Los Lonely Boys - Brothers in arms
El, El, Bee...El, El, Bee...That was the chant that was bouncing off the walls of downtown Austin one Friday last March. Even though the city was in the full-tilt throes of South By Southwest -- the one time of year when you really and truly could hit a musician no matter what direction you swung your cat -- the LLB phrase stood out amid the street noise. Which wasn't that surprising, considering it was only two years ago the lil' ol' power trio from Texas known as Los Lonely Boys set the all-time SXSW attendance record, drawing more than 25,000 fans to Auditorium Shores on Town Lake. Most of that turnout consisted of locals who had already adopted Los Lonely Boys as their own, never mind the small detail that they were really from San Angelo and had deep roots there.
Though Los Lonely Boys were born, raised and still live in the biggest city in Texas without an interstate highway, Austin was where they became the hottest band to emerge from the club scene in ages, where all the right people stepped up to lend a hand, where they recorded their debut platinum album, where local radio started playing their music ahead of the curve, and where "Heaven", the global pop hit of 2004, was launched.
Besides validating their coolness in A-town (hey, that's Matthew McConaughey's phrase, not mine), the LLB cheer signaled it was happening all over again for Los Lonely Boys. In exchange for putting up with long lines, longer waits, and one very packed and sweaty room, patient souls got the full Los Lonely Boys saga -- past, present and future -- rolled out before their very eyes and ears over five hours. And if you paid close attention, you came away with plenty of answers to the cosmic rhetorical, "Just who are these vatos locos?" -- and more than a little awe at how these Mexican-Americans from West Texas managed to realize their impossible dream.
The Los Lonely day began with the premiere screening of Los Lonely Boys: Cottonfields And Crossroads Friday afternoon at the Austin Convention Center. Even there, among swarms of alt types from around the world, the homies from Angelo and their street teams from around the state stood out as fans and families, not industry insiders. They were waiting for the start of filmmaker Hector Galan's 60-minute documentary, which tracks the improbable ascent of Los Lonely Boys over the course of three years -- beginning in late 2002 just as they were beginning to pull in a crowd at the Saxon Pub in Austin, which can hold 150 people on a good night, if the fire marshal isn't looking, and concluding with their triumphant return to San Angelo in concert in the spring of 2005.
Having your own movie before your second album is a clear sign the Garza brothers are not your normal band. But theirs is not your normal music story. Galan gets that, in no small part because he grew up in the same Mexican-American barrio in San Angelo (El Pozo, or The Hole) as the Garza Brothers, 30 years before they came along. Aided by a combination of fortunate timing and a deep familiarity with their particular roots, Galan documents the rags-to-riches story and creates as compelling a piece of work as anything he has done. Which is saying a lot, given that he has emerged as the leading documenter of the Mexican-American experience with films such as Songs Of The Homeland and Accordion Dreams as well as the PBS series "Chicano!: The History Of The Mexican-American Civil Rights Movement."
The Garza brothers are the latest chapter. A song sung slightly off-key in a backyard accompanied by a chirping cricket sets the stage:
We're just the lonely, lonely boys
We ran away from home
So I could be on my own
Nobody cares, nobody cares
We're all alone.
The singer is Enrique Garza -- a.k.a. Ringo Sr., the father of Henry, JoJo, and Ringo Garza. The tune is a song he made up, which provided the inspiration for the band's name.
The moment provides a delicious contrast to glimpses of Los Lonely Boys' homecoming concert in San Angelo, where that LLB chant is heard again along with the usual rock 'n' roll cacophony of loud music, screaming fans, screaming guitars, flashing lights, and raised lighters. The camera captures a few atypical rock 'n' roll touches too, such as the lanky Henry, the cool daddy groover lead guitarist who has more than a little of Sir Doug Sahm in him, making the sign of the cross before the show. It zooms in for close-ups of forearms and hands adorned with homemade tattoos that are about as far away from a Hollywood pro job as permanent body markings get. The ink says it all: These dudes' hard life is hardly a pose.
