Sunday, December 7, 2008

How Will the Wolf Survive? by Los Lobos

The 1980's were tough times for roots music. Can you remember the music on the radio in those years? Here are some of the big hits from 1980-1984: Call Me (Debbie Harry), Bette Davis Eyes (Kim Carnes), Jessie's Girl (Rick Springfield), Maniac (Michael Sembello), Karma Chameleon (Boy George). Not exactly a list of enduring hits that you will be playing for your children.

Even Bob Dylan was in a bit of a creative funk at the time. After releasing Infidels in 1983, he went into the worst slump of his career when he released Knocked Out Loaded and Down in the Groove. Those two frisbees  made Self Portrait look good. It would be 1989 before Bob rebounded with the excellent Oh Mercy. 

In 1984, I had been living in Hebbronville for two years. As part of my transition to life in South Texas, I was listening to a lot of country music. After falling in love with his duet with Willie Nelson on Poncho and Lefty, I began digging deeper into Merle Haggard's catalogue. I had also discovered Hank Jr and was listening to a lot of his music.

 There was one new album released in 1984 that really fit my ear. It was How Will the Wolf Survive? by Los Lobos. Combining tradition Mexican music and a modern Tex-Mex sound with good old rock and roll, this album was unlike anything on the radio. Produced by T-Bone Burnett, it was the major label debut of the band from Los Angeles that has gone on to recorded many fine albums.

Listening to this album today, I can't believe how good it sounds. The first cut, Don't Worry Baby, sounds like Howlin Wolf backed by the Doug Sahm's old band. It's blues. It's Tex-Mex. It's good. The album also contains several sweet gentle tracks like A Matter of Time, a brilliant song about immigration and it's effect on families, and the short instrumental, Lil' King of Everything. The band really rocks on The Breakdown and I Got Loaded. My favorite cut is Will the Wolf Survive. It captures the sound and talent of the band perfectly.

In December of 1990, I was lucky to see Los Lobos play in Houston at the Tower Theatre. They were the opening act for Steve Earl. Earle, who was also a favorite of mine at the time, was battling demons that night and he was terrible.  Los Lobos were really on fire and they blew Earle's drug and booze fueled bullshit away. It was a memorable set that really showed the talent of the players in the band.

I can remember leaving the concert being astounded by the playing of David Hidalgo. He played all kinds of guitars and also had great stage presence. I said that night: "That guy is the Mexican Eric Clapton."

How Will the Wolf Survive should be on your playlist. It is available on iTunes and from Amazon.


  1. Nice write-up about a fantastic band. I've seen them three or four times in the 1980s. Always an amazing show. How Will The Wolf Survive is definitely one of my all-time favorites.

  2. yeah, nice review of a great album.
    i've seen the lobs numerous times., and back in the early 80s as often as i could. the first time being was a hot sf night, they were playing the stone on broadway, andmy buddies and i were swigging bud talls out in front of the club with blasters sax man, the late great lee allen. the lobs were the opening act to the headlining blasters. and i remember as we finished our brews, lee saying to my buddies and i, that we should go inside and check out los lobos, and that these guys were the real deal and would be around for years to come. he was not kidding, just last weekend i saw them at the fillmore in sf, and they sure as hell did not disappoint. go see them! they put on a great show!

  3. Can't believe you didn't mention "Evangeline" as a stand out track. Still a great band live and recording innovative music.

  4. Saw them playing in Spain last summer and was blown away. It never
    fails to amaze me how many lesser bands from that era have been propelled to the 'legendary' status that for some reason has eluded Los Lobos in the eyes of many esteemed critics whilst freely banded about in favour of substantially less deserving artists.
    I know many critics cite Kiko as their defining statement but for me
    How Will The Wolf Survive and By The Light Of The Moon are their greatest records. But they've maintained a high standard throughout their career and deserve to be more fondly remembered. There is certainly a timeless quality to their music which has dated tremendously well in comparison to alot of their 80's counterparts.