Rock trio Los Lonely Boys were a strange fit for the Billboard charts in 2004, a year dominated by hip-hop experimentalists Outkast, R&B heartthrob Usher, ardent piano diva Alicia Keys, introverted piano diva Norah Jones and Josh Groban, whom one could only describe as a tenor Celine Dion.
Yet there were the Garza brothers—Henry (guitar), Jojo (bass), and Ringo (drums)—with their long hair, their San Angelo pedigree, their slick “Texican” riffs and their ubiquitous hit single “Heaven—” soulful enough to attract the attention of Willie Nelson and Carlos Santana but innocuous enough to rise to the top of the Adult Contemporary charts. What the brothers lacked in originality, they made up for by cleverly mining the innovations of the past, from the sweet balladry of Ritchie Valens and the blues-rock of Stevie Ray Vaughan to Santana’s Latin-hippie meanderings and the conjunto of their father and mentor, Enrique Garza. They created a blend that was perfect for safety-first 21st-century radio. Which is to say, Los Lonely Boys broke into the top 40 by carrying on one of Texas’ most enduring musical customs: putting ingenuity aside in the name of sanitizing the past.
On almost any night of the week, you can drive into any town in Texas and find at least one honky-tonk or dive bar where bands play old-time country, blues or roots rock, with the occasional cover of some local legend to remind listeners where they are. That’s because in Texas, the past is always present and no shame is attached to making sure those and other creaky genres don’t vanish from the Earth. So it’s no wonder that Los Lonely Boys, with their pleasant homogenizing of once-rebellious regional sounds, have become Texas music heroes.
Next week, the band will release its fourth studio album, 1969, a collection of cover songs from what they call “one of America’s most musically-hailed years.” It’ll include Santana’s “Evil Ways,” the Beatles’ “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window,” Tony Joe White’s “Polk Salad Annie,” Blind Faith’s “Well All Right,” and the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues.” According to their Web site, it’s a chance for the band to “lend praise to songs that provided a soundtrack for so many and inspired their own multi-platinum success.” But really it’s their chance to continue indulging in that greatest and safest of all Texas traditions: getting ahead today by keeping one eye, and one ear, focused on yesterday.