In the tradition of roots music filmmaker Les Blank, Galan's eye finds beauty in spare, expansive landscapes around San Angelo, a ranching community of some 90,000 folks, one-third of them Mexican-American. He finds beauty, too, in the faded pink stucco exterior of a run-down cantina in El Pozo, and in the shacks scattered throughout the barrio. Older witnesses testify on camera how it wasn't that long ago that "Meskins" were segregated from the Anglos socially and economically as well as physically, eternally mired in the struggle to get by. "We picked cotton from sunup to sundown," the elder Ringo recalls with absolutely no fondness.
The glue holding the Garzas and other Mexican-American families in San Angelo together was music. In that respect, the local Mexicano culture is a rich one, built upon such storied groups as Los Tejanos, a 1950s orquesta that played Latin-style big-band swing with Spanish vocals, and Tortilla Factory, a ten-piece band that ranked with Little Joe y La Familia, Ruben Ramos, and Sunny & the Sunliners as Chicano trailblazers in Texas during the tumultuous 1970s. Tortilla Factory one-upped them all with their lead singer, Bobby Butler, El Charro Negro, an African-American who sang in flawless Spanish.
Henry (27), JoJo (25), and Ringo (24) unwittingly soaked up that history as youngsters at Sunday afternoon backyard barbecues, at dances, and in cantinas -- wherever the entertainment was Los Falcones. The regionally popular conjunto was a family affair that included their father, five of his brothers, and his sister.
"I remember our dad pulling us up onstage to sing 'La Bamba' with him and our uncles," Ringo Jr. says in the film. Henry wrote his first song at age 4. "I knew it was in me," he says. JoJo learned piano and guitar before settling on bass. Ringo, the youngest, was drumming by age 9.
Cottonfields And Crossroads speaks of family bonds and how those bonds are tested by divorce, recounting the hard times the boys endured when they left their mother Mary Ellen and their sisters in the early 1990s to follow their father to Nashville. Enrique was tired of being Enrique. He wanted to be Ringo, so he decided to blow off the family conjunto playing bailes on the weekend singing in Spanish to pursue his dream of singing country in English, just like Freddy Fender and Johnny Rodriguez. He declared himself the Missing Outlaw, the other guy besides Willie and Waylon (although, as Henry later told the Boston Herald, "Willie and Waylon didn't know who he was").
His sons were his band. They played seven nights a week, anywhere they could, covering it all, especially Cash, Kristofferson, Willie and Waylon. If the kids had it tough in Texas, they had it tougher in Tennessee, where they scraped by and were considered novelties, the only Mexicans in their schools.
The film veers into touchy territory. The camera rolls while the band's blue Dodge van shuttles the 200 miles between San Angelo and Austin, covering the boys' achingly difficult decision to break away from their father as a musical entity in the late 1990s.
The rest is a blur. Their manager, Kevin Wommack, sees the talent. The Saxon Pub's Joe Abels observes, "These kids wanted to play." Willie Nelson gives them studio time to make an album, plus a gig at Farm Aid. An in-store appearance at Waterloo Records signifies their arrival. They win Band of the Year honors at the 2004 Austin Music Awards. They win a Grammy. They come home.
After the movie credits rolled and the lights in the screening room went up, the boys posed for photographs with Galan, with Dan Rather -- the proud father-in-law of David Murray, who worked on the film's musical score -- and with Tony "Ham" Guerrero, the onetime godfather of San Angelo's La Onda Chicana scene. (In this crowd, Ham was a bigger heavyweight than the former CBS news anchor.)
Following a two-and-a-half-hour break and a private party with open bar at the Mexic-Arte Museum, the Boys delivered the movie's afterward. "What's going on everybody?" Henry shouted out as he took the improvised stage at the museum, grinning from ear to ear. "Y'all ready for some of the new songs on the album?" The response was predictable.
