great vision I have for this record, come with me."


Los Lobos
About two hours into it, the guys are like, "You gotta call Lenny right now. You gotta get us out of this. We can't do this. This is a joke. This is a waste of time." And this was like two hours into the session that they wanted me to call Lenny. What am I going to tell Lenny? It was a favor to him. What am I going to say, "Paul's a fucking idiot?"

Somehow or other, we got through the day with nothing. I mean, literally, nothing. We would do stuff like try an idea out and run it around for 45 minutes, and Paul would go "Eh... I don't like it. Let's do something else." And it was so frustrating. Even when we'd catch a glimpse of something that might turn into something, he would just lose interest. A kitten-and-the-string kinda thing.

So that's day one. We leave there and it's like, "Ok, we're done. We're never coming back." I called Lenny and said it really wasn't very good. We really didn't get anything you could call a song or even close to a song. I don't think Paul likes us very much. And frankly, I don't think we like him very much. Can we just say, 'Thanks for the memories' and split?" And he was like, "Man, you gotta hang in there. Paul really does respect you. It's just the way he is. I'll talk to him." And we were like, "Oh man, please Lenny. It's not working." Meanwhile, we're not getting paid for this. There was no discussion like we're gonna cash in or anything like that. It was very labor-of-love.

Really...?

Yeah. Don't ask me why. God knows it would have made it a lot easier to be there.

And Lenny put you guys together thinking it would be a good match?


Los Lobos
Well, "It would be good for the family." That was it. So we go back in the second day wondering why we're there. It was ridiculous. I think David starts playing "The Myth of the Fingerprints," or whatever he ended up calling it. That was one of our songs. That year, that was a song we started working on By Light of the Moon. So that was like an existing Lobos sketch of an idea that we had already started doing. I don't think there were any recordings of it, but we had messed around with it. We knew we were gonna do it. It was gonna turn into a song. Paul goes, "Hey, what's that?" We start playing what we have of it, and it is exactly what you hear on the record. So we're like, "Oh, ok. We'll share this song."

Good way to get out of the studio, though...

Yeah. But it was very clear to us, at the moment, we're thinking he's doing one of our songs. It would be like if he did "Will the Wolf Survive?" Literally. A few months later, the record comes out and says "Words and Music by Paul Simon." We were like, "What the fuck is this?"

We tried calling him, and we can't find him. Weeks go by and our managers can't find him. We finally track him down and ask him about our song, and he goes, "Sue me. See what happens."

What?! Come on...

That's what he said. He said, "You don't like it? Sue me. You'll see what happens." We were floored. We had no idea. The record comes out, and he's a big hit. Retroactively, he had to give songwriting credit to all the African guys he stole from that were working on it and everyone seemed to forget. But that's the kind of person he is. He's the world's biggest prick, basically.


Los Lobos
So we go back to Lenny and say, "Hey listen, you stuck us in the studio with this fucking idiot for two days. We tried to get out of it, you made us stay in there, and then he steals our song?! What the hell?!" And Lenny's always a politician. He made us forget about it long enough that it went away. But to this day, I do not believe we have gotten paid for it. We certainly didn't get songwriting credit for it. And it remains an enormous bone that sticks in our craw. Had he even given us a millionth of what the song and the record became, I think we would have been – if nothing else - much richer, but much happier about the whole thing.

Have you guys seen him since then?

No. Never run into him. I'll tell you, if the guys ever did run into him, I wouldn't want to be him, that's for sure.

That's an amazing story. I can't believe I never heard it before.

We had every right and reason to sue him, and Lenny goes, "It's bad for the family." When we told the story in that era, when this was going down, we were doing interviews and telling the truth. And Lenny goes, "Hey guys, I really need you to stop talking about it. It's bad for the family."

Amazing. Talk about bad for the family.

I know. Again, it's just so incredible how naïve we were back then. You can't even imagine that era of music when you'd actually listen to your record company president who told you to shut up because "it's bad for the family." Now, I'd tell him to go fuck himself.

That's our version of it. I'd love to hear Paul's version of it.

