In the three years since Or Music introduced Los Lonely Boys to fans around the world, everything has changed for the unique and gutsy musical hermanos from West Texas. And yet, nothing has. Sacred, Los Lonely Boys' eagerly awaited second album, both continues and expands upon the trio's self-titled debut, with its deeply personal and stunning fusion of electric blues and Texas roots, of soulful grooves and good old-fashioned rock'n'roll, of searing six-string licks and Latin beats. "New times, new songs, new rhythms," says frontman Henry Garza. "But it's still basically, Los Lonely Boys."
Working once again with producer John Porter (Keb' Mo, Ryan Adams, B.B. King) at good friend Willie Nelson's Pedernales Studios, the band recorded Sacred with the euphoria of their debut's success—over two million copies sold, a Grammy for the monster single "Heaven—still fresh. But if the brothers' heads were sometimes spinning, their feet stayed on the ground. From the plainspoken humility and achey-sweet guitar of album-opener "Diamonds" to the funky, chunky "Oye Mamacita" to the cinematic credo "Outlaws," Los Lonely Boys have delivered not just 13 extraordinary songs, but 13 affirmations of what they feel is truly Sacred: being yourself, being true to God and family, and being true to music… "Texican Style."
"Texican rock'n'roll man, that's just three brothers making up a name," Henry says. At 28, the singer and guitarist is the oldest Lonely Boy; middle child Jo Jo, 26, plays bass, while 24 year-old Ringo is the man behind the drums. "It's just a mixture of everything we've learned: conjunto music from our father, Richie Valens, Stevie Ray, Willie. All the music that we've gathered… Fats Domino, Santana, Skynyrd." This is a variation on what Henry likes to call "the musical burrito theory," and while his brothers wish he would retire the analogy because of overuse, it's a metaphor with broad descriptive power. The U.S. in 2006 is more of a stuffed-together and deliciously diverse burrito than an assimilated melting pot or well-ordered gorgeous mosaic, and Los Lonely Boys are not just a Texican rock'n'roll band, but a great American rock'n'roll band.
Of course, the reason that Los Lonely Boys sound like a band that's been together all their lives is because they have. Growing up in San Angelo, a Texas town of cowpokes, cotton and an Air Force base, Henry wrote his first song at the age of four, and all three brothers learned their chops from father Enrique, a longtime conjunto and country musician who played with his own brothers – all seven of them -- back in the day. Henry, Jo Jo and Ringo began backing their Dad officially in 1991, touring all over the roadhouses and cantinas of the Lone Star State; they also spent time with their father out in Nashville, where Enrique hoped to catch that one big break.
But as all children inevitably do, the boys came into their own, both as songwriters and with their own musical style. It was not an easy thing back then, but naturally Enrique's pride at what his children have been able to accomplish outweighs the loss of his old backing band. " It's a blessing that we've been given, making music to make a living," Henry says. "For generations music has been something that our family's been doing, and every generation it seems like we progress a little more. Daddy taught his sons, and now the sky's the limit!"
Los Lonely Boys' beginnings, from an early gig at Austin's Saxon Pub to the first time they heard themselves on the car radio, can now be seen firsthand in Cottonfields and Crossroads, veteran PBS filmmaker Hector Galan's intimate documentary about the band, which premiered at the 2006 SXSW Film Festival and is now playing around Texas. The movie, which culminates with all the band's post-"Heaven" success, is just one of a zillion things Los Lonely Boys have added to the resume the past few years. They won five Austin Music Awards in 2004, and followed that with a prime slot at the Austin City Limits festival. They released a live CD (Live at the Fillmore) and DVD (Texican Style: Live in Austin ). Henry cemented his reputation as the latest greatest Texas blues guitarist when Guitar World named him 2005's Breakthrough Artist. They've shared a stage with Tim McGraw, the Rolling Stones and Dylan; at one of Neil Young's Bridge School benefits Henry even got to strum the Beatles-inspired "My Loneliness" to Paul McCartney himself. They also opened for Carlos Santana and cut their song "I Don't Wanna Lose Your Love" for his album All That I Am. And as headliners themselves they took out kindred spirit like Los Amigos Invisible and deSol.
Then of course, there were the 2005 Grammys, where the band opened the show, won for best Pop Vocal Duo/Group and were also nominated for Best New Artist, Record of the Year and Best Rock Instrumental. Henry says they actually felt a little out of place amidst the hipsters and American Idol types, "but we loved that we were acknowledged.
There are a lot of people that don't really get chances in this world. We really felt that all of them won that Grammy. To see brothers like us, from where we come from, and even our race, do what we do and cross boundaries like we did… I think it's really cool for people see to see a Mexican-American… an American dream come true. Anybody that knows us knows how hard we worked to get where we are today. You don't get success or get good at something without trying your best and giving it all you've got and believing in yourself."
Los Lonely Boys faced all the usual challenges a second record can present, especially since they still can't help but feeling they're a live band first. "I don't like to chisel too hard on lady music, you know what I mean?," Henry says. "I like for her to sing free, live free, do what she feels. In a studio you're trying to capture a moment in time—it's pretty rare that you can get the feeling that happens 'one night at the Fillmore.'" They also had to re-arrange songs, "My Loneliness" among them, that they'd written at home on piano for their usual guitar/bass/drums alignment, though as with the first record keyboard/organ ace Reese Wynans (Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, several hundred other country, blues and roots-rock credits) was also on board. Sacred also features a horn section on TK tracks, while "Texican Style" showcases accordionist TK, a member of from their Uncle TK's band, Los Tex Maniacs.
They also did a lot of writing in the studio—in two cases, with co-writers. Pat Simmons from the Doobie Brothers helped out on the hooky, bound-to-be-a-single "Roses," while Nashville veteran Gary Nicholson co-wrote "Outlaws." "They're just cool cats," Henry says. "They wrote a bunch of songs that we're very familiar with, and influenced us growing up." "Outlaws" is also a star-studded affair, with guest vocals from Willie Nelson, most appropriately, Enrique Garza; it's a loose and loving tribute to the musical spirit that first inspired Enrique and was passed down to the sons. Both it and "My Way" are philosophical statements from a band that eschews the insincere and stays true to themselves.
The same goes for "Home," which is not just Henry's opportunity to let loose with a big guitar solo and some of that "Stevie Wonder pitch-bender harmonica," but also his personal reminder of what matters most—especially when your music takes on the road 200 days a year. "If home is where your heart is," he sings, "then I never want to leave."
For at the end of the day Los Lonely Boys will always be about their family – not just one they came from and the brothers that they are, but the families they've formed. Henry has three sons ("my own Lonely Boys") and a daughter, Jo Jo has two daughters and a son and Ringo has two kids. And family extends to friends as well—Los Lonely Boys now own a rebuilt/custom car business in San Angelo called the Texican Chop Shop with a childhood buddy, and it's not hard to imagine them hanging out there in the garage someday playing their guitars surrounded by grandkids. "Family and music is our life, a way of life, and that's very sacred to us," Henry says. "You come into this world singing a song and you leave it singing a song. Music is that serious man."