Interview: Henry Garza of Los Lonely Boys

On June  29, 2010 the legendary rock band, Los Lonely Boys, played with Los Lobos in Grant Park for a massive crowd of eager fans. The Chicago summer sun beat down on the audience well into the evening, and the cool lake air offered brief, but pleasant relief, as Henry Garza (guitar and vocals) and his brothers, Ringo (drums, vocals) and Jojo (bass guitar, vocals) rocked out to their best songs. From backstage I caught sign of a young girl, in her mid 20’s sobbing in the audience, not in any hysterical fashion, but in a deep and moving way. She cried what seemed to be tears of joy and release, as she perhaps thought of a lost loved one, as LLB played their classic hit, “Heaven.”

The Garza brothers were surprised later that evening by a once-in-a-life-time guest performance with Robert Plant formerly of the classic rock band, Led Zeppelin. Backstage, after playing drums for Los Lobos throughout their set, Garza brother Ringo rejoiced, jovially jumping, his long hair bouncing with him. “I just played with Robert Plant, man. I can’t believe it,” Ringo exclaimed. The energy among the fan was, yet heartfelt. These brothers from San Angelo, TX were as earnest and eager to share the music they love today as when they started jamming out as kids, playing music for the first time with their father.

The audience, a sea of smiling faces, arms stretched out with their lighters almost lit for the stellar performance. The faces ranged from old to young, black, white, brown you name it, everyone unified in their love and admiration of the stellar line-up of performers. Taste of Chicago security, staff, vendors, police officers and fire fighters all lined the backstage area for a chance to catch a glimpse of this historic rock ‘n roll moment.

Henry’s energy and enthusiasm, his endearing voice and absolute sincerity carried from on stage into our interview, proving Los Lonely Boys music just as relevant today as when they first started playing the songs they grew up listening to with their dad. I was moved by Henry’s openness, his warmth and his tenderness in our conversation. I felt like I was really talking to a friend, a sibling or a confidant. Garza opens up our conversation with a heartfelt and inviting, “What’s up, brother? How are you.” And that’s exactly the kind of man Henry Garza is, a brother to all his fans and an enigmatic musician, strong in his belief that music brings people together.

Henry, what’s one of your earliest memories with music?
Man, music starts for us with our dad. Our dad taught us to play. Me personally, I can remember when he gave me my first guitar, playing some boogy woogy at 4 or 5 years old. Our father is a musician and our mother sings. We grew up in a musical house. Our music stems from our roots, conjunto music. That’s what our parents were playing. Our dad was always writing and performing, and our mom was always singing.

What did you grow up listening to?
We grew up listening to everything from conjuntos to corridos, the Beatles to Richie Valens. We loved Chuck Barry too, and even some country stuff. Really for us, our dad was the one who wrote all those songs. We would hear him playing a cover of something and didn’t event know it was a cover. When we heard those songs on the radio, we said, hey they’re playing your song, dad. For me it ranges from all different kinds of guitars, Los Lobos, Santana, Jimmy Hendrix.

When did you decide you were going to be a musician?
We’ve been working as a family, as a family of three sons, that was a our means of survival. We’ve been doing that ever since we were little bitty vatos. Ringo must have been 9 or 10 years old. I must have been 13. For us it was never about the money. It was a learning experience, and a blessing to make our music together. Growing up on the road, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. But it taught as molded us into who we are today.

What was it like recording your first album?
We had already written a lot of music, Kevin in Austin, TX. Willie Nelson’s nephew saw us play one time. “He comes up to us and tells us he’s Willie Nelson’s nephew and we were like whatever, yeah right. We did a gig, and sure enough Willie Nelson came in and watched us play. We became real close. When somebody like that takes an eye to you, and takes you under their wing, that’s inspiring. Even if Willie hadn’t stuck with us it, it’s like, ‘hey look Willie Nelson’s check them out. Lets check them out.’ We started recording in the study soon after that. If Willie woulda showed up and didn’t like us it wouldn’t have mattered to us. You gotta keep at it because people are always looking.

What were some of the challenges, or issues you faced entering the music scene?
We went through a lot of things, from racism to simpler stuff like the way we were living. I think like any family, we had family problems, issues. Losing a son, when I was 18 years old. That’s where the music comes from, deep inside. What God has entrusted us with is to make the music. My brothers remember lots of stuff too. It’s trying out there. I was blessed with more kids after the death of my son. I’m blessed with a real family, real music. Trying to provide for your family is hard. We’re living proof that you can make dreams happen. What ever you do, if you do it from the heart and with a lot of hard work.

You mentioned racism? What was going on?
We were 3 Mexican dudes with our dad. There were some places, I remember, where we walked in and they’d shout, “get those Mexicans off the stage.” We were young kids, man. Then we’d start playing, “Your cheating heart,” and we saw their faces change. Being young, I don’t know if you have any nieces, or nephews, but children are fearless. We were young when that was going on. And even today, it’s still happening. It’s everywhere and not just with us. We just experienced it through the industry and the business. We not with our skin color, but with our music.
Our skin color speaks for itself.

We believe in the music spirit. Music knows no color. Let the music speak through the human spirit. Just as a human being, not as a Mexican American. Where’s the heart? Where’s the love? This land is your land. This land is my land. This land was made from you and me. Who says a piece of paper owns anything. We have to take care of ourselves. I’m in Chicago, looking at different colored people walking around, because where they are right now is getting away from TV. That’s what’s beautiful about the music. You can get away for 2 hours. You can go vent.

That’s what’s hard about being Latino. We didn’t have anybody standing up for our rights yet.

What does it feel like when you’re on stage? Does it still feel the same way it did when you first started making music?
When I was growing up on the road we didn’t ever go to concerts. We see those faces smiling, now. It still feels magical. Like you really don’t know where it comes from. It’s still that natural. It still feels pure. We love playing and making music. Putting a smile on someone’s face, a tap to your feet, a tear in your eye. I believe music is for the soul. It’s always been like that for me. I thank our dad for that.

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