Born on January 10, 1951, in San Antonio, TX; married twice; four children. Addresses: Record company--Bloodshot Records, 3039 West Irving Park Rd., Chicago, IL 60618. Website--Alejandro Escovedo Official Website: http://www.alejandroescovedo.com.
Alejandro Escovedo, named artist of the decade by the alternative country magazine No Depression in March of 1998, stems from an illustrious musical family, but he has made his own mark in a variety of incarnations--from punk to roots rocker to singer-songwriter--producing an impressive and eclectic body of work that, at its best, shows an incomparable commitment to emotional honesty while never betraying his rock roots. Escovedo's voice can, at times, resemble Mark Eitzel, at others, Bob Dylan; his orchestrations can evoke John Cale or Nick Drake; his lyricism, Lou Reed. After two decades of working in bands, Escovedo struck out on his own, creating a surprisingly rich, melancholic tapestry. As David Fricke, writing in Rolling Stone, said, Escovedo "brings his experience in punk and bejeweled-guitar jangle to bear on the poetic introspection of his solo records." Yet, despite the critical accolades that he has received throughout his career, he has never achieved mainstream success.
Born on January 10, 1951, in San Antonio, Texas, Escovedo was raised in a musical family. His father, a native of Saltillo, Mexico, played in swing and mariachi bands. Older half-brothers Pete and Coke (from their father's first marriage), played with West Coast Latino rockers Santana, Azteca, and Malo. His younger brothers Javier and Mario formed bands of their own in Southern California. Pete's daughter, Sheila E., became a star in the 1980s as Prince's percussionist and as a solo artist.
Escovedo married and fathered two children, but the union did not last. He moved to Hollywood in 1973 at the beginning of the Glam era when bands like the Stooges and the New York Dolls played regularly on the Sunset Strip. He hung out at clubs like Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco and the Whiskey A Go-Go and, at an early Patti Smith concert, met his future wife Bobbie Levie.
Played with The Nuns
The couple moved to San Francisco in 1975 where Escovedo planned to study filmmaking. There he and schoolmate Jeff Olener began a cinematic project about a band that couldn't play, casting themselves in the film. This eventually became the seminal San Francisco punk band the Nuns. The pair later teamed with Richie Dietrich, Jennifer Miro, and Jeff Raphael to become the first Bay Area punk band to play larger venues; at their peak, they were a bigger local draw than visiting bands like Blondie. Escovedo told Peter Blackstock of No Depression, "We were just there at the right time. We started playing this place called the Mabuhay Gardens. We told them that we had a huge following, and we didn't have any following. Our following was basically transvestites and drug dealers. In fact, the first show was with the Dils." The Nuns wound up playing a part in one of the key moments of early punk history when they opened for the Sex Pistols' infamous "last show" at San Francisco's Winterland in January of 1978.
A tour of New York proved to be the band's undoing. As Escovedo told Blackstock, "The first night we were there, we went to Max's Kansas City to see the Heartbreakers play, and we sat at a table with Andy Warhol, and George Clinton was there, and Richard Hell." Escovedo decided to stay in New York and the band returned to San Francisco without him. Bobbie soon joined him and the couple lived in the famous Chelsea Hotel--whose other residents included Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen. Before breaking up, the Nuns released a single "Decadent Jew/Wild"; a posthumous LP was released by Bomp Records in 1980. (The band would later re-form, without Escovedo, and still exists with mainstays Olener and Miro, as a kind of S&M sideshow.)
Escovedo was performing with Judy Nylon when Chip Kinman of the Dils called him. The Dils had recently broken up and Kinman wanted to know if Escovedo was interested in forming a band. Kinman moved to New York and Rank and File was formed. The band had a distinct country flavor, seasoned with a hard rock edge. They became pioneers of the nascent cowpunk movement and quickly developed a following in New York. On their first tour they passed through Portland where Tony Kinman--Chip's brother and former Dils band member--joined the band as bass player and, eventually, codirector. After the tour they lost their drummer and decided to relocate to Austin, Texas.
There they found Slim Evans, a Texas native who had been playing in local bands. With the lineup complete, they honed their sound, taking gigs wherever they could, from rock clubs to honky-tonks. It was not as easy a transition as anticipated, as Escovedo told Blackstock: "We were too country for a rock club, and the country clubs wouldn't book us because we were too rock for the country clubs. So we didn't have a home anywhere; we were in no man's land." The band eventually built a following and, on tour of the West Coast, came to the attention of Slash/Warner, with whom they signed a record deal. Their debut album, Sundown, influenced countless roots rock and alternative country acts but, at the time of its release, sold modestly. Escovedo grew increasingly dissatisfied with his position in the band, now dominated by the Kinman brothers. In 1983 he left to found the True Believers with his brother Javier.
Founded the True Believers
The True Believers developed a harder, garage rock sound. Their greatest strength lay in their live performances, from which they quickly built a following. The True Believers signed with Rounder/EMI and, for their first record, went into the studio with the legendary Jim Dickinson, who had worked with Alex Chilton's Big Star, Ry Cooder, and the Rolling Stones. The self-titled debut was released in 1985. The band toured relentlessly to support the album, becoming the subject of a feature story in Spin by roadie Pat Blashill, a tale of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll that put a strain on Escovedo's marriage.
