Los Lobos’ Louis Perez reminisces about punk days

Los Lobos is among the Sunday headliners at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 15 in Golden Gate Park this weekend. (Courtesy David Alan Kogut)

Percussionist-lyricist Louie Perez still remembers that fateful night in the early 1980s, when his then-more-Mexican-folkloric band Los Lobos was thrown, last minute, onto an Olympic Auditorium bill in its native Los Angeles as opening act for John Lydon’s dissonant ensemble Public Image Limited. It was a match made in hell. The first thing he felt onstage was a gust of air from hundreds of middle fingers in the crowd angrily flipping up. “Then eight, nine minutes later, the really serious projectiles started flying,” he says. Afterwards, backstage, the members’ friends and family were in tears, and they seriously considered never playing a punk show again. “But instead, we kept coming back,” he says; Los Lobos just issued its latest album “Gates of Gold,” with a cover photo taken by Perez, who is also a talented painter.

Los Lobos has been together so long, you recently played an AARP convention.

That’s right. We’ve played a few of them already. I remember going to a movie theater a while ago, and I looked up at the ticket window and it said “55 and over – senior discount!” And I thought, “Man! Do I do it? I guess so!” So I asked for the discount, and the gal just handed me my ticket and didn’t even card me. I was happy, but disappointed.

Aside from your PiL debacle, L.A. in the early ‘80s was a magical scene, with X, The Gun Club, Lone Justice…

And The Blasters, Fear, The Circle Jerks. I have nothing but fond memories of those days. And there’s a little sadness, too, because I’ve realized that it can never happen again, that no one else will be able to experience that. Nobody was thinking about becoming rock stars, and there was this camaraderie that can never be replicated. There were some beautiful years of just wanting to make music in the basement clubs, with one 40-watt bulb hanging from the ceiling and only a couple of outlets where you could plug in.

Playing San Francisco back then, you played two venues in one night with a then-unknown Dwight Yoakam.

Yeah – the Taxi Tour, we called it! And in L.A., we hung out at The Atomic Café, and everybody was there, like Darby Crash and even the New Wavers, like Suburban Lawns. It was just so vibrant and colorful, and here we were, these Mexican kids from the other side of the river. And they couldn’t make out what we were about, and then everybody at home in East L.A. couldn’t understand what we were doing on the other side of the river. My friends were thinking, “Wow – the next time we see Louie, he’s gonna have a Mohawk and safety pins!”

Los Lobos
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 15
Where: Towers of Gold Stage, Lindley Meadow, Golden Gate Park, S.F.
When: 5 p.m. Oct. 4
Tickets: Free
Contact: www.hardlystrictlybluegrass.com/2015/

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