Interview: Steve Berlin of Los Lobos

A saxophonist, keyboardist, and producer (among other talents), Steve Berlin has been a key member of Los Lobos since 1984, almost from the band’s very beginning. The new Los Lobos album, Native Sons, it’s an all-covers album – but the twist is, it’s all Los Angeles artists, highlighting the group’s regional roots and influences. The track list includes songs by Jackson Browne, Buffalo Springfield, Beach Boys, the Jaguars, and Lalo Guerrero, as well as a band that Berlin was in before joining Los Lobos, the Blasters.

Colorado Sound Program Director Benji McPhail recently sat down for an interview (via Zoom) with Berlin. It’s a wide-ranging interview that touches on the band’s history, the L.A. music scene, punk rock, and Berlin’s ties to Colorado. Below are a few highlights from their conversation:

  • “I was the saxophone guy at this music store in LA, and the phone rang and it was Dave Alvin [of the Blasters]. He asked me if I had a baritone sax, they were cutting the song, ‘I’m Shakin’.’ I went down and took a baritone sax off the rack by the phone, right where I was talking to him, and that started my career.”
  • “I’m proud of the way [the new album Native Sons] came out. We managed to say what we wanted to say, in terms of how these artists influenced us. It’s like a window into how we were formed. The same way that as a kid, I would hear a Cream record or a Robert Johnson song and go, ‘Wait a minute, who’s this Robert Johnson dude?’ I like to think people now will go and check out Thee Midniters and Lalo Guerrero and Willie Bobo, because there’s some unbelievably great records that, unless you’re kind of a deep fan, you might not be aware of them.”
  • Regarding one of his best memories of performing in Colorado: “Wow, that’s a really interesting question. The Telluride Bluegrass Festival is always so unique and special. I was there on my birthday, I think it was like a milestone birthday. I remember I hiked up the hill behind the stage and assessed how grateful I was that my life had taken me to that spot on that day – being a professional musician, playing in a cool place with cool people. I think Emmylou [Harris] was on that show, if I remember right. And she was awesome. We sat around and talked baseball for an hour. Who knew she’s a huge baseball fan.”
  • “A lot of my Colorado memories are tied to the records I’ve produced there, like Greensky Bluegrass and all the Leftover Salmon records. I’m working on one now with an artist named Taylor Scott. I have a huge connection to the musical culture. I’m part Coloradan, I guess I could say at this point.”

Watch the video (above) for the full conversation with Steve Berlin. 

Los Lobos Native Sons album cover lp cd

Los Lobos will appear for three dates in Colorado in March of 2022. Details are listed on our Concert Calendar.  

See more Colorado Sound interviews.