So Los Lonely Boys proceeded to play their second album, Sacred due out July 18 on Epic, a name Henry thought up when the original title Orale, Spanish for Listen Up, was scrapped after too many radio programmers mangled the title too many times (one Austin disc jockey pronounced it "Oracle". Joining the brothers was Michael Ramos, an Austin veteran who left his longtime keyboard gig with John Mellencamp to tour with Los Lonelys. The concert was the tryout gig for Ramos, who performs on his own as Charanga Cakewalk. He passed the test.
All the right people were packed into the main exhibition gallery, including numerous homies from San Angelo and Austin; their father, Ringo Sr.; and various kinfolk and friends. With a sweaty throng obscuring the paintings on the wall, the Garzas served notice they were back for Round Two, ready to duke it out all over again.
"My Way", a midtempo declaration of independence, announced they're going to be the ones calling the shots from here on out. The lyrics could just as well be addressed to their record company ("Don't tell me how to sing my song") as to their main squeeze ("Don't tell me how to live my life"). "Diamonds", a wistful missing-my-baby ballad that leads off Sacred, was showcased as the single that will try to emulate the improbable success of "Heaven", mainly because it comes closest in texture, tempo and harmony, though the subject matter ("I'm looking at a rainbow way across those hills...I ain't never been a rich man") is a little bit different.
Of all the songs, "Oye Mamacita" provided the most accurate road map to where Los Lonely Boys are headed. Kicking off with a grinding, congafied blues-rock beat, JoJo wailed about his ruca, or main squeeze, in a missive that was nothing but lowdown, dirty, and very direct in his declaration of love and his need for a little kiss and then some. The music was relentless, and expansive.
They even gave a nod to their Nashville period and their father with "Outlaws". (On the album, Henry and JoJo sing a line each, followed by Willie and Ringo Sr., who adds the cryptic phrase, "You don't know who I am.") Throwing in belly-rubbers such as "I've Never Met A Woman", made more emotional by pinpoint vocal harmonies, and throwing out hooks left and right, such as Michael Guerra's finger-popping accordion riffs slipped into "Texican Style", a languidly delicious summer song that stirs of memories of listening to War while cruising in a lowrider, there was no doubt this tierra -- this turf -- is theirs.
It was poetic to see popular art being made among the fine art hanging on the walls. Both had strong Latino ties, but both had appeal that transcended ethnic background. LLB and Rufino Tamayo go together better than one might expect. Going from the edge of desperation to the crest of something big in four short years is a work of art unto itself. Now they served notice they were on to something maybe even bigger.
Selena may have been the Queen of Tejano music, the regional sound identified with Mexican-Americans in Texas, but Los Lonely Boys transcend Tejano, conjunto, and every regional and ethnic sound from the region. In that respect, not since Los Lobos stormed onto the scene 25 years ago has a group of Mexican-Americans made music with such resonance beyond their traditional borders. And not since Carlos Santana took the baton from Richie Valens nearly 40 years ago, with his Mexican-ness proudly showing, has anyone done it with so much firepower and finesse.
They're not so lonely anymore. On this album, they're joined by heavy friends including Willie, keyboardist Mike Finnegan (of Electric Ladyland renown), Lennie Castro on percussion (the Jacksons, AWB), co-producer John Porter (Roxy Music, Billy Bragg, the Smiths) on guitar and piano, country producer Mark Wright (Lee Ann Womack, George Strait, Gretchen Wilson) co-producing a couple tracks, Jimmy Hall from Wet Willie guesting on harmonica, organist Reese Wynans from Double Trouble, a San Antonio whiz kid named Michael Guerra on button accordion, Austin tenor giant John Mills, the Doobie Brothers' Pat Simmons as co-writer, and Fort Worth by way of Nashville songwriter Gary Nicholson adding a few lines to another tune.
At the end of the day, though, it's really just Los Lonely, Lonely Boys.
