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Published: 2010/09/14
by Randy Ray

East L.A. Fadeaway with Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin

RR: Two ideas also came from old friends, Robert Hunter and the Grateful Dead. Los Lobos covers “West L.A. Fadeaway,” and Hunter, along with Cesar Rosas, co-wrote “All My Bridges Burning,” which precedes that Dead tune on Tin Can Trust.

SB: The Dead song was one of those that helped break the log jam at the beginning of the record when we were still bereft of really anything resembling songs or ideas, and we were casting about. I think it was Cesar who suggested “why don’t we do that one?” We had fooled around with it a little bit live, and never really learned how to play it. We had really extremely half-assed it a number of times trying to play it live. He was great. He said, “If nothing else, why don’t we learn how to play the song? Learn the actual chords, instead of screwing them up every time we try to play it.” We went after it, and it was the first take, and after we got the chords right, it wasn’t hard at all.

Cesar came up with the chord changes on “All My Bridges Burning.” Louie who collaborates with Cesar, sometimes, had, at that point, had about four or five other songs to write, so there wasn’t any way he was going to have any time to deal with one of Cesar’s songs, as he had these other Dave songs he had to deal with. Cesar and I were talking about it one day, and we said, “Why don’t we give Robert Hunter a try?” We hadn’t really talked with him since the time of The Ride. I think I was in San Francisco at the time, and I put a few feelers out. We still maintain close relations with a lot of the
Dead organizational people, and really within 15, 20 minutes, we found him. Much to my surprise, we sent him the chord changes, and (laughs) it seemed like in another 15, 20 minutes, he had sent something back already. He works fast. It was incredible.

RR: You also had Susan Tedeschi singing backing vocals on “Burn it Down.”

SB: Right. We knew that none of us could actually get to the part that Dave had in mind (laughter) on that one. We just love her; I think she’s great. We toured with her, and played with her a little bit. She was on the Hendrix tour that Dave and Cesar went on, so they were together on the road, but this idea came about rather abruptly, and, unfortunately (it turned out fine, but…), when we thought of the idea of having her sing on it, she was only going to be on that tour for one more day. Dave and Cesar were leaving the tour to start a Lobos tour, and she had extremely little time to do it, and extremely little time off. She had been on that tour, and had no time, and she incredibly graciously agreed to give us a day to do it. It was just a very typically wonderful thing that she did for us. I think it was her only day off for weeks, more or less. But it sounds great, and it’s just a pleasure to hear her voice every time I hear that song.

RR: Rev. Charles Williams appears with Los Lobos again on keyboards on “All My Bridges Burning” and one of two Spanish language tracks, “Yo Canto.”

SB: This also goes back to The Ride. We had met him when he came in with Little Willie G. when he sang on “Is There All There Is.” We’ve used him on a few things over the years. He’s just a classic B-3 guy that I know in L.A. If you want to get a classic B-3 guy, call the Reverend. That was done in Cesar’s house at his new studio. I actually wasn’t there when he did it, but boy he’s good.

RR: In the end, what’s fascinating to me is that thematically—both musically and lyrically— Tin Can Trust has a consistent tone—it’s a formidable signpost of where America and, indeed, where the world stands at this point.

SB: Well, we are citizens of both of those, so it is kind of hard to ignore it. Needless to say, it’s a rather ripe opportunity for songwriting because there’s lots of stuff in there that you could talk about. I think just going back to the neighborhood and seeing what was going on was pretty informative. I won’t say it was specific to everything—it’s not a concept record in any sense—but as the songs were coming together, they all sort of seemed to have a slight unity to them about the economic status and stratus of the neighborhood, and what it’s like to live in America in 2010.

RR: Speaking of…what was it like to play outside the White House in 2009?

SB: Needless to say, first and foremost, it was an honor to be asked. The experience was amazing in that this was before the party pressure scandal, before those two people showed up unannounced, and all of that stuff. When you walk up, we were staying

around the corner, and when we drove up, we got out of the car, and there was a bit of a green expanse before you actually get to the White House. There was all these fuckin’ lunatics out there. There was all the preachy party—Lyndon LaRouche with pictures of Obama with a Hitler moustache—and, you know, all these fucking idiots that seem to be growing like weeds everywhere.

We walk up, and we thought that the White House was under assault. The streets were packed with these right wing looney tunes out there. We got inside the gate, and there’s the stage, and we were just walking around, thinking, “Someone’s going to tell us where to go any second.” (laughs) And nobody did. We were able to go wherever we wanted to go. There was a reception prior to the gig, and, yet again, the security was just so low key. You could see the Secret Service dudes, but it was just so not in your face. It was amazingly low stress. We got to go anywhere—the Green Room, the Red Room, and all these historical rooms where all this stuff in history had occurred, and we were standing with them, at a party, having a beer with Robert Gibbs [White House Press Secretary] and Rahm Emanuel [White House Chief of Staff]. It was beyond belief.

Then, they said, “All right, you’re going to meet the President. You’re just going to go in and take a picture with him. Smile and move on.” So, there’s like a holding room, prior to that, and we’re in there—J. Lo and Marc Anthony and Shakira and, you know, these heavy people, and we just feel like “this is crazy; we don’t belong in this deal.” We’re hanging back, and they’re all there with their handlers and shit, and somehow or another, we end up being the last ones to go out. We’re in this room, and one by one they leave and go out, and it’s just us—“Let’s go.” We walked out and he was just so happy we were there. He said, “All right, my boys are here!” There were big ole hugs from him and Michelle and the girls and the mom and the whole thing. It was just like it was not at all…we just felt that it was going to be a very formal sort of deal, but he and his family and his people were just so warm and so normal. It was like going to somebody’s house and having a barbeque. Truly amazing. It was a really amazing experience and an amazing night. Marc Anthony turned out to be an extremely nice guy. Who knew? But, just hanging out with him, and being there, and being able to walk around (laughs) the White House. Got to meet Bo the dog [the presidential pooch]. The whole thing was just a really amazing experience on every level.

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