July 1, 2008

Wolf Eyes - On the record with Lobo Steve Berlin

Friday July 4

Los Lobos has quietly established itself as a rock ’n’ roll institution. Bold rhythmic structures and traditional folk themes are the band’s stock in trade. And, somewhat amazingly after more than 30 years together, the wolves of this pack are still hungry for creative exploration. The East L.A. ensemble consistently delivers R&B, jazz and Mexi-Cali rock in ways that will blow your mind. Recently multi-instrumentalist Steve Berlin chatted up.


LEO: OK, let’s go way back. How did you stumble into a music career in the first place?

Steve Berlin: Like most kids, it just seemed to me like a cool thing to do. As a teenager, I gigged with guys around Philly and also along the Jersey shore, because that was the place to be in the summers. Eventually, I found my way to Los Angeles and played with about 19 different groups before a bunch of luck and happenstance landed me in the Blasters. Then one night in the early ’80s, the group Los Lobos opened for the Blasters, and my fate was sealed.

Los Lobos perform with Parliament Funkadelic and J.J. Grey & Mofro at this year’s Fourth of July Waterfront Festival.
Los Lobos perform with Parliament Funkadelic and J.J. Grey & Mofro at this year’s Fourth of July Waterfront Festival.

LEO: Even if there is no consensus on when you formally joined Los Lobos, you have been involved for a hell of a long time. Could you talk about dynamics within the band, particularly in the studio?

SB: In the studio, we all pitch in as needed, but it’s never really the same from song to song. Some show up pretty much completely composed, and others take way more work. And after so many years together, everyone sort of goes to their respective corners throughout. But one thing we definitely learned on our last record is that we can’t always rely on our muse to guide us through the process. The Town and the City was a real challenge in a number of respects. And for a long time, it was hard to see what it was. Most of our records tend to reveal themselves early, and this one took a while, but I think we saw it properly in the end.


LEO: Apart from Los Lobos, you’ve earned quite a reputation for your intuition in the studio. Most recently you produced Jackie Greene’s Giving Up the Ghost. What was that like?

SB: Jackie’s the real deal, that’s for sure. This is my second time working with him. On the first project, we put a cohesive band together for the whole thing. But on this one, we opted to treat each song differently and took that concept to the extreme. The songs each boast a distinctly different band working in a different studio with a different mixer in a different city on different days. Some of that had to do with our respective tour schedules, but I think the overall approach worked for that really diverse batch of songs.


LEO: This week your touring schedule finds you back in Kentucky on Independence Day. What can we expect?

SB: We always take it in the moment and sort of stick our thumbs up in the air and just start someplace. And if that doesn’t work, we’ll change direction on the fly. We try to consciously never repeat the same set, and we do like to tailor it to the audience. It will probably be a dancing crowd on the 4th of July. And George Clinton is hard to follow. So, hopefully we are on before P-Funk and can lay down a gauntlet. But it’ll be big fun either way.


Los Lobos join J.J. Grey & Mofro and George Clinton with Parliament Funkadelic at this year’s Waterfront Park Independence Festival. Get the full scoop at www.waterfrontindependencefestival.com.


Friday, July 4

For decades, his spoofs of popular song and dance have entertained listeners of Dr. Demento, viewers of MTV and surfers of YouTube. This Friday, unlikely cult-hero Weird Al Yankovic will be delivered unto the audience at Iroquois Park Amphitheatre (1080 Amphitheatre Road, 368-5865) when his Straight Outta Lynwood Tour hits town. Showtime is 8 p.m. This event is all-ages.


Thursday, July 3

To kick off the holiday weekend, The Howard Brothers Band will bring some electric, Cincinnati-style blues to Stevie Ray’s (230 E. Main St., 582-9945). The $5 cover for this 9 p.m. concert is waived for bikers.  


Contact the writer at leo@leoweekly.com