Los Lobos Debut Beach Boys, Thee Midniters Covers From L.A.-Themed ‘Native Sons’ Album (Track Premiere)

Variety has the premiere of their covers of "Sail on Sailor" and "Love Special Delivery." Cesar Rosas tells how they came to record tracks by Jackson Browne, War, Willie Bobo and others.

los angeles covers album tribute premiere

No music artist is more intrinsically identified with Los Angeles than Los Lobos — unless, say, we’re talking the Beach Boys, Thee Midniters, Jackson Browne, Little Feat, Buffalo Springfield or the Blasters, to name a few of the fellow homegrown musicians that the group proudly covers on “Native Sons,” their debut for the New West label.

Variety has the premiere of two tracks from the project, due out July 30. One is “Love Special Delivery,” a fast-and-furious number from Thee Midniters, a pioneering group that once upon a time could also have claimed the title of “just another band from East L.A.” The other is “Sail On Sailor,” the 1973 Beach Boys classic, which was co-written by stalwarts Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks but performed and sung in an uncharacteristic style at the time by South African singer Blondie Chaplin.

Check out these two teaser tracks for the new album, below, as Cesar Rosas explains how it came together.

Los Lobos are now 43 years into their recording career, and it’s never too late even in an ouevre that expansive to start afresh with a new label, in this case New West, which about a year and a half ago suggested that the group could embark on a covers project before settling back in to write a batch of their own fresh material. There were a couple of speed bumps in that coming to fruition — one of them being COVID, of course. The other was a change in plans, as the group decided to throw out some of the covers ideas they’d already come up with in order to narrow the focus to a salute to their fellow Angelenos.

“Originally, I had all these other songs that I thought would be cool to do,” Rosas admits, “before somebody came up with the  idea of saying, ‘Hey, if we’re going to do a covers album, why not all songs that were recorded in Hollywood or by artists and bands that made their home in L.A.?’ So then the idea got into a little trickier, and there go all the songs I had! It became a little bit more challenging” — but it also became a blessing in disguise for Rosas, as it inspired him to salute a couple of his favorite East L.A. artists that he otherwise might not have, Thee Midnighters and Willie Bobo (an east coaster who came to settle in the land of west coast wolves).

War’s “The World is a Ghetto” also represents a link in the Latin rock chain. Other artists whose songs are covered on “Native Sons” (which can be pre-ordered here) include Buffalo Springfield (a medley of “Bluebird” and “For What It’s Worth”), Browne (“Jamaica Say You Will”), Barrett Strong (“Misery”), Percy Mayfield (“Never No More”), the Premiers (“Farmer John”), Lalo Guerrero (“Los Chucos Suaves”) and the Blasters, who used to count Lobos’ own Steve Berlin as a member (“Flat Top Joint”). The title song, meanwhile, is the album’s lone original.

The song by Thee Midniters came about in an interesting fashion. Rosas had used that group’s drummer, the late Aaron Ballesteros, on some solo material he was recording in his studio, when he started riffing on “Love Special Delivery.” Ballesteros joined in, leading almost immediately to the drum track you hear resurrected for the new album.

“What a cool, uptempo kind of a showcase song,” says Rosas. “It’s special to me because Thee Midniters were a group that I grew up listening to around my neighborhood in East LA in the ‘60s as a kid, and I just always loved the groove to that song. When I sang that, it was just a fluke. Aaron was a very close friend of mine, and it was just kind of coincidence. I started playing the riff, and of course, Aaron knew the song backwards and forwards. He said, ‘Hey man, you want a recording?’ I guess it took me about a minute to realize what he was talking about it. I said, ‘You mean without (a band)?’ He goes, ‘Yeah, man, let me give it a shot. Check it out.’ And he just played it all the way through, all by himself — the first and only take. I thought, wow, that’s a keeper, man. Later on, I just did my thing and put on keyboards, bass and guitar and made a song out of it. I had it laying around in the can for a few years., and then when this situation came up, I just thought, wow, it’d be cool to share this with everybody.”

Perhaps it goes without saying, but Rosas declares: “I’m a big fan of the Latin kind of stuff.” And so he’s also particularly proud of a song that landed on the album by Willie Bobo, “Dichoso.” “We did gigs with him before he passed away many years ago. As a young guy around the East L.A. area, I had my own R&B band and I remember Willie Bobo always playing around the neighborhood. He became one of our own, L.A’s own artist, even though he was a New Yorker. Aaron, who recorded on ‘Love Special Delivery,’ used to play with Willie Bobo, too, and we did a few shows with him, in the early ‘80s and stuff. That song I’m very close to and very proud of.”

The pandemic put a crimp in Los Lobos’ touring schedule for the first time since their mid-’70s origins, but they’re making up for lost quarantine time with a tour that will bring them back to one of their natural habitats, L.A.’s Greek Theater, and extend from this summer all the way into July 2022. They get an early start on things with a Cinco de Mayo livestream tonight, from the studio, starting at 6 p.m. PT on the Mandolin platform.

