Ride this tornado

Before writing this piece, when the words “Los Lonely Boys” came up, I thought only of a bluesy pop trio of Richie Valenses doing Stevie Ray Vaughan impressions in music videos that look like they were shot in the ’90s. The Mexican-American trio’s songs are comprised of melody sugar and harmony codeine. Their playing is skillful, but always puts likeability ahead of daring or discomfort. I was more than disappointed to find that searching the band on stuffwhitepeoplelike.com yielded the result “Sorry, but you are looking for something that isn’t here.” Somebody get on that, I thought.

But then I watched guitarist Henry Garza’s face-melting performance of “Onda” at the 2007 Rochester International Jazz Festival.

“I’ve never heard another band that plays so much based on feel,” local singer-songwriter Lynette Brehm recently told me in the band’s defense.

She’s dead on. Watching Henry play solo electric is like watching Picasso doodle. The work may not become the artist’s legacy, but, goddamn, if it isn’t an icon just casually kicking ass. Not to be outdone, his brothers Jojo (bass) and Ringo (on drums, of course) are capable of weaving in, around, and over Henry with the flowing tenacity of jets in a dogfight. This is not a trio of harmless San Angelo boys playing white blues. These guys clearly slaved at the pulpit of Carlos Santana, Stevie Wonder, and, yes, the guy who introduced white America to “La Bamba.”

In a phone interview, drummer Ringo said the band’s playing style is purely “in the moment.”

“`We’re` trying to ride this tornado,” Ringo said. “We’re trying to be shapeless and formless. None of us can read notes. The only teaching we’ve ever had is with each other.”

It’s this familial playing style that sets crowds aflame and even some of the performers the band has met. While playing for troops in Kuwait and Iraq last year, the performance of a guest harpist/serviceman led to bloodshed. “We were jamming,” Ringo said “and, I guess he busted his lip with his harmonica and still kept playing with blood on his harmonica, bro!”

Los Lonely Boys’ passionate playing goes back to the late ’80s when the band still had single-digit ages, gigging at restaurants and clubs as a backing band for their father, Ringo Garza Sr., formerly of the conjunto brother-band The Falcones.

“It was before I started playing the drums, I was probably five years old,” Ringo said. “My father turned to me and my brothers and said, ‘Mi hijos, if we’re gonna do this, we gotta have a name.” Ringo thought of a song of his father’s with the lyrics “I’m just a lonely boy/I ran away from home/so I could be on my own.” Inspired, Ringo blurted the subject of the song, but with a plural Tex-Mex spin: Los Lonely Boys. His brothers hated it. His dad loved it. It stuck.

Twenty-plus years, three albums, one Grammy, and a Denny’s-sponsored burger later, Los Lonely Boys have staked their claim over what they call “Texican Rock ‘n’ Roll,” a premium blend of blues, soul, and country strained through a pop colander. The bond of brotherhood permeates their lives. They tour together. They write together. They fish, play Xbox, and break into spontaneous Stone Cold Steve Austin impressions together.

They also all understand that there are listeners out there who don’t expect their fierce live show (cough, Coronado, cough).

“There’s a lot of fans that just go based on our albums,” Ringo said. “Then they come and see a show and I don’t mean to toot our own horns…” •

Los Lonely Boys
8 pm Fri, Dec 3
The White Rabbit
2410 N St Mary’s

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