A few details were missing from the film and the concert that Friday in March. Neither event captured how grueling the roadwork is, or how excessive the demands on your time can become when you're hot. Perhaps the most glaring omission was the younger Ringo's run-in with the law. According to news reports coming out of San Angelo in January 2005, two women who'd been partying with the drummer and his wife, along with friends at a local club, accused the drummer of drugging their drinks and taking them home and sexually assaulting them. No charges were filed by San Angelo police, but Ringo was arrested for marijuana possession after a search of his house, and the band lost a few endorsements and gigs.
The film didn't quite capture just how lonely their Nashville period was, either, or how close they'd come to making a deal before. Los Lonely Boys first came into the radar of their manager, Kevin Wommack, in 1999 through Wommack's pal Rob Fraboni, who'd produced and engineered everyone from the Beach Boys and the Stones to The Band and Dylan. Fraboni wanted Wommack, whose main act was Austin blues band Omar & the Howlers, to take a look at this group he'd heard playing a live concert on the radio in Nashville. They were the kind of band Fraboni was looking for to sign to the new custom label he was putting together with Keith Richards, but they were in severe need of management. Would Wommack take a look and listen?
Wommack traveled to Destin, Florida, where the band was playing the Hog's Breath. He thought they were pretty good for a cover band, played a lot of Beatles and Stevie Ray Vaughan, one of several bluesy cats they referenced that Wommack had played alongside in Austin back in the 1970s when he fronted his own band, the Wommack Brothers. Their harmonies were particularly tight. There was something there, he told Fraboni. (The CD Live At Blue Cat Records, recorded November 2000, captures some of what was there.)
But Fraboni and Keef's label never happened, and a few months later the Garza brothers folded their tent and left Nashville to go home to San Angelo.
A couple years later, they called Wommack in Austin. They needed help with gigs. Wommack booked some club dates at places such as the Satellite Lounge in Houston, Antone's in Austin, and Blue Kat Blues in Dallas, and arranged opening slots in front of other bands he worked with. He also called Freddy Fletcher.
Wommack needed a studio to do a demo. Fletcher ran Arlyn Studios in Austin, the busiest recording studio in town, and partnered with his uncle, Willie Nelson, at Pedernales Studios. Wommack played Fletcher a rough live tape. Fletcher concluded "these guys are really good," especially their vocals, and offered Wommack at day at Arlyn.
"I came back from out of town and put the disc of what they recorded in my CD player," Fletcher said. "They had sixteen songs that they'd cut in a single day. I freaked out. They had 'Heaven' on there and just a great bunch of songs. They'd never done much work in a studio at all, and they just blew me away."
Fletcher told Willie, and the two showed up with their wives to check out the band at Momo's, a small upstairs room above a deli in Austin. The Boys asked their guests if their music was too loud. They were told their music was just fine as it was.
Wommack and the band signed a production deal with Willie and Freddy. Jim Gaines, the Memphis producer whose had done records with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Carlos Santana, was brought in to make an album.
"I've never dealt with a new band. That's like suicide," Fletcher laughed. "We spent a lot of money on that record and wanted to make it right. I liked them a lot. I could see they were brothers and they weren't going to kill each other and split up. I thought it was a fairly good shot. I just loved what they did."
Willie did his part by playing the advisory role as their Yoda. He added them to the bills of his Fourth of July Picnics and Farm-Aids, and brought them to his own personal Shangri-La on the Hawaiian island of Maui, where his unassuming ranch house overlooks the blue Pacific and neighbors like Kris Kristofferson and Pat Simmons sometimes drop in. He took the Boys behind a curtain of beads at his home and into Django's Lounge, the home studio of dreams. There, Willie engaged Ringo in chess, $100 a game, shirtless and with his braids unwound while nothing but Hank Williams played on the shortwave, with Willie offhandedly remarking how much he liked Hank's lyrics.
All the majors passed on the album that Gaines produced and Willie and Freddy bankrolled. No one at the labels knew how to classify the Boys. Even local indie Antone's passed. Salvation came a few months later with a call from Michael Kaplan, an Epic A&R rep. Kaplan said he loved the demo when he first heard it, but knew too well his bosses wouldn't so he had to pass. But he informed Wommack that had recently left Epic and joined forces with Larry Miller to start a new boutique label called Or Music. Willie Nelson's favorite new band was just the kind of act to roll the dice with the new label. Kaplan flew down with Miller to see if Los Lonely Boys could play live as well as they played in the studio. They were sold at soundcheck.