But he's much richer now and could probably give a fuck about it. It's still one of those things where I've not forgiven anyone involved in it. It still remains. I haven't let it go, as you can tell. It was just so wrong and so rude, and so unnecessary. It is an amazing moment in our history.

Well, maybe we can turn to some brighter times – working with the litany of stars like Sheryl Crow, but also making really interesting records, like Faith No More. If I can pump your ego for a second, you really draw something completely different out of each artist and band that you work with.


Los Lobos
You're very kind. I just feel that my job is to be as opaque as possible and elevate, in any way possible, what it is I'm working on. I certainly try hard not to stamp the work I do with me. I mean, certainly it's my sensibility and a lot of my choices. But I'm like a painter. Or, my game is just other people's imaginations. I'm just painting with their colors to create something.

When it works. I mean, it's something exponentially larger than what I, or the artist, anticipated. I've been lucky enough to have been in that situation a couple times. We start out with a cool idea, and it kind of blew up into a ridiculously cool idea.

Like what...

Like Faith No More. [Berlin produced the group's major-label debut, 1987's Introduce Yourself for Slash records, Los Lobos's label at the time.] I saw them and heard their demos and thought "Oh my GOD! This is the coolest shit imaginable." And I learned a lot from them. As you can tell, they really had their sound down. My role in that production was a lot of just letting them express it. And also, Matt Wallace, who came with them, was obviously so good at what he did, I just let that all happen.

You know, when I had finally been through The Town and the City, I started that futile process of trying to find its cousin in your canon. And I guess from a fan's perspective, if it had any equal, it could be closest to Kiko.


Los Lobos
Well, it was by design, but not because we wanted to make it again. We really loved the way Tchad mixes sound and wanted him to be involved. We've done two records without him. Nothing against those two records, I think we're very proud of Good Morning Aztlán and The Ride. Tchad has a unique thing.

He was not involved in the recording process. And to get back to much earlier in this conversation, had he been there from the beginning and engineered, I think it would have been a much different record. And it certainly would have been a much more fun record. That's no dig at Robert Carrazza, who I think is an incredible engineer. I've done lots and lots and lots of records with him. But Tchad's personality and his view and just the way that he approaches it. It wasn't anything that Robert did or didn't do that made it hard to make. Robert and I will be the first to tell you, he killed himself to get this record sounding great. But how Tchad approaches his art, and just his personality, just this wonderful sense of "Let's go exploring today." And that's just really it. He has this great thing of going on an adventure to see where it goes.

Well, he's good for you guys. You've made a really patient-sounding record. If I can end with the whole La Bamba thing, I've heard stories about you guys playing it whenever someone requests it – even sometimes more than once in the course of a show.

Put it this way – it's not very often in the set anymore. It's never in the set, honestly. But if there are kids there or someone who really wants to see it, and that's what they're there for, then we'll play it. So we play it a lot. But as you can imagine, it's not our favorite song to play.

And because of that, I think it's a very cool thing that you will do it. I mean, music history is littered with guys who won't touch the song that made them famous in the first place.

What can I say? It's not our favorite song, but we don't mind playing it and it sure makes people happy. I mean, what is our job, really? It's to make people happy, so it's not that big a deal for us.

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Comments

Hotchkiss starstarstarstarstar Fri 11/3/2006 06:22PM
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Hotchkiss


i wasn't a fan of los lobos until i saw them live at further fest. very hard working, true to themselves rock band.

great interview!

operindejer starstarstarstarstar Sat 11/4/2006 09:03AM
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operindejer

I'm not much of a Los Lobos fan myself. I saw them in Dana Point in May at the annual blues festival, but I only stuck around for half of their set. I think I could've enjoyed it more had it not been for the poor overall quality of the festival - lots of colliding sounds and music, a poor layout for the grounds, and a mandatory two beer maximum monitored by those bothersome festi-credit cards. And on a side note, G-Love's set was very sub-par too, in my opinion, maybe because he wasn't all that excited to be there. A shame, too, because it was a damn perfect weekend in Dana Point.

