Thursday, October 28, 2021

Rock Hall Snubs: Richard Thompson and Los Lobos

Richard Thompson: The Poor Ditching Boy
Los Lobos
: Will The Wolf Survive?

[purchase Henry The Human Fly]
[purchase How Will The Wolf Survive

When I posted my first piece in this theme, about King Crimson, I posted it in a King Crimson fan group on Facebook, hoping to draw some readers to the blog (and it seemed to work! One point for Facebook, although with the news the last few weeks, I think that its score is below water). I was heartened to receive a number of positive comments and likes, but I was also not surprised to also get a different reaction—essentially that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is rubbish, just a tourist attraction, and really, who cares if Crimson isn’t in? It was a combination of disdain for an organization that while going out of its way to induct lesser known artists, many of color (particularly in the Early Influences and “Sidemen” categories), is also filled with commercially successful shlockmeisters, and a Groucho Marxist feeling of not wanting to be in a club that would admit them as a member. 

I get it. Really—in fact, as an acknowledged Rock Snob, I mentioned in my original piece that I have trouble taking seriously an organization that inducted Bon Jovi, but not King Crimson, as a musical arbiter, and add to that, just as a few more examples, Def Leppard, Journey, and Depeche Mode, none of which would be in my HOF (much less in my collection). On the other hand, a pretty good case can be made for most of the inductees based on a combination of popularity and influence, even if I don’t particularly care for their music. The same way that when looking at the Baseball Hall of Fame, I can appreciate the talent of most of the players, even if some of them were Yankees, or Ty Cobb.

With all that extraneous background, as the theme heads towards its conclusion and we likely turn to something Halloween related, I wanted to briefly recognize two members of the Jordan Becker Rock Hall who have been unjustly snubbed by the bigger, more famous one in Cleveland, Richard Thompson and Los Lobos, a Brit best known for his folk based music, songwriting prowess and incredible guitar playing, and a band whose music has expertly spanned many genres, but is firmly rooted in their Mexican-American heritage. Showing the breadth of the “Americana” genre, both have won Americana Music Association Lifetime Achievement Awards (Thompson for Songwriting and for his entire career; Los Lobos for Performance), and they’ve even done a song together

I’m going to try to keep this short. But you know how hard that is for me to do. 

Thompson, whose first schoolboy band included his friend Hugh Cornwell, later of the Stranglers, first became known as one of the founders of Fairport Convention. He was all of 18, and already his guitar playing was remarkable enough to convince producer Joe Boyd to sign the band. Eventually, Fairport Convention became a major musical force in Britain, first covering mostly American folk artists such as Bob Dylan, but later focusing on originals, many written by Thompson, that had strong British folk music influences (as well as covers of traditional songs). Thompson left Fairport in 1971, and began releasing solo albums and work with his wife Linda Thompson, until their marriage collapsed publicly and spectacularly, but also led to Thompson writing some incredible songs. 

Thompson has continued to release solo albums, participate in the occasional collaboration, including with his extended family, and tour regularly, as a solo artist and with bands of various sizes. He’s even covered 1000 years of popular music, and recorded sea chanteys. Renowned as a guitarist and songwriter (particularly for dark-themed songs), he’s also become a more than capable singer. I’ve seen him a bunch of times, have never been disappointed, and have usually been blown away by his talent, his encyclopedic knowledge of music, and his humor. In addition to his AMA awards, he has won guitar playing awards, and often appears on lists of the greatest guitarists of all time. Considering all of this, and the number of years that he has been performing at an astoundingly high level, RT deserves to be in the R&RHOF. 

Los Lobos grew out of the high school friendship of David Hidalgo and Louie Perez, who bonded over music, including Fairport Convention. They formed a band with some other friends, Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles, releasing their self-titled first album, of mostly traditional Mexican songs, in 1973. Playing numerous live shows, including weddings and dances, they forged a sound that mixed American popular songs with Mexican music, and also began to incorporate influences from punk bands popular in Los Angeles in the late 1970s. 

Throughout the 1980s, they released a string of well-regarded and increasingly commercially successful records that continued to add influences to their sound. Of course, their recording of “La Bamba,” (and other songs) for the soundtrack of the Ritchie Valens biopic, La Bamba, shot them to greater prominence. Rather than follow up a No. 1 single with more of the same, they released an album of Mexican music, for which they won a Grammy, if not more English language airplay. After that, they’ve continued to release excellent albums, including a few that were a little experimental, while touring regularly. 

In addition to writing great songs and being pioneers of Latino rock music, they are one of the best cover bands, participating in various cover projects, including contributing a great version of “Bertha,” to Deadicated, and Disney covers. Not to mention a cover of “Down Where The Drunkards Roll,” on a Richard Thompson tribute album. In fact, their most recent album, created during the pandemic, is a cover album, focusing on California bands (with one original), 

Back in 2014, I wrote about Los Lobos for Cover Me, describing them as having 

demonstrated that not only can they play pretty much any style of music, they can play it very well. They have excelled with albums that have included blues, rock, R&B, experimental sounds, numerous styles of Mexican folk music, American folk music, Americana, and Tex-Mex, all performed and played brilliantly. They play acoustically and electrically. Their songs can be simple rockers, sinuous jams, complex sound collages, or heartbreaking stories of life on the margins. 

I then said that it is “sinful” that they are not in the Rock Hall, and I still believe that (despite the one time I saw them live, and they were having a rare off night). 

OK, not so short, but it’s really a twofer.


Seuras Og said...

Great post, and I love the mutual admiration between them: they covering his stuff, he guesting on theirs. Sinful omissions. (Were/have Richards old band, 1967-71, ever got the HoF nod?)

Richard Radcliffe said...

I agree with your opinion of RT and Los Lobos as being worthy of HoF membership, but it doesn’t keep me awake at night. All I can hope for is that they are able to continue to deliver high quality music, live and in the studio. They have amazing track records of consistent quality, and we’ll always have that.