DAVID HIDALGO CAN JUST FLOW. IT DOESN’T MATTER WHETHER
he’s playing rhythm or lead, or if the tone is dirty or clean.
Hidalgo’s notes and chords—and his vocals—pour straight from
his soul. Never forced or flashy, he’s as easy as Sunday morning.
In that regard, and because his blues are absolutely
authentic, he’s like a Latin Clapton. But 37 years after cofounding
Los Lobos, Hidalgo is still pushing the sonic envelope,
obliterating genre barriers, and—when the situation calls for
it—ripping like his head is on fire.
Los Lobos’ latest release, Tin Can Trust
[Shout Factory!] is an addictive disc. The
largely acoustic “I’ll Burn It Down” and
the laid back “On Main Street” ease the
listener in, and the bouncy cumbia of “Yo
Canto” and the vibey “Jupiter or the
Moon” keep things interesting. A killer
rendition of the Grateful Dead’s “West
L.A. Fadeaway” is sure to make bones
shake, and the final cut, “27 Spanishes,”
chronicles the history of the Spanish conquest
Hidalgo is by no means a lone wolf,
however, as the entire Los Lobos pack is
still intact. Vocalist and guitarist Caesar
Rosas, utility man Louis Pérez, and
bassist Conrad Lozano are co-founders,
while sax/keyboard player Steve Berlin
and drummer Cougar Estrada have been
in tow long enough to know what’s best
for the impossibly eclectic yet wholly
organic sound of one of the most important
bands of the past four decades.
Can you describe the role of each guitarplaying
member of Los Lobos?
We share the load, but whoever wrote
a song usually takes control of that song.
Caesar backs me up when I’m singing,
and I back him when he is singing, though
for some reason I end up doing a lot of
the guitar solos. Louis is also playing
more guitar parts these days. He handles
a lot of the acoustic guitar and other folk
instruments, and he’s even playing electric
now, so we split it up.
You played several acoustic instruments
on the new record as well. Do you dig that as
much as playing electric?
It depends. When we do the folkloric
shows, we use a lot of traditional instruments,
and then I tend to switch gears
and get into that mode—but electric guitar
was my first love. I especially liked
guitar instrumentals. I had Duane Eddy’s
“Rebel Rouser” and a bunch of surf singles
when I was a little kid. Instead of
watching cartoons on Saturday mornings,
I would watch a series of country music
programs presented by Cal Worthington
Dodge. I saw Buck Owens, Ernest Tubb, Bill Anderson, and Ferlin Husky. I paid attention
to the guitar players, so I was watching
Don Rich with Buck, and Leon Rhodes and
Steve Chapman from Ernest Tubb’s band.
Who was your favorite?
Don Rich was amazing. Actually, Buck
Owens and Earnest Tubb both used Steve
Chapman on guitar. Tubb kept his music simple,
but he would let the band go. It was
almost like cowboy jazz the way Chapman
played in his band. He played an ES-335 with
a Bigsby, and he had this clean, beautiful
sound. I was drawn to that playing style.
The 23 Club in Brisbane, is supposedly the oldest
roadhouse in California, and lots of the players
you’re talking about played there. Have you?
I’ve never played there, but I’ve heard
stories. I associate it with Jimmie Rivers,
who sounded kind of like Charlie Christian.
He took a reel-to-reel tape recorder to his
gigs, so there are recordings of his band
playing live at the 23 Club in the early ’60s.
The legend goes that when Rivers first
started to play there he used to have to fight
a different guy every night in the parking lot
to prove he was cool—that he could hang
What guitars do you bring to a typical Los
Lobos show these days?
I’ve been using a Fender Custom Shop
’51 Nocaster Relic lately. When Los Lobos
started out back in 1973, it was an allacoustic
group. We were on a quest to learn
Mexican folk music—the music of our roots,
our culture—and little by little we started
to incorporate electric instruments. These
days I take my goldtop Les Paul and the
Nocaster on the road. I feel that Gibson and
Fender got solidbody electric guitars right
the first time around, and guitars haven’t
gotten any better.
