LOS LOBOS IN CONCERT

AT THE ROSE CANYON CLUB IN PASADENA - SUNDAY, DECEMBER 29, 9:00 PM

It Ain’t Over Till the Fat Man Sings

By Ross Altman, PhD

Los Lobos—the Wolves—are anything but “Just Another Band From East LA,” (the title of their first album—that was sixteen albums ago). Their most recent was 2019’s Llego Navidad—their first Christmas album—which they are out promoting between Christmas and New Year’s with four shows at the Canyon venues— (“Where Music Meets the Soul”). That’s what brings me to The Rose in Pasadena tonight. I wanted to celebrate Christmas too, and what better way than to get in the Holiday Spirit with a Chicano Rock band that’s 41 years old and been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

“Donde Esta Santa Claus?” asks one of these songs—“Where Is Santa Claus?” which lets you know right off the bat that they celebrate the Mexican-American heritage and immigrant experience—at a time when immigrants are anything but celebrated—the songs they have chosen from Central America and South America give the lie to the current administration’s condemnation of all things south of the border. But Santa Claus is international—(“in spite of hysteria—he flourishes in Utah as well as Siberia” like “Old Man Atom”) and cross-cultural, and represents the Bridge Over Troubled Water in defiance of the xenophobia running rampant in Washington, DC. That’s why I’m here—to see “The Wolves,” Los Lobos.

They had me at Guantanamera—the Cuban song by their national poet Jose Marti with music by Pete Seeger and Hector Aguillerra. FolkWorks has my column about the history of the song --which was on Los Lobos’ first album. But it had some verses that Pete left out—there were hundreds to choose from in Marti’s original long poem. The most important one was there, however:

Con los pobres de la tierra

Quiero yo mi suerto echar

Con los pobros de la tierra

Quiero yo mi suerto echar

El arroyo de la sierra

Me complace mas quell mar.

(“With the poor people of this earth I share my fate

The small streams and rivers please me more than the wide ocean.”)

This shows you that it was already well known when Los Lobos was making their first album in 1978. Pete had done a good job of getting the song out there—even to East LA.

Then they played one of their own hits, a song I have heard many times on KPFK, but never knew who wrote it until tonight—One Time, One Night (in America). It’s a great song, memorable for many reasons—a beleaguered lament for a country that’s gone, with small specific examples that tell a larger story:

One Time, One Night

A wise man was telling stories to me

About the places he had been to

And the things that he had seen

A quiet voice is singing something to me

An age old song about the home of the brave

In this land here of the free

One time one night in America


A lady dressed in white with the man she loved

Standing along the side of their pickup truck

A shot rang out in the night

Just when everything seemed right

Another headline written down in America


The guy that lived next door in #305

Took the kids to the park and disappeared

About half past nine

Who will ever know

How much she loved them so

That dark night alone in America


A quiet voice is singing something to me

An age old song about the home of the brave

In this land here of the free

One time one night in America

Four small boys playing ball in a parking lot

A preacher, a teacher, and the other became a cop

A car skidded into the rain

Making the last little one a saint

One more light goes out in America

A young girl tosses a coin in the wishing well

She hopes for a heaven while for her

There's just this hell

She gave away her life

To become somebody's wife

Another wish unanswered in America

People having so much faith

Die too soon while all the rest come late

We write a song that no one sings

On a cold black stone

Where a lasting peace will finally bring

The sunlight plays upon my windowpane

I wake up to a world that's still the same

My father said to be strong

And that a good man could never do wrong

In a dream I had last night in America

A wise man was telling storie to me

About the places he had been to

And the things that he had seen

A quiet voice is singing something to me

An age old song about the home of the brave

In this land here of the free

One time one night in America

Writer(s): David Hidalgo, Louis Perez

Note the writers’ names; you would not be amiss in thinking “Lennon and McCartney,” or “Rogers and Hammerstein,” for “Hidalgo and Perez.” And then ask yourself why they aren’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, though first nominated in 2015. The Los Angeles Times has an article called “25 Reasons Los Lobos Belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.” I just gave you one more, and here’s another: I heard a great concert last night—pure magic—from beginning to the unforgettable end. And the whole time I was thinking—and they’re not in the R&R Hall? Why the hell not? Isn’t three Grammy’s enough?

