Music News

Tall Texican Tales

Even if we lose love, we've got to try to love again," says Jojo Garza, bassist and middle brother of Chicano blues-rock trio Los Lonely Boys. "If you're having rough times, you gotta get up because you have to — you have to."

With that, Garza pretty much sums up the basic emotional thrust of the band's music. Los Lonely Boys' latest album, Forgiven, for example, is filled with recurring themes of lost love, heartbreak, weariness, and a strong desire for personal redemption. Although the band members, consisting of Jojo and his two brothers, the eldest Henry on guitar and vocals and Ringo (Enrique) on drums, are all heavily steeped in the blues, the straightforwardness in the lyrics somehow resonates more deeply than just the latest example of blues-rock guys bitching about failed relationships.

It's hard to imagine another band trying to pull off a plain-spoken plea for a lover not to leave without sounding overearnest on the one hand or insincere on the other. Yet the Garza brothers, who generally write together, have a knack for making everyday themes resonate.

"You don't have to open a dictionary every time you try to get a point across," Jojo insists.

Simplicity isn't the only thing at work here. As Forgiven rolls from track to track, the band illustrates the most basic emotions while giving them dimension and weight. They often take regular issues and relay them back to their audience perhaps better than audience members can articulate things themselves.

"We've learned over the years what music's capable of doing to people and creating for people," Jojo says. "We want to put ourselves in your shoes. The reason we can connect is because we're all human. We can all connect. Some of us are on different levels than others, but we're all still feeling happy, sad, angry. We all have that. When you're able to bring that out in a song, that's the key."

It only helps the Garza brothers to get their points across that they manage to blend rock, blues, country, soul, and shades of traditional Mexican conjunto music into a seamless, original blend that stays accessible and cliché-free, varying from song to song. Still, the band stays loyal to its Texan and Mexican roots, which explains the Texican tag it places on its music. Shades of Stevie Ray, the Allmans, and Clapton bob and weave but never overpower the flavor of the guisado (stew) on the musical stovetop. According to Jojo, it's meant to be poignant, easy on the ears, and soothing to the heart.

But the band isn't afraid to get heavy. The Garza brothers, who are just pushing 30, generally try to uplift their audience. Sometimes, though, the adult struggles depicted in their work — like the need to feel like one is living according to the best of his or her nature — cast long, lingering shadows on the listening experience.

"With good comes the bad," Jojo explains. "It's not a bad thing to talk about the bad. We need that."

Jojo points to Forgiven's title track, which takes the whole idea of love into the much thornier terrain of how difficult it is to love oneself.

"That song," he says, "almost makes certain people turn away, because it's so deep... and about being a human and the idea of 'Can I be forgiven?' "

"Ringo wrote most of 'There's a War Tonight,' " he continues. "Those lyrics are so deep, it's almost political. But we stretch it further than that. We go to the roots, to the core — which is humanity. We're talking about everyday wars, like drugs and gangs. There's war going on all the time."

And how much of a threat did gangs and drugs pose in the Garzas' hometown of San Angelo, Texas?

"Man, it was all around!" Jojo exclaims. "Dude, we're Chicanos from Texas, and we grew up in barrios. A lot of our closest friends died from drugs and went to prison. Even members of our family."

Music may have been the brothers' salvation. "One of the main reasons our dad told us he taught us music: to keep us out of trouble. It would have been easy for us to go in that direction. It's easy for anybody to go in that direction, because it's easier to destroy than create. Don't get me wrong, though. There's no saints here. We're all sinners. It's just how [do you] get past that and try to make it better. Just like the song 'Make It Better' — try to make it better the next day and turn that page like a book."

Of course, one can't talk about the Los Lonely Boys story without including their father, Enrique (Ringo Sr.), who encouraged his three sons to play music practically from infancy. Accustomed to working with family from his previous career as frontman of Los Falcones, a conjunto band that included his own siblings, Ringo Sr. initially employed his sons as his backing band. Through time (and with additional guidance from Willie Nelson, whom the brothers refer to as their padrino, their godfather), the brothers emerged as their own entity.

The familial bond provides the glue that keeps the band together.

"As men now," Jojo says, "I still respect my older brother with a certain kind of respect because he is my older brother — but that doesn't mean that he can't learn something from me. The same goes with me and Ringo. If one of us is off-track, there's two of us there that can say, 'Hey, you gotta listen.' And they love you and it's all in good intention, so you want to listen."

It sounds like Jojo's learned from getting called out on the carpet himself.

"Oh yeah," he answers. "All the time. It happens with Ringo and Henry too." Call it checks and balances within the group.

Having tasted success early in their career in the form of double-platinum sales for their self-titled 2004 debut album as well as a Grammy Award for that album's single "Heaven," Jojo stresses that being a regular person remains a challenge.

"It doesn't get any easier," he says. "Because if you come from where we come from, you have to learn to deal with a faster pace of living in the business. It's just a certain way that things have to happen on this train. It's not about being a different person. Anybody can achieve the highest level of success. It's how much they're willing to devote their time. But it's also not everything it's cracked up to be. That's why people retire.

"You only need so much in life, I'll put it that way."

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Saby Reyes-Kulkarni