What about effects and amps?
We fly to a lot of gigs, so I play through
backline gear. I usually use a Fender Deville
or a Deluxe Reverb depending on room size.
For gain, I bring a Pigtronix Aria Disnortion,
a Pigtronix Philosopher’s Tone compressor,
and an Ibanez Turbo Tube Screamer. I like
the Turbo Tube Screamer because it has four
gain settings. The Turbo setting adds a lot
of low end and makes whatever you’re playing
through sound like a 4x10 cabinet. I
usually end up leaving one or the other distortion
pedals on, and adjusting the volume
on the guitar.
Do you ever use more than one distortion pedal
at the same time?
Sure. It depends on how silly I want to
get. It’s like dumb, dumber, and dumbest
[laughs]. I’ll use both when I want feedback.
Or I’ll use one or the other distortion, and
use the compressor in conjunction to get an
older tweed Deluxe kind of sound, which
has that natural compression and saturation
built into it.
You mentioned your love of early guitar instrumentals.
I dig “Do the Murray,” which is the one
instrumental on Tin Can Trust.
I was thinking “Steppin’ Out,” the old
standard that Cream used to do, but with a
boogaloo beat to give it a Latin soul vibe. I
recorded the guitar parts using the Tascam 488 Portastudio cassette multi-track in my
home studio, and flew those tracks into the
Pro Tools session at Manny’s Estudio in
East L.A., where we tracked most everything
else. There are three guitar solos, and
I tried to make it sound like it was two guys
trading off by switching from the bridge
pickup to the neck pickup and back on a
How did you get the fiery lead sound on the
opening track, “Burn it Down”?
We were working on a tight deadline, so
we’d book studio time on the road too. “Burn
it Down” was all acoustic, and I was looking
for a way in. There was an old Italian
Eko 12-string guitar with one neck pickup
hanging on the studio wall in San Francisco.
I plugged it into an old Ampeg 2x12 combo
and cranked it up.
Later on in “Jupiter or the Moon” you play a
solo over almost nothing, how did that happen?
It was not a typical song, and I did not
want to build it in the typical way. When we
record basics as a trio, the same guys will
often finish the track because it’s tricky to
leave the right amount of space and add the
right amount of overdubs without ruining
it. While we were in Denver, it struck me
that a more traditional, Phil Upchurch-type
of solo might work, so I played a ’59 Les Paul
through a Fender amp. We miked it from
across the room trying to make it sound like
the soloist was playing in the same room as
the other guys.
What prompted you to cover the Grateful
Dead’s “West L.A. Fadeaway”?
I was aware of the Dead since the beginning,
but it wasn’t until the Live/Dead album
came out that the light really went on for
me. That version of “St. Stephen” into “The
Eleven” into “Turn on Your Love Light”
floored me. Jerry Garcia became one of my
favorites. I first met him in 1984, when he
showed up at one of our gigs along with Carlos
Santana. They took turns playing my
spare ES-335. Afterwards, Jerry gave me a
’58 Stratocaster. I couldn’t believe it.
Did you use it for this recording?
No. I was already in the middle of recording
with a Les Paul when I realized I should
have played Jerry’s Strat. Anyway, that’s how
our affiliation with the Grateful Dead started.
A few years later we did a weekend opening
for them at Laguna Seca. We invited Jerry to
play with us. He returned the favor by bringing
me up to play “West L.A. Fadeaway,” so
that’s the connection.
The final song—“27 Spanishes” is an interesting
narrative. How did that one come together, and
what’s it all about?
The music reminds me of when the
explorers first went to Skull Island and found
King Kong. It’s like a fakano—a Hollywood
version of jungle music. It seemed to work
with these lyrics that tell the story of the
Spanish conquest of Mexico. In the end, they
became pals [laughs]. The last lyrics are,
“Later they became friendly, and their blood
was often mixed. Now they all hang out
together, and play guitars for kicks.” We
actually had two endings. The other one was
heavier, but then we thought, “No, lets go
with the lighter ending that uses the graphic
example of them sitting around playing