Back in mid-March Scott Kessler, Executive Director of the Adams Avenue Business Association, asked San Diego Free Press editor Frank Gormlie if he’d be interested in reprinting a piece that was in the San Diego UT.
It was a story by George Varga on an upcoming gig that featured local Chicano musical icons Los Alacranes with special guests David Hidalgo and Louie Perez of the legendary East LA band Los Lobos. They are scheduled to play together at the annual Adams Avenue Unplugged music festival.
Since SDFP has nothing but utter disdain for the local Lynchester Tribune, Frank forwarded the email to me saying “I absolutely refuse to repost anything from the UT. Could you do a write up?” Being the resident Chicano writer I jumped at the chance to put together a piece on two of my favorite Chicano bands.
I’ve known Chunky Sanchez of Los Alacranes for at least fifteen years and worked with him on numerous occasions including organizing a fundraiser in 2007, called Musicians Helping Their Own, for local Latin jazz trumpet player Bill Caballero who was stricken with cancer and on a project in 2009 called Deportation Nation: Musical Migrations that featured a concert with Los Alacranes, Quino (of Big Mountain fame) and Son Sin Fronteras where the three groups at the end of the night jammed together on the Woody Guthrie classic Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos).
Los Alacranes and Los Lobos go way back. As a matter of fact the first time Los Lobos played in San Diego was at the Centro Cultural de la Raza at the invitation of Chunky. And usually when the baddest band out of East LA plays a show in San Diego they give a shout out to Chunky y Los Alacranes. These two groups started out during the same era and continue to share a musical brotherhood.
I’ve seen Los Alacranes perform over a dozen times throughout the years I’ve known them. And I’ve probably seen Los Lobos perform around a half dozen times. I also bought many of their albums including How Will the Wolf Survive on tape back around 1984 or ’85. This was my first exposure not only to Los Lobos but to Chicano music. And this was way before I identified myself as a Chicano (that didn’t come until I took my first Chicano Studies course in 1991 at Mesa College).
As a fan of Los Lobos, and relatively new to this whole writing thing, I was a little nervous asking David Hidalgo and Louie Perez for an interview. But I told Scott and Frank I’d write something up so I had to put my nerves aside. I contacted the manager for Los Lobos, Kimiko Tokita, and asked her if it was possible to interview either of them or both. She said she’d contact them and see if they’d be interested. And they were!
Initially she had it down as a phone interview. There was no way I was going to go that route. For one I’d probably fumble through it. Plus, I didn’t have a way to record the interview. Secondly, I’m pretty lazy when it comes to transcribing and I didn’t want to transcribe another interview. I responded back asking if an email interview was ok. She said that was fine so I forwarded a list of questions to ask. Within a few days Louie Perez responded with the following.
How long have you known Chunky and Los Alacranes? How did you meet?
“Hijole! That was at least 35 years ago. It was probably at the Centro Cultural at Balboa Park, whenever it was. We found a kinship in musica mexicana and mezcal.”
When was the first time you heard them and/or played with them?
“Again, that was a while so it would be difficult to pin down. I do know that we were impress[ed] that there could be another band a reckless as we were.”
What is the reason behind playing with Los Alacranes at this festival?
“We were invited and it seemed [a] fit for us to come together considering our infamous history.”
Chunky has become a local music legend yet the reach of Los Alacranes has not been that far. Why do you think that is?
“Good one. They were good, they were vital and they carried a powerful message. Being in music is like the little white ball on the roulette wheel.”
Your band, Los Lobos, has garnered a tremendous amount of respect not only within the Chicano music universe, but throughout the entire industry and world. As individuals, what makes you want to play small shows like the one you will be doing here in San Diego?
“We don’t believe our own press. We were a band for ten years before any attention or accolades were laid on us. I’m not feigning humility here, we honestly still look over our shoulders to see who they’re talking about.”
Your band has played San Diego numerous times throughout the years. Does San Diego hold any special significance?
“Heck yes, we played all the small joints and have fond memories. We played the first Street Scene before the giant inflatable Miller Lite can showed up.”
You guys have been around since the Chicano Movement days. What is your take on how Mexicanos were treated back then compared to now and all of the anti-immigrant vitriol? Is there a difference?
“The difference is that we are more organized but sadly it appears that history is repeating itself. But I believe it is a failing attempt by a few very vocal groups and individuals who are the minority this time around.”
Do well known Chicano artists such as yourself have a duty to speak out against anti-immigrant laws, politicians and others that attack a segment of our community?
“Artists in general have the responsibility to address social concerns in the world around them. Anything less is living in a vacuum were art is for arts sake, which is incredibly self serving.”
Los Lobos have been around a long time. You have various side projects and solo albums. What does the future hold for one of the best bands in America?
“Putting one foot in front of the other and being grateful for what has come to pass. Coming up on forty years is nothing to sneeze about and we hope everyone will come out to celebrate with us. We have quite a bit up our sleeves for our anniversary.”
It’s not everyday that one gets to see a Chicano super group play together. This might be your only chance to see these guys live. And for free! There ain’t nothing better going on in San Diego this weekend. So get off your couch, get out of your barrio and head over to Adams Avenue for some Chicano sounds and firme rolas! It’s a show not to be missed.
Los Alacranes with special guests David Hidalgo and Louie Perez of Los Lobos will play two gigs at Adams Avenue Unplugged. Both on Sunday April 28. The first at 3pm on the 30th St. stage and the second at 6pm at the Adams Park stage. Adams Avenue Unplugged is a free event featuring 180 musical performances that takes place April 27 and 28 along a two mile stretch of Adams Ave. between University Heights through Normal Heights and into Kensington. For more information visit http://www.