Either way, this was a great interview, and I'm compelled to go check these guys out again sometime under better live music circumstances. And damn - ain't that some shit about Paul Simon? What a shrimpy little dick. If it's true, and that's really how he is, I hope his sub-five-foot mouse-man ass got what he deserved in some way.

nanatod Sat 11/4/2006 10:28AM
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I used to listen to Los Lobos before Steve Berlin joined the band, and I think they were a lot more cohesive and powerful before he became a part of their sound.

Los Lobos ruined their band by letting the gringo join.

jeffh999 starstarstarstarstar Sat 11/4/2006 02:44PM
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Looks like Paul Simon's login here must be nanatod....
Great interview! These guys are the some of the nicest, hardest working, most talented artists playing today. They are the best live band in the land. Their songs have a spirituality and a conscience, both lyrically and musically. Check out their media player on their website to sample some of their albums, then go buy them. You'll be glad you did.

lovejahlive starstarstarstarstar Sat 11/4/2006 03:30PM
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lovejahlive

I've had the pleasure of catching them twice and I totally agree with jeffh99,there is some sense of spirituality with this band that you won't hear anywhere else.It's an almost indefinable quality,a "flow" or "groove",definately something special.
'will never feel the same way about "Graceland" again.Thanks for the interview/article Scott.

EVILFUNK starstarstarstarstar Sun 11/5/2006 12:05PM
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EVILFUNK

PAUL SIMON - YOU HAVE ONE OPTION IF YOU WOULD LIKE ANY RESPECT AT ALL ; DO AN INTERVIEW WITH JAMBASE AND EXPLAIN YOURSELF!

SEE WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU BUY INTO THE MANS INDUSTRY!

Matthew Jaworski starstarstarstar Mon 11/6/2006 07:59AM
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Matthew Jaworski

Great article. I'll definitely have to check out more from these guys. That Paul Simon shit is hysterical.

Berlin was right, though: it is wack to hear about musicians complaining about their "job." I know everyone's job ticks them off at some point, but it's impossible for me to sympathize with a musician who's complaining about playing music. I've been drumming since I was six, I can't imagine anything better than making a living off it.

grtwent1 starstarstarstarstar Mon 11/6/2006 10:28AM
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Great interview. I've been following the Wolves for quite some time and truly feel that they are one of the most underrated rock bands in the history of rock. Not only can they jam (and do), but the talent in this one band is more than most other bands display in an entire career. They are an American treasure and should be treated as such.

My only negative comment is that the last show I saw (last week in Denver) was the shortest LL show that I have EVER seen....90 minutes with the encore for over $30 (no opener). What happened to the 2-set LL show? They did, however, play 20 songs in that time including some blazing tunes (encore of Are You
Experienced?> Not Fade Away >My Generation was over the top), the This Time was slowed down and twisted, the Hold On was awesome and the Don't Worry Baby blew off the roof of the Gothic.

Chains of Love
Luz De Mi Vida
The Road To Gila Bend
Maricela
The Town
Dream in Blue
Don’t Worry Baby
Hold On
Pigfoot Shuffle
Chuco’s Cumbia
That Train Don’t Stop Here
This Time
Los Ojos De Pancha
Ay Te Dejo en San Antonio
Georgia Slop
I Got Loaded (w/Lovelight verse)
Good Morning Aztlán
---
Encores:

Are You Experienced?>
Not Fade Away
My Generation

jimcard starstarstarstarstar Mon 11/6/2006 12:17PM
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Kudos to all the positive posts. These guys are awesome. Wasn't a huge Paul Simon fan, but needless to say, I hope Karma does what Karma does best.

Lastly, ten years ago last month I saw LL at First Avenue in Minneapolis. It was probably 5th or 6th time I saw them. They happened to play La Bamba that night. Hadn't seen them play it before and just assumed they didn't play it at their shows. I like La Bamba because Richie Valens was one of the first rock and rollers so respect where respect is do. Sadly, for a lot of people I know they equate Los Lobos with being just about La Bamba. I pity the poor fools. I shouldn't be harsh but sometimes I have to bust out.

