Alejandro Escovedo

TrackAlbum
Five Hearts BreakingGravity
Gravity / Falling Down AgainGravity
I Wish I Was Your MotherGravity
I Was DrunkBourbonitis Blues
CastanetsA Man Under The Influence
ArizonaThe Boxing Mirror
Always A FriendReal Animal
Chelsea Hotel ‘'78Real Animal
Sister Lost SoulReal Animal
Down In The BoweryStreet Songs Of Love

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Contributor: Calvin Rydbom

Growing up in the Escovedo home must have been a unique and somewhat intimidating experience for an aspiring musician. When your brothers Pete and Coke have both been in Santana, among other groups, there is a certain standard to live up to. Along with Pete and Coke, Alejandro’s family includes Juan (El Chicano), Mario (The Dragons) Javier (The Zeros) and Bobby (The Dragons) who have all had substantial careers as professional musicians, The younger generation of Sheila E., Pete Michael Escovedo and Rene Escovedo have continued the tradition. I suppose in reality Escovedo had little choice but to create music, thankfully for us he didn’t rebel against joining the family business.

His music has been called Alt-Rock, Alt-Country, Punk, Cowpunk, Heartland, Chicano Rock or according to Rolling Stone “Musically, Alejandro Escovedo is his own genre”. There have been times during live shows I’ve attended he has seemed more force of nature than musician to me.

He established his punk credentials with the Nuns, opening for the Sex Pistols on their last show. And yes, he was really living at The Chelsea Hotel when the Sid and Nancy tragedy went down. He hooked up with the Small Faces’ Ronnie Lane a few years later, playing guitar in the Texas Version of Slim Chance in the mid 80s. He also helped form Rank & File during this period as well, honing his craft in both bands. His next band, The True Believers, which also contained his brother Javier, was inducted into the Austin Music Hall of Fame on the strength of one album. One very strong album.

And then there is the solo career. For over 20 years, Alejandro Escovedo has served a steady diet of literate ballads alongside raucous jams. I’ve seen him have a crowd in the palm of his hand with an acoustical sensitive set. Then Cheetah Chrome from the Dead Boys shows up and they knock off a whole bunch of Stooges covers, and they just tear the roof off of a place. He’s just that good.

I could easily list 20 songs, but 10 it is.

When I listen to Escovedo I think it’s somehow in the way he sounds. It’s the way he seem to so fervently believes in his lyrics that connects with me and makes me care about what he has to say. “Her name was hope her hair was blacker than the sky/She had a smile that made the devil cry/She held his hands, looked him in the eye/She said believe, believe and everything will be fine”, is the second stanza from Five Hearts Breaking. He definitely feels the song, and although I couldn’t swear to what the song is exactly about, I always have as well.

Gravity/Falling Down Again is also from his debut solo album and lyrically is as bleak as it gets. “No angels hangin’ from the ceiling can save you/No no St. Jude can’t pull you out.” And what must be akin to throwing in the towel for a songwriter, “No words written in the songs can save you.” But still there is a sense of hope which radiates from the songs, and I would say it comes from Escovedo’s soulful voice. He’s going to keep going to her door, going to keep calling. What choice does he have?

Escovedo has always enjoyed covers, in fact he does at least one cover of a song he has never recorded at every show I’ve ever been to or heard of. Currently. he has been covering Neil Young’s Like A Hurricane quite a bit; he used to do a sublime version of The Band’s It Makes No Difference. He often makes the song his own, to the extent you forget about the original. And as much as I like Mott The Hoople/Ian Hunter (who has worked with Escovedo) after I heard Escovedo’s version of I Wish I Was Your Mother I never needed to hear Hunter sing it again. Escovedo tears into it, both jam and lament at the same time. I’d say a lot of people at his shows have no idea it isn’t one of his songs. It’s that much his on the stage.

With a handful of great solo albums in his pocket, No Depression magazine, a bible of sorts for the Alt-Country genre, named him Artist of the Decade. But he still stayed outside the mainstream popularity-wise.