Well, you can be sure that one day they will be—so now is the time to see them—make your vote count. For every one of those lost souls gunned down by gun violence and the NRA, make your vote count, or on the Wall for the 58,318 in Vietnam, (the “cold black stone where a lasting peace will finally bring”) not to mention the millions of Vietnamese—“One Time, One Night in America.” Los Lobos speaks for all of us—“The Wolf Will Survive.”

And then they played the song I was hoping to hear: Donde Esta Santa Claus, Where Is Santa Clause?

"¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?"

Mamacita, donde esta Santa Claus?

Donde esta Santa Claus?

And the toys that he will leave.

Mamacita, oh, where is Santa Claus?

I look for him because

It's Christmas Eve.

I know that I should be sleeping,

But maybe he's not far away,

So out of the window I'm peeping,

Hoping to see him in his sleigh.

I hope he won't forget to clack his castinet,

And to his reindeer, say,

Oh Pancho, Oh Vixen, Oh Pedro, Oh Blitzen,

Ole! Ole! Ole!

Mamacita, donde esta Santa Claus?

Oh! Where is Santa Claus?

It's Christmas Eve.

I know that I should be sleeping,

But maybe he's not so far away,

So out of the window I'm peeping,

I hope he won't forget to clack his castinet,

And to his reindeer, say,

Oh Pancho, Oh Vixen, Oh Pedro, Oh Blitzen,

Ole! Ole! Ole!

Mamacita, donde esta Santa Claus?

Oh! Where is Santa Claus?

It's Christmas Eve.

Donde esta Santa Claus?

Oh! Where is Santa Claus?

It's Christmas Eve.

It's Christmas Eve.

It's Christmas Eve.

Where else can you hear “Vixen” and “Blitzen” coupled with Pedro and Pancho?

They followed that with an old Mexican folk song, Volver, Volver, (Return to Me) which prompted one couple to get up and dance at their table, singing along with the band: Los Lobos features David Hidalgo, Louie Perez, Cesar Rosas, Conrad Lozano, Steve Berlin, and Cougar Estrada. They showed me what real harmony is —and contagious enthusiasm. They knew every word in Spanish, and they were just as American as I was. “Spanish Is the Loving Tongue,” wrote poet Charles Badger Clark, and Los Lobos proved it last night. But the question of the evening remained:

Will The Wolf Survive?

Through the chill of winter

Running across the frozen lake

Hunters are out on his trail

All odds are against him

With a family to provide for

The one thing he must keep alive

Will the wolf survive?

Drifting by the roadside

Climbs each storm and aging face

Wants to make some morning's fate

Losing to the range war

He's got two strong legs to guide him

Two strong arms keep him alive

Will the wolf survive?

Standing in the pouring rain

All alone in a world that's changed

Running scared, now forced to hide

In a land where he once stood with pride

But he'll find his way by the morning light

Sounds across the nation

Coming from your hearts and minds

Battered drums and old guitars

Singing songs of passion

It's the truth that they all look for

The one thing they must keep alive

Will the wolf survive?

Will the wolf survive?

This closing song was the title of their second major label album from 1984. In today’s world we can’t help but think of wolves in terms of their own extinction as well as the effects of climate change—and one last reason to hope for a change in administration to combat it.

The audience kept on applauding, and cheering, and that’s when I found out that it ain’t over till the fat man sings—and that would be David Hidalgo leading their roof-raising encore: Ritchie Valens’ monster hit, La Bamba. For it was Los Lobos’ monster hit as well, which Los Lobos recorded in 1987 and topped the charts like Ritchie Valens did before his fatal plane crash (at only 17) that also took the lives of Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. For more information see my first column of 2019, for the sixtieth anniversary of “The Day the Music Died”: Feliz Navidad! “Buenos noches!” called out David Hidalgo. And Louie Perez wished us all, “Peace, love and happiness!” Si! Si! Puede!

With special thanks to Luanne Nast of the Canyon Clubs for the generous press passes; Los Lobos will be playing New Year’s Eve at the Canyon Club in Montclair.

Ross Altman has a PhD in Modern Literature from SUNY-Binghamton (1973); he belongs to Local 47 (AFM) heads the Santa Monica Traditional Folk Music Club; writes for FolkWorks. Ross may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.