What was amazing about this La Bamba is they did it at about half the normal speed. Does this mean "in half-time"? Whatever it is called this song frickin' groved and rocked, hard. That's right, La Bamba rocked hard. If you request this song, request that it be played this way. You will not be dissapointed. It didn't hurt that they moved into Cinnamon Girl right after that.

I love you Los Lobos!

Thurman Merman starstarstarstarstar Mon 11/6/2006 01:31PM
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Thurman Merman

I never knew this about Paul Simon.....Graceland has ALWAYS been one of my top ten favorite albums of all time. If he jacked up two great performers like the Africans on the record and Los Lobos, I wonder how many people he has stolen material from in his career (I am sure there are plenty more). Will never support Paul Simon again. How 'bout Los Lobos playing the song the way the way they were going to do it for this tour. That would be sick.

tresorejas starstarstarstarstar Tue 11/7/2006 07:59AM
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Since the first time I saw them In Taos, NM back in the 80's I have seen them time and again and will continue to do so. They have grown and stuck to their roots of making music that sounds like nothing you hear elsewhere. Too many more good years. Great interview, and well done.

the420cloud starstarstarstarstar Tue 11/7/2006 12:25PM
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I dont know what has gone down since the Graceland (was there some legal trouble???) but on the Making of Graceland movie Simon talks alot about the process of recording jams with huge groups of musicians in africa, editing and than writing and recording his vocal and other parts...it sounds like what happened with Los Lobos is a bit different than the writing process used on Graceland. See the making of Graceland movie before you throw away your copies...

Often at auditions I am expected to play a bands tunes but also it is common that i would be expected to 'just jam'...people want to hear what you can do off of a script...if im checking out a band and all they do is call tunes i would eventually suggest that the band just jam to see if the band can swim without a floatation device... jamming is a time when a bands true personality as a group of players comes out. Not just a band playing thier material.you can hire a cover band to do that!

I would like to hear from Paul Simon about this stuff with Los Lobos...

matttroche Wed 11/8/2006 02:54PM
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matttroche

yeah, i always knew there was something about that paul simon i couldn't trust. haha. keep rockin lobos

cush212 Wed 11/8/2006 06:56PM
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Thank you Scott and Steve for an interesting and insightful interview. And thank you Steve for a very, very fine album!!! I just finished listening to The Town & The City, and while it may not have been fun to make, you have created a work of art! I'm a casual fan, always enjoyed Los Lobos live (6-8 shows over the years) but never got into the studio stuff much. Well, that's changed. Town & City is in my top 1 for now and I see it staying in my top 10 for a good long while! I work for one of the big book & music chains in music and this will go up as my staff pick tomorrow, meantime, I think I'll play it again...

As for Paul Simon, I always thought he made a great album in Graceland, it's good to hear the truth. The one good thing Graceland did ultimately do was expose the mainstream listening audience to African and other ethnic music thereby giving many artists an audience base and thereby a paycheck and artistic satisfaction they might not have seen otherwise. There is always a silver lining even in the darkest of clouds...

jessemiller Mon 11/27/2006 08:35PM
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after hearing paul simon's self-lauding interview on world cafe recently i agree with steve berlin - he may be the world's biggest prick

Oscar12000 Fri 2/16/2007 07:36PM
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Los Lobos is one of the true great American bands, and they always have been. If you've never seen them, you owe it to yourself to go!

pikigod Wed 4/16/2008 09:48AM
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Goodness! Steve Berlin really has it out for Paul Simon! Golly gee, I'll hold him down and Steve can kick him. Then again, as much as my knee jerk reaction is to side with the underdogs, I see some holes in this tirade of how Paul Simon raped Los Lobos.

Berlin really makes a point of saying that Paul Simon's career was in the toilet and Los Lobos were really hot at the time. ie. they were doing Paul Simon such a BIG FAVOR. And the bastard was so UNGRATEFUL.

That's like Tom Petty saying he was really helping out Dylan's CAREER by joining the Wilbury's. Let's face it, Dylan had wandered off into dipsomania by that time and Petty was hot, hot, hot. Full moon fever hot, am I right?