Or Music asked for and got a whole new recording with John Porter as producer. Porter was a cool cat, a voracious reader and guitarist from England by way of Los Angeles. The self-titled debut album was released in August 2003, with "Real Emotions" as the radio single.
But when advance pressings were distributed to radio folks at the Non-Com Triple A Conference in Louisville, programmers from several non-commercial, left-of-the-dial Adult Album Alternative stations, including WFUV-FM in New York and WXPN-FM in Philadelphia (home of the syndicated World Cafe, carried on 200 stations), thought otherwise. They actually listened to the album and heard the same thing that Jody Denberg, the program director of KGSR-FM, Austin's commercial Americana station, had heard. "Real Emotions" wasn't the single. "Heaven" was the one that had legs as a song. Their ears and their insistence made all the difference in the world.
A week after the movie premiere and the new-album concert in Austin, the Garzas were still savoring the buzz back home in San Angelo, where construction was under way at Lonelyville, 30 acres of land on the Rio Concho the Garzas recently bought, and where they are all building homes. From that distance, their big day and night in Austin was still fresh on their minds.
"First of all, it was an honor that they found some interest in us," JoJo said about Galan's film. "It's kind of hard to describe when somebody else puts your life together, but they did such a phenomenal job, man. It hit the heart when it needed to, made you laugh when it needed to, make you think about some bad things -- it took you on the full rollercoaster ride. It had a lot of history; to be honest, there were things in there even I didn't know."
The movie dealt with the difficult split between father and sons as performers. In the movie, Ringo Sr. explains it like this: "They were getting too fast and too good. They wanted to go where Daddy didn't go." A nice way of saying his kids wanted to rock.
But it wasn't easy. JoJo is still uncomfortable with the episode. "Some people got the idea from the movie that we fired our dad," he said. "We were still kids. We were under his wings. Basically, he made the choice because as you could see in the film, he said we were getting too fast and too loud. Those were our dad's words. Obviously, he felt he should step over and see if we could fly on our own.
He paused. "To me, it's hard talking about it, brother. We love our dad."
I told JoJo I had approached Ringo Sr. at the party before the Mexic-Arte gig and told him that while he probably hears it all the time, it really is true that the Garza brothers would not be the Garza brothers without the old man's guidance.
"He probably couldn't hear that enough," JoJo said. "It makes him feel that much better. And he couldn't be happier."
Before their regular lives disappeared again for a year or three with the release of Sacred, Henry, JoJo and Ringo were working hard at keeping it real. They were all hanging at the Texican Chop Shop, the auto body and paint shop that is their new joint venture, where the 'tude is Low and Slow, Vato. Ringo's father-in-law, Hector Garcia, runs the place, but it's their garage, their designated retreat where the bros keep the new rides they've accumulated.
"Every now and then we like to stick our noses in, say hi to the guys, get ahold of the wrenches, sand some of the cars down," JoJo explained. "We all find a relief in cars."
No moving vehicle was safe from customizing. Ringo and Henry had driven brand new Harley-Davidson motorcycles back from Austin. At the moment, Henry's '04 pickup was being reconfigured into a Batman vehicle. Between at least three Cutlasses owned by Henry, JoJo's Chevelles, and Ringo's two GTOs, these Texicans have plenty of speed and style.
"For the last couple months, we've been off," JoJo said. "The work in front of us was finishing the album. I'm trying to look back. I've got the records on my wall, the Grammys in the living room. I'm looking at it, but I still can't believe it. There really isn't time to talk about it just yet. There really isn't."
A lot of water had passed under the bridge since I first sat down with the Boys in the summer of 2003. We gathered around a patio table at Carlos & Charlie's on Lake Travis west of Austin, where they were about to play a radio station's promotional concert. Looking back, they were young and fresh and so new to all the attention, you could see the "They Like Us!" joy and exuberance in everything they said and every move they made.
