Like Father Like Sons
By Tamara Vallejos
In 2004, armed with the catchy lead single “Heaven,” the Texan trio of brothers known as Los Lonely Boys faced a whirlwind of glory with their self-titled debut album, ultimately earning them two Grammy nods and one win the following year.
But according to middle brother and bassist JoJo Garza, that multi-platinum success nearly didn’t happen. “Heaven” may have been a blessing for the group, but when he and his brothers Henry and Ringo shopped around their vision to record labels, it was initially a curse.
“Everyone was turning away from us because they were like, ‘What’s with this heaven stuff? You guys are a Christian band?’” says Garza. “We were like, ‘Um, no, we’re not a Christian band—but we are believers in Jesus Christ and God and this song reflects our beliefs.’ But it turned everybody away, and I’m talking about every major label you could mention.”
That included Sony’s Epic label, he says, which eventually had a change of heart and signed Los Lonely Boys.
It was a lucky break for the siblings, who may have been new to a major label roster but were hardly beginners in the world of music. Inspired and motivated by their father, a musician who had once rocked his own band, the Garza boys each picked up instruments at only a few years old, eventually playing gigs with their father, a member of Los Lonely Boys back in the early days of the ’90s.
“We learned a lot of things being in a band with our dad,” says JoJo. “He opened our ears to a lot of really great music out there, but he also introduced us to the real world. There’s so much reality out there that parents hide from their children, but he never held a blanket over our eyes.”
And, of course, it was their dad that brought home the various instruments the boys would learn to play, including a drum set that JoJo learned on, making him the drummer in the family’s jam sessions. That all changed when JoJo, whose parents are divorced, went to visit his mother for a summer.
“Little did I know that Henry was going to teach Ringo the drums. So when I came back, they were like, ‘Oh yeah, check him out. By the way, we need a bass player now.’ I didn’t even have a choice; we took my guitar and put only four strings on it and tuned it an octave lower, and then we used a guitar amp but turned all the high ends down. So I became the guitar-bass player!” he says, laughing.
JoJo was about 10 years old at the time, recalling it was the start of the 1990s. As the brothers began getting more serious with their music, their father told them every band needs a name—and Los Lonely Boys was officially born. A few years later, their dad stepped down from the group, after helping his sons form the basis of what they call their “Texican” sound, a mix of good ol‘ fashioned rock ’n‘ roll, blues, country and Tejano and Mexican influences.
The brothers bring that mix to Riverside on the 23rd, after recently returning from dates in Tokyo. But amidst all that international attention, JoJo says they’re still just a few humble boys from Texas.
“We grew up in a small town, just happy to wake up every day,” he says. “We’re just normal people.”
Los Lonely Boys at UC Riverside’s University Theatre, 900 University Ave., Riverside, (951) 827-4629; www.culturalevents.ucr.edu. Thurs, Feb. 23. 8PM. $20-$30.