The full track list for “Native Sons,” along with the original artists:

1. Love Special Delivery (Thee Midniters)
2. Misery (Barrett Strong)
3. Bluebird/For What It’s Worth (Buffalo Springfield)
4. Los Chucos Suaves (Lalo Guerrero)
5. Jamaica Say You Will (Jackson Browne)
6. Never No More (Percy Mayfield)
7. Native Son (Los Lobos) * the sole original on the album
8. Dichoso (Willie Bobo)
9. Farmer John (The Premiers)
10. Sail On, Sailor (Beach Boys)
11. The World Is A Ghetto (WAR)
12. Flat Top Joint (Blasters)
13. Where Lovers Go (The Jaguars)

The group’s just announced 2021-22 tour dates:

May 5, 2021 – Cinco De Mayo Livestream
May 27, 2021 – Santa Cruz, CA – Dream Inn
May 28, 2021 – Napa, CA – Blue Note Napa
May 29, 2021 – Big Sur, CA – Loma Vista Gardens
June 24, 2021 -Lowell, MA – Lowell Summer Music Series
August 5, 2021 – Evanston, IL – Canal Shores Golf Course
August 15, 2021 – Costa Mesa, CA – OC Fair & Event Center
August 21, 2021 – Los Angeles, CA – The Greek @
August 24, 2021 – Montgomery, AL – Montgomery Performing Arts Centre +
August 26, 2021 – Selbyville, DE – The Freeman Stage at Bayside +
August 27, 2021 – Doswell, VA – Meadow Event Park +
August 30, 2021 – Nashville, TN – Ryman Auditorium +
September 3, 2021 – Asheville, NC – Salvage Station +
September 4, 2021 – Beaver Dam, KY – Beaver Dam Amphitheatre +
September 9, 2021 – Grass Valley, CA – The Center For The Arts
September 18, 2021 – Webster, MA – Indian Ranch
September 19, 2021 – Westhampton Beach, NY – Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center
September 22, 2021 – Bethlehem, PA – Musikfest Cafe
September 23, 2021 – South Orange, NJ – South Orange Performing Arts Center
September 24, 2021 – Harrisburg, PA – Whitaker Center
September 25, 2021 – State College, PA – State Theatre
September 26, 2021 – Albany, NY – The Egg
October 1, 2021 – Solana Beach, CA – Belly Up Tavern
October 2, 2021 – Bisbee, AZ – Historic Warren Ballpark
October 8, 2021 – Santa Barbara, CA – Lobero Theatre
October 9, 2021 – Bakersfield, CA – World Records
October 21, 2021 – Austin, TX – Antone’s
October 22, 2021 – Austin, TX – Antone’s
October 23, 2021 – Goliad, TX – Schroeder Hall
October 24, 2021 – The Woodlands, TX – Dosey Doe Big Barn
November 2, 2021 – Millvale, PA – Mr Smalls Theatre
November 3, 2021 – Cleveland, OH – Music Box Supper Club
November 4, 2021 – Ann Arbor, MI – The Ark
November 5, 2021 – Grand Rapids, MI – Listening Room
November 6, 2021 – Fort Wayne, IN – Clyde Theatre
November 13, 2021 – Tacoma, WA – The Spanish Ballroom @ McMenamin’s Elk’s Temple
November 14, 2021 – Portland, OR – Aladdin Theatre
December 19, 2021 – New York, NY – City Winery
December 20, 2021 – New York, NY – City Winery
December 21, 2021 – New York, NY – City Winery
January 13, 2022 – Honolulu, HI – Blue Note Hawaii
January 14, 2022 – Honolulu, HI – Blue Note Hawaii
March 3, 2022 – Raton, NM – Shuler Theater
March 4, 2022 – Fort Collins, CO – Washington’s
March 5, 2022 – Steamboat Springs, CO – Strings Music Pavilion
March 7, 2022 – Boulder, CO – Boulder Theater
March 23, 2022 – Brownfield, ME – Stone Mountain Arts Center
March 26, 2022 – Fall River, MA – Narrows Center For The Arts
March 31, 2022 – Amsterdam, Netherlands – Paradiso
April 1, 2022 – Brugge, Belgium – Stadsschouwburg Brugge
April 2, 2022 – Leuven, Belgium – Het Depot
April 3, 2022 – Antwerp, Belgium – De Roma
June 24, 2022 – Jacksonville, FL – Daily’s Place Amphitheater *
June 25, 2022 – Mobile, AL – Mobile Civic Center *
June 28, 2022 – Indianapolis, IN – The Amphitheater at White River State Park *
July 1, 2022 – Canandaigua, NY – Constellation Brands-Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center *
July 2, 2022 – Gilford, NH – Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion *
July 3, 2022 – Saratoga Springs, NY – Saratoga Performing Arts Center *
July 6, 2022 – New Haven, CT – Westville Music Bowl *
July 8, 2022 – Philadelphia, PA – The Mann Center of Performing Arts *
July 9, 2022 – Burlington, VT – Midway Lawn *
July 10, 2022 – Patchogue, NY – Great South Bay Music Festival *
July 12, 2022 – Lewiston, NY – Artpark *
July 15, 2022 – Atlanta, GA – Fox Theatre *
July 16, 2022 – Atlanta, GA – Fox Theatre *
July 19, 2022 – Vienna, VA – Wolf Trap *
July 21, 2022 – Raleigh, NC – Coastal Credit Union Music Park *
July 23, 2022 – Charlotte, NC – PNC Music Pavilion *
July 24, 2022 – Huber Heights, OH – Rose Music Center at The Heights *
July 26, 2022 – Aurora, IL – RiverEdge Park *
July 29, 2022 – Morrison, CO – Red Rocks Amphitheatre *
July 30, 2022 – Morrison, CO – Red Rocks Amphitheatre *

@ w/ The Mavericks

+ w/ Steve Earle & The Dukes

* w/ Tedeschi Trucks Band