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February 14, 2014IM -
Los Lonely Boys, members of Local 433 (Austin, TX), are a first-degree Texas success story that began before the musicians were born. Their father, Enrique Garza, played music with his brothers growing up. And Henry, JoJo, and Ringo, the brothers who make up Los Lonely Boys, have been playing music together since childhood, when they followed their dad, performing at cantinas and honkytonks.
“It was the greatest experience of our lives,” says JoJo Garza, 32, the bassist and middle brother, recalling those days. “I was probably five or six years old when I started playing and singing a little bit.”
His older brother, Henry, is lead guitar and little brother, Ringo, is the drummer. They hail from the tiny West Texas town of San Angelo. By age 10, JoJo knew music was the career path he wanted to follow. “We were just the kind of kids that wanted to do it,” he recalls. “It wasn’t like we had to be forced to practice.” But in those early days, their dad managed everything and the brothers had no idea what it really meant to launch a career in music.
At some point, the Boys decided it was time to go out on their own, adopting their band’s name from the title of one of their father’s songs, “I’m Just a Lonely Boy.” JoJo recalls that first Los Lonely Boys performance. “I was about 16, and we started to go on our own way,” he says. “We really didn’t know what to say or do. Being on stage was a scary thing.”
It wasn’t like these concerts today where everybody is watching Los Lonely Boys play their shows,” he says, talking about the struggle to build a name for themselves, or even to be noticed on stage. It wasn’t a smooth transition either. “People were doing their own thing and you had to get their attention, so to speak.”
“So after the show, we all three got together and we shed a few tears,” recalls JoJo, as the three realized how little they really knew about the music business. “It was like, man, we sure didn’t know what daddy was doing there; but as far as the general experience, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
The learning curve was steep, especially on the business side. The brothers’ career took off when they were in their early 20s, and one of their early moves was joining the AFM. “When we got on our own we really learned that it’s not always a straight business,” he cautions. “So we learned in a blink of an eye because it all happened so quickly with ‘Heaven.’”
The gold record was from the group’s multi-platinum self-titled album released in 2004. It led to two Grammy nominations and one win for Los Lonely Boys.
Part of the magic that has allowed the Boys to reach the level of success they have is the chemistry the brothers display on stage as they answer each other’s riffs, communicating wordlessly. It’s those strong ties that keep them level-headed, and able to travel together as persistently as nine or 10 months out of the year. This summer they will travel to Europe, Japan, and all across the US.
“I hear it all the time,” says Jojo. “People say, ‘I couldn’t do that with my brothers and sisters. We all would kill each other,’ but to the Lonely Boys that is a really sad thing to hear. It’s all about family and we like to promote that and kind of live that way.”
“Nobody’s perfect,” he continues, explaining their special relationship. “There are hills and obstacles, even when it comes to brothers, but the best part about it is that, over the years, we’ve been able to come up with ways to deal with everything, and when it comes to the business of music, we are pretty much on the same track.”
JoJo credits his father with introducing them to a wide range of music. “It’s a big variety of music we were raised on,” he says. “There was the traditional Mexican music of our father. Then, country was really big—Ronnie Milsap, Hank Williams Jr., Hank Williams Sr., Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings; and then there was a lot of oldies rock—Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly; as we got older we learned about Stevie Ray Vaughan, Santana, and Jimmy Hendrix. That opened up a lot of old doors.”
It’s this wide range of music that helped to shape the group’s unique sound. “As far as influences go, we are really talking about our dad first and foremost,” he explains, and the rest of the artists influence them in a variety of very specific ways. “I want to kind of shine like Ronnie Milsap, or certain tracks call for certain vibes of what these people inspire through music.”
“We didn’t create music, we’re just part of the big band that’s here on earth,” he says. “The bottom line is that there are only so many chords. It’s all about melody; it’s all about heart; it’s all about experience; and sometimes it’s all about just being quiet and listening.”
Though the music industry may try to fit Los Lonely Boys into a neat little genre category, the group’s broad mix of music resists categorization and appeals to people of all ages and backgrounds. “When we describe it, we call it Texican rock and roll, but we’re not believers in separating music by genres,” he explains. “When you separate music by genre, it separates people. To me it’s just music. But, if we have to put a label on it, we are going to label ourselves.”
“We play pop, we play rock, we play country, we play around with hip-hop, we do Mexican, we can do a cappella, we can beat box with our voices, and we make music from everyday items—from trash can lids to sticks, to cans—music is everywhere,” he adds.
Writing music for the group is a collaborative process, and just as varied as their music, explains JoJo. “We all write songs, and sometimes we write songs with our dad, and every once in a while, we’ll co-write with other people.” It’s a constant process where the seed for the next song may even be planted from a sudden inspiration on stage during a concert, he says.
The group’s most recent album, Rockpango (March 2011), was the first released under their own label, Playing in Traffic. Jojo explains that it’s a mix of many styles of music. “Rockpango is a word that we kind of made up,” he says. “It means rock party. It’s like if you are going to a party where you want to rock and to have a good time. You’re not listening to any one style of music, or you’re not just listening to one band. Everyone is enjoying different styles of music and genres, and that’s what we kind of did with it.”
He emphasizes that the move to create the label really wasn’t about creative freedom, more just a business decision.
“We always had creative freedom,” he insists. “When you’ve got three brothers who’ve got each others’ backs, you can’t just walk over them.”
“We enjoyed working with the producers and we enjoyed being with Epic Records, and it was a relationship that ran its course. It was time really,” says JoJo. “We could have looked for another major label contract, or something like that, but now we’ve learned a bit of the business.”
Unsure of when the next album will come to fruition, JoJo explains that writing is a constant process. “We are always working on music,” he says, “and eventually, it comes time to be broken down into an album.
Happy to share his success story with other union musicians, JoJo advises young musicians that the most important thing is to be true to themselves musically. “If you can’t do that, you can’t be true to anyone else,” he says. “There’s not a system for writing songs, and there’s not a set way to look or to sound.”