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Francisco González, A Founding Member Of Los Lobos, Has Died At 68

A black and white image of a mustachioed man in a plaid shirt playing the harp
Francisco González plays the harp in a 2013 interview. He has died at the age of 68.
(Scott MacDonald/Scott MacDonald
/
Courtesy Yolanda Broyles-González)
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Acclaimed musician Francisco González, one of the founding members of the iconic East L.A. band Los Lobos, has died at the age of 68.

Family members said González — who also went by Frank or Frankie — died earlier this week of complications from cancer.

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A lifetime of preserving and championing traditional Mexican music

González, who had attended Garfield High with other founding members of Los Lobos, has been credited with pushing the band to incorporate traditional Mexican music into its early sound. He played with Los Lobos in the early to mid-1970s, though not on the band's 1977 debut album of Mexican folk music.

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While Los Lobos evolved into a rock band, Gonzalez took a different path. He went on to became musical director for the El Teatro Campesino theater company and founded the renowned Guadalupe Custom Strings shop that served musicians on both sides of the border. He continued to tour as a musician with his beloved Mexican harp, while making time to play for schoolchildren, as well as prison inmates.

"These are people that are really cut off from life," said his wife Yolanda Broyles-González, who would accompany him to prisons. "To bring life to them with music you could see them blossoming right in front of you, you know?"

González is survived by two children. He died in Manhattan, Kansas, where his wife is a professor of American ethnic studies at the University of Kansas.

A memorial service is being planned. Broyles-González said musicians are holding days-long vigils for her husband in Mexico City and Xalapa.

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In East L.A., people gathered Thursday night at Guadalupe Custom Strings, the business founded by González that hand-makes and sells specialty strings. He originally opened the shop in Santa Barbara to cater to son jarocho, mariachi and jazz musicians who had to adapt their rare instruments to fit the guitar strings that dominated the market.

"It was out of respect for the music that musicians deserved the proper strings," said his former student Jacob Hernandez, who bought the business in 2004 and moved it to East L.A.

Hernandez said his mentor could come off as gruff to those who didn't know him, but was incredibly generous with his time, teaching students how to a design string with the correct mass and tension to produce the perfect timbre for instruments. Now, Hernandez is passing on the techniques he learned from González with string-makers in Mexico.

"Soon, Mexicans will be able to make their own strings for their own needs," Hernandez said of González's legacy.

As a second-generation Mexican American, González was deeply interested in the traditions of his ancestors, and taught himself different musical styles by listening to records.

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"We retain the culture as much as we can," González said in a 2013 interview with Alaska public television. "But you know, we're from the other side of the border."

González used to play the albums of son jarocho master Mario Barradas and later in life would perform with the older musician and interview him extensively. Those interviews are included in a book he co-wrote with his wife and another music scholar about Barradas that is coming out next month.

"I keep saying to my kids, 'Oh, this breaks my heart that he didn't live to see the book come out,'" Broyles-González said. "I guess they are playing together in the heavens."

His early Lobos bandmate — Cesar Rosas — credits González with inspiring the band to learn the son jarocho music of Veracruz, and contributing his mastery of the guitar, mandolin and bass.

"He was a genius, genius musician," Rosas said. "He played the sitar, for Christ's sakes!"

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But after a few years, and what Rosas said was some friction in the band, González left before any recordings were made.

Nearly 20 years ago, González left California to follow his wife to academic posts in Arizona and Kansas, but he regularly visited Mexico and Los Angeles and connected with musicians and instrument-makers.

In that Alaska public television interview Alaska, González showed his attachment to East L.A., noting with pride how Mexican the city has always been.

"The difference is we don't have the regionality that some places have," he said. "In my neighborhood I had people from everywhere — Texas, New Mexico, old California families, Veracruz, Mexico City, everything. It was all mixed up. So we had everything."

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