Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin Labels Paul Simon a ‘Jerk,’ Alleges ‘Graceland’ Snub
The ’80s were a prime period for Los Lobos, and while they most notably broke through with the music for the film ‘La Bamba,’ there’s another significant record with which they contributed to that you might not know they were ever associated with.
Multi-instrumentalist and producer Steve Berlin tells Rock Cellar magazine that the group isn’t exactly happy with Paul Simon, claiming that a song they worked up in a session with the musician for the ‘Graceland’ album never yielded a credit or a profit.
Berlin says that at the time they were doing a favor for their label president by agreeing to work with the musician, who was coming off a down period in his career while they were enjoying Grammy and sales success. But the sessions with Simon were uncomfortable and the band were ready to move on after the first day, only to have their label chief pleading with them to play it out.
Berlin recalls, “Rather than engage us, Paul would just stare at us like we were animals in a zoo or something. I’m telling you, the guy is a weird dude — there’s no two ways about it.” He says they felt as though Simon wasn’t really interested in playing with them, as he sat in the control room and asked them to jam without contributing anything.
After a few days of uncomfortable interaction, Berlin says that David Hidalgo began playing what would become ‘The Myth of Fingerprints,’ a track they were preparing for their next record. He explains, “We’d been waiting around for two days for Paul to come up with something, but he had nothing. So to have something to do, we just started playing what we thought was our song, when Paul suddenly says, ‘Hey that’s cool. What is that?’ and we said, ‘Oh, it’s a song we’ve been working on.’”
Berlin says Simon asked if they could work on it, and the band agreed thinking that it would help get the sessions over quicker. However, Los Lobos were definitely surprised when Simon’s album came out six months later with credits that read “Words and Music by Paul Simon.”
Berlin says attempts to find out why they weren’t credited were met with silence until Simon contacted the band and said, “Sue me. See what happens.” The musician says, “We should have sued him, frankly. I would have loved to have seen what would have happened. But I guess in a weird way, we just naively started fooling around with a song — a song we didn’t have a pre-existing recording of — and I don’t know if we could have proven in a court of law, at the end of the day, that he stole it.”
Berlin says that one indicator of Simon’s intentions was that the singer claimed to have written a lot of the African material on the ‘Graceland’ album, but later had to give the African records credit because there were recordings that actually did exist. But in the end, Steve says the band never received a penny for their work on the ‘Graceland’ record. He concludes, “Everybody I know who has ever worked with Paul Simon says he’s the biggest jerk in the world. Yeah – he’s a f—ing idiot.”