The band recorded their second album with Georgia Satellites producer Jim Glixman in 1987. It was scheduled for release that summer, but as the band prepared to tour they were dropped from their label. (The album remained in limbo for seven years until it was issued on Rykodisc.) Javier Escovedo went on tour with Will Sexton and, in 1988, announced that he had left the band. The True Believers ceased to exist.
Escovedo returned to Austin and took a job in a record store. He began playing with his "orchestra," which would contract and expand in size according to the availability of musicians. His marriage to Bobbi began to unravel and the couple eventually separated. Bobbi gave birth to their second daughter in 1990, although attempts at reconciliation failed. On April 24, 1991, she committed suicide.
Pumped Out Solo Discs
Escovedo dealt with his grief by burying himself in work. His first album, Gravity, released in 1991, consisted of songs he wrote while still in the True Believers as well as his first attempts to address his bereavement. The album closes with "Gravity/Falling Down Again," a heart-wrenching epic. Thirteen Years, his follow-up album released in 1993, more fully developed the themes first broached in Gravity. A concept album of sorts, the title cut addresses the 13 years he spent with Bobbi. Both albums received critical praise and signaled Escovedo's maturity as a musician and songwriter.
With These Hands, Escovedo's third album, was issued in 1996. A less somber collection than its predecessors, it included guest performances by Willie Nelson and Jennifer Warnes. On the title cut, written in homage to his father, Escovedo was joined by his brother Pete and niece Sheila E., among other family members.
Escovedo's relentless touring is documented in More Money Than Miles: Live 1994-96, released in 1998. This collection includes a medley of "Gravity/Falling Down Again" and Reed's "Street Hassle" in which the two songs are seamlessly intertwined. In an interview with Joshua Klein for the Onion, Escovedo explained his commitment to the road: "I love playing live. That's really the most important aspect of all this music-making stuff to me. It's really kind of the hardest road to choose, because you have to travel so much, and it's hard on relationships and what-have-you. For me, it's the most immediate response. I don't want to become a recluse in the studio. I like the interaction between the songs and the audience."
Bourbonitis Blues, released in 1999, included both original songs and covers. The album is a synthesis of Escovedo's eclectic musical history and incorporates punk, cowpunk, garage, and roots rock, melded together with his distinctive, atmospheric sound. It was followed by A Man Under the Influence, a melody-laden collection of new tunes that further plumbed the depths of loss and redemption. It has been compared to both the Rolling Stones' Beggars Banquet and John Cale's Paris 1919. Writing in Rolling Stone, David Fricke said "With this album, Escovedo's own pilgrimage out of the shadows continues--with power and elegance."
by Kevin O'Sullivan
Alejandro Escovedo's Career
Began musical career as guitarist with the Nuns, 1975; played with Judy Nylon, 1980, cofounded Rank and File, 1980; left Rank and File, began True Believers with brother Javier, 1983; True Believers disbanded, 1987; performed with Alejandro Escovedo Orchestra, the Setters, and Buick MacKane, 1987-90; released first solo album, Gravity, 1991; Thirteen Years, 1993; With These Hands, 1996; More Miles Than Money: Live 1994-96, 1998; Bourbonitis Blues, 1999; and A Man under the Influence, 2001.
Alejandro Escovedo's Awards
Austin (Texas) Music Awards, Musician of the Year, 1993.
- Selected discography
- Gravity , Watermelon, 1991.
- Thirteen Years , Watermelon, 1993.
- With These Hands , Rykodisc, 1996.
- More Miles Than Money: Live 1994-96 , Bloodshot, 1998.
- Bourbonitis Blues , Bloodshot, 1999.
- A Man Under the Influence , Bloodshot, 2001.
- With others
- (With The Nuns) The Nuns , Posh Boy, 1980.
- (With Rank and File) Sundown , Slash, 1982.
- (With True Believers) True Believers , EMI/Rounder, 1985.
- (With True Believers) Hard Road , Rykodisc, 1994.
- (With Buick Mackane) The Pawn Shop Years , Rykodisc, 1997.
- Metro (San Jose, NM), May 30-June 5, 1996.
- No Depression, March-April 1998.
- Rolling Stone, April 26, 2001.
- Village Voice, May 5, 2001.
- "Alejandro Escovedo," Bloodshot Records, http://www.bloodshotrecords.com (March 11, 2002).
- Alejandro Escovedo Official Website, http://www.alejandroescovedo.com (May 28, 2002).
- "Alejandro Escovedo: The Last to Know," http://www.bayarea.net/%7Efloor13/music/alejandro.htm (March 11, 2002).
- "Nun But a Rocker," Metroactive Music, http://www.metroactive.com/papers/metro/05.30.96/escovedo-9622.html (March 11, 2002).
- "The Hardest Road," Onion, http://www.theavclub.com/avclub3317/bonusfeature13317.html (March 11, 2002).