What do I know? I do know Simon's film "One Trick Pony" which Berlin sights as Simon's career abyss was, if anything, AMBITIOUS. It definitely had it's moments. Dig Lou Reed as the gay producer with a lisp hell-bent on adding strings to everything, and the cameo from the B-52's where they blow Simon the aging folky off the stage, it's got a teenage Mare Winningham naked too. The more I think about it, it's a brilliant film. Maybe it's not "The Dewey Cox Story", but it's certainly more ambitious than "La Bamba" which I enjoyed as well. ANYWAY, even if Paul Simon was on his knees in the bathroom of the Greyhound Bus station when he came to make "Graceland", nothing takes away from the classics he had under his belt.

As much as I admire Los Lobo's, to be fair, they were still finding their way at that time. It's a big jump from "A Time to Dance..." to "Will the Wolf", and a giant leap to "Kiko" for sure. Hell, they might have learned something from Paul Simon's process. Loosen up, and just play, let the ideas emerge organically. I don't know, I wasn't there, but nowhere does Berlin make if clear that Simon took either a lyric or the melody. Maybe a chord progression, or a riff? Whatever happened, it doesn't appear black and white. The only thing clear is how bitter Berlin is.

I wonder if David Hidalgo would really beat Simon's ass if he ran into him, which Berlin intimates. I doubt that big Buddha of a man would beat anybodies's ass.

Maybe Los Lobo's were reluctant to just loosely jam back then. Just wanted to play fully formed songs. But songs don't always come via the stork fully formed. Admittedly, Steve Berlin's not a writer, so maybe that's how he sees it. Berlin wasn't on the Basement Tapes either.

Berlin goes on about Lenny Waronker applying the Vaseline for Simon to do the dirty. Lenny Waronker is no slouch. He may not have produced Faith No More, but the Ry Cooder records and the Randy Newman records he produced alone should put him in the pantheon of great producers. Sounds to me like he was encouraging Simon to cross pollinate and follow his muse, and encouraging Los Lobo's to get in on the action too.

Sounds like Paul Simon is a poor communicator. Obviously, the collaboration could have been set up and/or handled better. So things got strained, hostile even and Simon allegedly said, "See you in court!" Maybe that might have been the way to go. I don't know. Or why not just bad mouth Simon in the jam band Kangaroo court.

gmtobehere star Sat 4/19/2008 01:57PM
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This guy is crazy. "Paul Simon, the world's biggest prick" --- are you out of your fucking mind? The man has done more benefits and worked for more charities than I can even count. I've heard multiple demos of You Can Call Me Al, Gumboots, Boy in the Bubble, and Diamonds, and guess what --- HE WROTE THEM ALL

Also, it's interesting that Ladysmith Black Mambazzo has never mentioned any of this. Paul and their leader, Joeseph Shabalala have remained great friends since the album was completed.

For the record, the Myth of Fingerprints was the worst song on the record.

Steve, who ever the hell he is, is just trying to grab attention off of a multiple grammy winner. I think he's a bit jealous that Paul went on to win record of the year (I think he has won three), and nobody knows who Steve is. By putting this out there, he was just trying to get some folks to read his name.

This article is almost entirley a complete fabrication.

"As if everybody here would know what I was talking about. Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes"! --- Paul SImon

BRIANBEVAN starstarstarstar Sun 4/20/2008 07:09PM
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All you folk who doubt the story about Paul Simon should do some research on UK folk legend Martin Carthy and his caustic comments on Simon. His experiece was VERY similar to Steve's. In particular, Carthy was livid at the way Simon stole the traditional Scarborough Fair and claimed it as his own after Carthy taught it to him. Carthy was hugely unimpressed with Simon's attitude and compared him very negatively with Dylan, of whom he spoke highly. Don't argue with me about this...just read the material.

gmtobehere star Mon 4/21/2008 03:06PM
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he/artie introduces Scarborough Fair as "an old English folk song" --- Simon wrote the canticle, and for the record, Simon and Carthy are now frinds, as they sang together a few years ago when Paul toured Europe.

boom