Francisco González, founding member of Los Lobos and guitar string pioneer, dead at 68 | national news

In 1975, KCET broadcast a half-hour concert with a hot new local band. As an opening shot of the downtown skyline turned into a slice-of-life montage of East Los Angeles, a shimmering harp played over a singing voice as the band performed a song in the son jarocho tradition of the Mexican state of Veracruz.

“We believe it is our duty to spread our culture to others who do not know it,” said the musician, Francisco González, 22, in voiceover. The camera stopped on him and his buddies scrambling on a hill overlooking the Eastside. “We want to make real Chicano music that’s inspired by our past, that’s in line with the past, the present, and hopefully the future.”

This group was Los Lobos.

The concert, filmed at East Los Angeles College, is available in its entirety on YouTube and remains a joyous tour de force. The hulking, long-haired González is the band’s lead singer, emcee, and prankster. He alternates between harp and mandolin, and ends the show with a quip that has become the Los Lobos slogan: “Just another band from East LA Rifa, total.”

González would leave the band within a year, just short of becoming the most famous Chicano rock band of them all. But the East LA native has nonetheless become a musical icon in his own right. He became the apostle of the son jarocho, fostering relations between the jaraneros in the United States and Mexico. He has released solo albums and performed in venues as varied as colleges and prisons. His handmade strings for the Mexican guitar family – the sonorous sharkto, the high-toned jarana, the deep-bottomed guitarrón, the warm bajo sexto and others – were lifesavers for musicians who had no no other options in the United States for their instruments.

In Mexico, elders said that González’s handiwork made instruments resonate with a sound they hadn’t heard in decades.

“He always said, ‘We are the gardeners of the seeds of our culture. We patiently plant our seeds and grow the plants of our culture,” said Yolanda Broyles-González, his wife of 38 years and chair of the Department of Social Transformation Studies at Kansas State University. The two met after González performed in Stuttgart, Germany in 1980 when he was music director of Teatro Campesino and she was in the audience. “For him, the culture of the people should flow freely and not with dollar signs attached.”

“He was our own Chicano conservatory,” said his son, also named Francisco. “He gave us tools to resist discrimination and injustice and to defend and fight, but also to love.”

Suffering from cancer, González died on March 30. He was 68 years old.

The youngest of seven children born to Mexican immigrants, González grew up in a musically inclined family where everyone played an instrument and his father was a trained singer. Known as a child as Frank, he met future Lobos members Conrad Lozano and David Hidalgo through the rock band circuit that revolved around their alma mater, Garfield High.

But when González started playing his jarocho, which he discovered while listening to his sister’s records, “it was like ‘The Wizard of Oz’ when it goes from black and white to color. I was no longer in Kansas,” he told the Los Lobos biographer in 2015.

González quickly bonded with neighbor Cesar Rosas, and the two co-founded Los Lobos in 1973, bringing in Lozano, Hidalgo and Louie Perez. “We came together to learn songs to play for our mothers, to show them that we appreciate the music of our culture,” González said in his opening monologue for the 1975 KCET special.

The performance concluded with a version of the song that would become a smash hit for the band over a decade later: the standard jarocho sound “La Bamba”.

By then, González had long since left the band, more interested in regional Mexican music than in the fusion between those genres and the American sounds that his former bandmates wanted to explore.

“We loved it, man,” Rosas said. “We were blessed to have it when we did.”

After his stint at Teatro Campesino, which lasted from 1980 to 1984, González moved to Santa Barbara, where Yolanda was a teacher.

“He was the most wonderful father on earth and the dearest husband imaginable,” said Broyles-González, author of a remarkable biography of Tejano music legend Lydia Mendoza. “He was always there for us. He never broke our hearts. He was as strong as Gibraltar.

González taught Chicano theater at Santa Barbara College and used that position to stage plays in the city’s historic presidio centered on the Virgin of Guadalupe and the pastorelas, the Nativity pantomimes staged in Mexico and around the world. the American Southwest for centuries. “Our other Christmas traditions are not local,” he told The Times in 1989, when he was leading a pastorela at Mission San Fernando. “’Nutcracker’ is Russian. Christmas carols come from Europe. We tend to be colonized to this day.

Soon after, González—frustrated at not finding strings good enough for his Mexican instruments—opened Guadalupe Custom Strings in Goleta in 1990, which continues to operate under various owners in East Los Angeles.

“It was the first time that someone in this country set out to create high-quality strings based on an intimate knowledge of Mexican music,” said Gabriel Tenorio, a guitarist who became a partner in Guadalupe Strings Company and now operates his own. workshop. “It wasn’t an Italian company doing it in the world they knew. He was doing it in our world.

He and other Chicano musicians from all over the Southwest who performed his jarocho and mariachi would make pilgrimages to González in the 1990s. Tenorio recalls being amazed at how González’s strings would last for an entire tour, by opposition to a single night like its competitors.

“He was asking us to play, and watching your fingers and listening,” Tenorio said. “Then he would ask us, ‘What are you looking for? What do you want? What do you feel?’ and start making ropes in front of us. He educated me without criticizing me. He taught us all that this music is not a museum piece.

In addition to his wife and son, who is a writer based in Menlo Park, González is also survived by a daughter, Esmeralda Broyles-González, a civil engineer in Phoenix. His latest project, a book about the story of his jarocho co-written with his wife and another teacher, will be published in June.

“The heart of the book, Francisco worked on it for 10 years,” Yolanda said. “And yet he said, ‘I’m going to put my name last on the cover.’ It was never about him.

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