Steve Berlin remembers exactly when he first heard the band that would come to define his career. But that first encounter 40 years ago was not a magical one. Things didn’t go so well for Los Lobos that night, and it wasn’t at all clear to Berlin that he would eventually join them and help the band evolve to a place of collective fame and fortune.
In 1978, Berlin was a young musician who’d left his hometown of Philadelphia to make his way into the music scene in Los Angeles. He was a session player and soon-to-be producer when he went to catch a punk show, headlined by Public Image, at an enormous venue. “It was at a boxing arena called the Olympic Auditorium,” Berlin recalls. With his penchant for blunt talk, he quickly adds some colorful descriptors: “It was a real shithole—just a horrific place for anything other than boxing.”