Their record was being played on the radio. They were drawing bigger crowds every time they played. They were still months away from their single "Heaven" -- a slice of upbeat optimism so wonderfully inscrutable and universally themed that you can read anything you want into the song and be right -- crossing over from Triple A radio to CHR (Contemporary Hit Radio), adult contemporary, urban, country, Tejano, Latino, and contemporary Christian -- nearly the whole spectrum of what's legally out there on the airwaves. They opened for the Stones and Tim McGraw & Faith Hill.
I remember being struck when Ringo declared, "We're in this together," and without prompting, Henry and JoJo joined in, slapping hands together and shaking thumbs up in the middle of the table, All for one, one for all. Honest solidarity.
Los Lonely Boys were simultaneously blazing the finest contemporary Texas blues-rock in the great power-trio tradition of ZZ Top, Johnny Winter, and Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, and breaking new ground as a Chicano brother act whose harmonies were sweet enough for the Garzas to be regarded as soothing balladeers. That combo was hot enough for the Austin lake crowd to be eating out of their hands by the second song.
I saw JoJo and Henry again, a little more than a year ago, after they'd run the table with a string of successes every band dreams of -- gold records, platinum records, crossovers, Grammys and other awards, tours in Europe and Australia. Fame and fortune had come at a price: Los Lonely Boys had hardly stopped to appreciate what they'd accomplished.
"This was the most exhausted band on the planet," said Wommack, their manager. Bruises and scars earned on the road were beginning to show. Complaints were growing about burnout and the need for down time.
But here they were, back at Willie's Pedernales Studios, with John Porter back working the controls and Lee Daniel, the cinematographer, roaming the premises with his camera.
Henry and JoJo were decked in finer threads than before. JoJo had dropped his greaser pompadour for a long ponytail. They were living well enough to send out roadies for Mexican Cokes instead of the domestic version. (Coca-Cola bottled in Mexico is still sweetened the old-fashioned way, with sugar, rather than corn syrup, the standard soft drink sweetener in the United States.)
But the process wasn't going smoothly. An assistant engineer moaned he'd been holed up at Pedernales so long his wife and children no longer recognized him. Henry and JoJo huddled in a sound booth, trying get the harmonies down on a line they'd come up with for "I Never Met A Woman", a song they were still working on.
Communication between the players and engineers was curt. Tempers had evidently grown short. They were more assertive in their dealings with Porter than before. It was hard to tell if it was an honest control issue or if success had swelled heads to the point of thinking the artist knows better, as happens in show business.
During a break over a late-lunch/early-dinner spread of chili, beans, and chips -- JoJo nodded to Henry, "Tastes like school, huh?" -- small talk was made. But when the conversation touched on how Elvis died, the small talk turned serious. It was almost as if they could have been talking about their own lives.
"Elvis died because he had to take uppers to get up in the morning and downers to go to sleep at night," JoJo said somberly. "It all started turning into the concrete in his intestines. He was just trying to use the bathroom when they found him, man. He was still alive, foaming at the mouth, strangling. The Colonel said not to let him live, not in those words but in not getting there in time. So he lost his life."
"He could've had a number of things happen to him," Henry countered. "Could've faked it. Could've gotten murdered. Could've died. He did what he was doing. Dude was never by himself anywhere. He didn't know what was going on around him because he was trusting the people working for him. All he gave a shit about was the money. He didn't give a shit about the person.
"Life's not about that," Henry continued emphatically, waving his plastic spoon for emphasis. "Life is about living. When Elvis died, he lost everything. He lost his wife. He lost his fans. No one was really liking him because he was so big. He wanted to get back to being Elvis, but his life went by him. By the time he was ready to do something he was too old."
"It's sad to say he's a perfect example of what happens in this business if you let it control you, man," JoJo said, shaking his head.
"Most people don't see that," Henry replied. "The real people don't see that. They think he had everything, he died happy."
