August 31, 2006
Early in his music career, Enrique Garza played the style of music that was popular in his family, in his Latino community, and in the town of Bishop, Texas, not 100 miles from the Mexican border. In Los Falcones, Garza played the traditional conjunto style, strumming the bajo sexto, a bass guitar, while his brothers played accordion, drums and bass. The band was good, but Garza itched for something more.”He knew all about the Beatles, Elvis, all the rock ‘n’ roll,” JoJo Garza, Enrique’s 26-year-old son, said by phone from a tour stop in Washington state. “But he thought he didn’t want to play that, that he couldn’t do it. But after a while, he started putting all those other styles in his music.”That’s where we think our dad was ahead of the time. He was mixing cultures, putting new things in there.”Enrique wasn’t just an influential figure to the fans of such bands as the Four Stars and the Backroads, which had songs on the regional charts. He was a hero to his three sons – Henry, Ringo and JoJo – who learned not only their instrumental chops from their father, but also the desire to absorb all sorts of sounds.”Don’t tell me how to sing my song,” goes the refrain in “My Way,” the opening song on the recent album “Sacred,” the follow-up to the massively popular, self-titled 2003 CD by Los Lonely Boys, a group comprising the younger generation of Garza brothers. The song is about self-sufficiency, relying on one’s own principles – and that seems to include an artistic vision. The song opens with a guitar riff by Henry that owes a debt to the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. Though a famous Texas musician, Vaughan wasn’t much of an inspiration for Enrique Garza. But the older Garza passed onto his kids more than the music he loved. He set an example that music should have no boundaries.
“He taught us basically what we know, that the sky’s the limit,” said JoJo, who sings and plays bass and piano in Los Lonely Boys. (Henry, 28, plays guitar and harmonica; Ringo, 24, is the drummer; and all three brothers sing.)Enrique first turned his sons onto old-school rock: Chuck Berry, Richie Valens. Then country: Willie Nelson, Ronnie Milsap. But he also had a stash of video footage of the English invasion bands – the Who, the Rolling Stones, Cream – that he enthusiastically showed his sons. The father then cut the boys loose to discover even newer sounds, and with his blessing, the brothers found Santana, Los Lobos and Hank “Bocephus” Williams Jr.”We could basically pick and find – not melodic structures or lyrics, but the vibe and the feeling,” said JoJo, who makes his debut with Los Lonely Boys today, Sunday, Sept. 3, at 4:15 p.m. at the Jazz Aspen Labor Day Festival in Snowmass Village, on a bill with fellow Texans Don Henley and Del Castillo. “That’s what makes Los Lonely Boys – a mixture of what our dad taught us, and what he showed us. He introduced us to what we are, who we are.”Henry, as firstborn, got to play guitar, an instrument he was learning before JoJo was even born. JoJo moved away to live with his mother, and when he returned to his father and brothers, Henry had mastered guitar, and Ringo had taken his place behind the drums. So JoJo strung an old guitar of his father’s with four strings, tuned low, and became the family bassist.After some time singing in their dad’s band, the brothers, still teenagers, recorded the 1997 album “Los Lonely Boys.” Released independently, the album didn’t do much. Six years later, however, they recorded a different album under the same name at Willie Nelson’s Pedernales Studios and released it on the small Or Music label, before Epic Records picked it up. With major-label backing – and the cheerleading presence of Nelson, who added guitar to “La Contestación” – “Los Lonely Boys” became a huge hit. The single “Heaven” reached No. 1 on the adult contemporary chart and earned a Grammy Award, and the band went on tour with Nelson, then Santana. In July, the band released “Sacred,” which entered Billboard’s album charts at No. 2.”We went wild,” JoJo said. “We went across the country, over to Europe for a while, to the Grammys. It’s a big ride, and we feel blessed to meet these people and spread our message.”
Part of that message is one of faith and religion. Throughout “Sacred” – from the album title to the photo of the Garzas standing, with head humbly bent, under the image of a cross – there is a message of connecting with God through prayer. On “rale,” the album’s second song, Los Lonely Boys thank God for the good life he has provided. “rale” is a local saying synonymous with “Sacred”; the band was going to call the album “rale,” but realized a lot of people wouldn’t be able to pronounce it, much less understand it.JoJo credits the brothers’ upbringing for their sunny outlook. The brothers live again in San Angelo, the central Texas town where they were raised, after a spell in Nashville. JoJo says it is a good place for him to raise his children, just as it was a good place for him to grow up: “Not too busy, not too slow.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org”It comes from our backyard,” he said of the praiseful sentiments in the band’s music. “Not really having any money, materialistic items, it was all family, just trying to do what we had to survive, love, respect for others. Spirituality and God is always the reason for what happens and how it happens. It still happens; we learn and learn, and try to be better.”Enrique Garza never made a living from his music. He worked day jobs in factories and mills, as a carpenter, in the cab of an 18-wheeler. But thanks to what he gave his sons, he was able to take an early retirement. The Garza patriarch now spends his time touring with Los Lonely Boys, taking a turn on stage every night. He, along with Willie Nelson, added vocals to “Outlaws,” a tribute to outsider country artists on “Sacred.” And he is writing material for the band’s next CD.”He couldn’t be more proud,” said JoJo. “He tells us all the time how grateful he is. He gets teary-eyed.”