I Was Drunk is such a simple tune, lyrically. Looking at the song lyrics in stanzas, over 2/3rds of the lines start out “I Was” or “I Called”. It’s an open wound of a song, a guy with nowhere else to turn, perhaps the guy from Gravity/Falling Down, drunk, depressed and calling out her name. Kind of basic.

Castanets is just a fun song. Escovedo likes talking with the audience a lot during shows, and he will often tell the crowd what a song is about, why he wrote it and when he wrote it. You know, the back story. What we have here is a song about a woman passionate about making music who sadly just isn’t any good at it. It’s fun, it drives, it’s a good song. It sort of got a lift when, in 2005, Escovedo found out then President George Bush had it on frequent rotation on his iPod. He refused to play it live until Bush removed it or left office. Fans waited a few years to here it live again.

For a few years, in the early part of the last decade, Escovedo released little, other than a beautiful score to a play he wrote called By The Hand of The Father about his own father who raised an entire army of professional musicians. The reason was the Hepatitis-C that he had lived with for years and finally felled him. Lacking insurance, his medical bills were substantial. A number of musicians such as Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, John Cale, Jennifer Warnes, Ian Hunter, The Jayhawks, Son Volt and others recorded an album of Escovedo songs to raise funds for him. Oddly enough, this album makes me appreciate him as a performer even more than I did; I’ve listened to it several times and can’t find one version that even compares with the originals.

Still, he got another favorite song of mine out of the experience. When the disease finally did lay him low he was in Arizona, so in his first album after he recovered there is of course a song called Arizona asking us to have another drink on me/I’ve been empty since Arizona.

I know the next few minutes are going to be fun when he launches into Always A Friend when he asks, maybe a bit demanding, “Wasn’t I Always a Friend to You?” And of course when he says “But If I do you wrong smoke my smoke, drink my wine/Bury my snakeskin boots somewhere I’ll never find/Still be your love baby, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh oh” – and he gets into his Ohs …

Chelsea Hotel ‘78 is about living at the Chelsea in 1978 after opening for the Pistols. It’s about how at his young age, “The Max’s Kansas City life makes everyone a star”. It’s about being called by Nancy to “Come and help with Sid”. It’s about Escovedo telling us nobody knows what really happened even though he was standing out on the sidewalk when the cops busted through Sid and Nancy’s door. And it’s got a killer guitar solo in the middle of it.

Sister Lost Soul was a toughie. When I got to number ten I had four or five options. If I was in a rocking mood Sally Was A Cop or Tender Heart might have made the cut. As I’m feeling somewhat introspective today, Sister Lost Soul gets the vote. It’s a slow-the-tempo-down sort of song about needing people, needing yourself, just need. “Nobody left unbroken/nobody left unscarred.” Escovedo wrote the song with his friend and collaborator Chuck Prophet. A heck of a songwriter and guitarist in his own right.

Down In The Bowery is a from the heart kind of ballad as any song I can think of. It’s a song wherein Escovedo sings to his teenage son about what he wishes for him. It’s another simple song lyrically, where he simply tells his son,“I want you out on the streets making a noise for everybody/I want to hear your voice up above the crowd”. And that his wish is, “I hope you live long enough to forget half the stuff they taught you/and when it’s all said and done I hope you got your own set of rules to hang on to”. Not a bad hope for your kids. Chuck Prophet also worked on this song with him.

Alejandro Escovedo has never gotten the accolades he has deserved; a critical darling, loved by fellow musicians, he simply has never had a hit, or sold out an arena. Probably at this point, close to 40 years into his career, he never will. But he has recorded some damn good songs.

Alejandro Escovedo official website

Alejandro Escovedo biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #259

2 Comments

  1. Ian Ashleigh
    Apr 24, 2014

    Many thanks Calvin, a new name to me, and a whole musical family I know nothing about, despite being quite a fan of Santana. I’ve just listened to the Spotify playlist and enjoyed every song so some exploring will be on the agenda for later on today.

    • Calvin Rydbom
      Apr 25, 2014

      Glad you enjoyed it Ian, he has been a favorite a mine for years.

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