And what would the public not know about Los Lonely Boys?
"We're tired puppies, man," Henry said. "We've lived fast and lived hard as kids. Now, we're straining along and there's not enough time with your kids growing up."
The suits wanted an album. The Boys were not only tired, but they were, uh, umm...distracted. You'd be too if a year earlier, you're on your tour bus rolling into San Francisco to do a gig at the Fillmore in San Francisco, a place even Tejanos in west Texas know is a hallowed hall of rock 'n' roll, and a black BMW pulls up and Carlos Santana, the all-time #1 Chicano rock god, steps onto the bus to greet you like long-lost brothers.
The connection was immediate and heartfelt. Before the night was over in San Francisco, los hermanos Garza were jamming with Santana, two sounds separated by 30 years and a thousand miles that blended into one. The elder was passing the torch, he told the Boys that night at the Fillmore and later on at his home north of the city, where they played records and made music until dawn.
"What started with Ritchie Valens and went through me is now going through you," Santana told them. For the Boys, it was an honor more worthy than a dozen platinum CDs. The second studio album could wait. And it did. In the meantime, a live album, recorded at the Fillmore, was released in February 2005.
That was the same year Epic Records stepped in to distribute the album for Or Music, which triggered a whole new promotional campaign and required more roadwork. But they were spent. "What is there left for me to do?" Henry asked toward the end of the year. "I've made a ton of money. I've sold a lot of records. I've been to Carlos Santana's house. I've been to Willie Nelson's house. I've toured with both. What's left?" He missed home and family. And he wasn't the only one.
When they finally came back to finish the follow-up studio album, they added dollops of Santana special sauce to the sonic attack. Though some songs are bilingual, knowledge of Spanish isn't required to feel the Latin groove. The jam component of the band has matured into a hybrid of Stevie influences and Carlos influences -- fitting since the role models were mutual admirers. And they have a real knack for pop songs.
Texican pride may be a badge of honor. So are the comparisons to Vaughan and Santana. But in the end, those are qualifiers that superficially impose a glass ceiling, like being called the best Mexican-American band from Texas. What's wrong with being the best band from Texas? Or the best American band?
This band dreams bigger, just like their dad did. One thing father and sons still agree on is that the Beatles were the best band ever. Why not aspire to that?
The Boys' manager won't go there. "We stay away from that," Kevin Wommack said. "Where's Badfinger? Being the next Beatles has never worked for anyone."
But Ringo Sr. has his opinion, which leads him to say in all sincerity, "Hopefully, someday they'll be the Mexican Beatles."
Their harmonies are just as tight. They have a soft spot for sentiment and romance in the spirit of "Do You Want To Know A Secret?" and "Michelle". Just listen to the new album's "Never Met A Woman", "Diamonds", and "Roses".
And it's not just the Beatles who've provided their cues for appreciating sappy pop. They have repeatedly voiced respect and admiration for Ronnie Milsap, the blind pianist from Memphis who became a country star in the 1970s and is their father's favorite recording artist of all time. The soulful parts of Milsap's pop ballads obviously rubbed off.
In fact, when CMT's "Crossroads" program approached Los Lonelys to do a segment, they agreed with the stipulation that their collaborator on the musical mix 'n' match show be Milsap. As for "Roses", there's no better way to get to that special pop-rock plateau occupied by acts like the Doobie Brothers than by collaborating with a big Doobie -- Pat Simmons -- to write the song. They met Simmons on Maui over at Willie's place and brought him to San Angelo, where they wrote songs, raced cars at the San Angelo Speedway, and talked about all things Doobie.
Maybe the elder Ringo is on to something with this Mexican Beatles talk. Not for nothing is there a movie script floating around that reads a whole lot like A Hard Day's Night with Los Lonely Boys' names on it. I can hear it now...
El El Bee...El El Bee.
ND contributing editor Joe Nick Patoski is working on a biography of the LLBs' benefactor, Willie Nelson, for Little, Brown and Company, to be published in 2008.