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Alejandro Escovedo

A celebrated singer and songwriter, Alejandro Escovedo has as eclectic a background and body of work as any rock artist of his generation. As comfortable performing with a string ensemble as he is with an amped-up power trio, and as likely to bare his soul in his lyrics as he is to lay out some serious rock & roll swagger, Escovedo had already played an important role in punk, roots rock, and alt-country before he launched a solo career that's seen him work with everyone from John Cale to Bruce Springsteen.

Escovedo was born in San Antonio, Texas on January 10, 1951, one of 12 children. His family was steeped in music: His father played in mariachi bands and swing combos both before and after he emigrated from Mexico to the United States. Alejandro's half-brother Pete Escovedo was a jazz artist and studio musician; he was a member of Santana and founded the group Azteca. Another half-brother, Coke Escovedo, also worked with both jazz and Latin groups, enjoyed a solo career, and was a member of Santana and Malo. Pete's daughter Sheila Escovedo became a pop star as Sheila E. Alejandro's younger brother Javier Escovedo founded the early Los Angeles punk band the Zeros. And another younger brother, Mario Escovedo, played in the hard rock outfit the Dragons.

Given his family's history, it's no surprise that Alejandro developed a passion for music. He moved with his family to California, and attended high school in Huntington Beach, where he frequented local rock clubs and ballrooms, seeing acts like Jimi Hendrix, Buffalo Springfield, the Doors, the Seeds, and the Flying Burrito Brothers. While Alejandro was a serious music fan, he didn't take to playing an instrument right away, and when his father gave him a guitar, he ended up passing it on to this brother Javier. Alejandro moved to Hollywood in 1973 after the breakup of his first marriage, and he became a fan of glam and proto-punk acts like the New York Dolls and the Stooges, who frequently played on the Sunset Strip. He also saw an early L.A. appearance by Patti Smith, where he would meet his second wife, Bobbie Levie. In 1975, Escovedo moved to San Francisco, where he intended to study film production. He and his friend Jeff Olener hatched an idea for a movie about a rock band that couldn't play, and while casting the picture, they ended up forming an actual band, the Nuns, who were one of the first acts of note on the San Francisco punk rock scene. The Nuns became a steady draw on the West Coast, and were one of the opening acts when the Sex Pistols played their infamous final show at Winterland in San Francisco. However, when the Nuns set out on an East Coast tour, Escovedo immediately fell in love with New York City, and opted to stay there rather than return to the Bay Area.

Escovedo became a figure on New York's Lower East Side music scene, and joined the band of avant-garde vocalist Judy Nylon, but in 1980 he got a call from Chip Kinman of the Los Angeles-based leftist punk band the Dils. The Dils had just broken up and Kinman and his brother Tony were forming a new band that would mix punk energy with country song structures; was Alejandro interested in joining? Escovedo said yes, and after the Kinman Brothers moved to New York, they formed Rank and File. Before long, the group settled in Austin, Texas (in part because Escovedo was eager to get away from the drugs that surrounded the New York scene), and Escovedo played on their outstanding 1982 debut album, Sundown. However, Alejandro quit Rank and File in 1983 when he and his brother Javier chose to start a band of their own, the True Believers. With Austin native Jon Dee Graham joining Alejandro and Javier on guitars, the True Believers fused a rootsy approach with a heartfelt rock & roll attack, and they were stars in Austin and a favorite with critics. However, their self-titled debut album (released in 1986) didn't quite capture their on-stage impact, and a reorganization at their record company led to their second album being pulled from release only two weeks before it was due to come out. Frustrated, the True Believers broke up in 1988 (a retrospective album, Hard Road, was released in 1994 and included their unreleased second album), and Alejandro and Javier formed the short-lived, glam-influenced band Buick MacKane, who made little impact outside of Austin. During his time with the True Believers, Alejandro began focusing more seriously on his songwriting, and as he worked a day job at a record store, he began working out material with a diverse range of Austin musicians. Escovedo was soon playing out with a rotating variety of players he dubbed the Alejandro Escovedo Orchestra (which usually did feature a string section), and he developed a new following in Austin. However, his marriage with Levie was falling apart, despite the couple welcoming a daughter in 1990, and the failing relationship began informing Escovedo's songs. In 1991, Levie committed suicide, and a year later, Escovedo released his first solo album, Gravity, through Austin's Watermelon Records label. A striking meditation on love, loss, and grief, Gravity received rave reviews, and Escovedo threw himself into his solo career. In 1993, he released his second album, Thirteen Years, a concept piece informed by the rise and fall of his marriage to Levie. In 1994, Escovedo formed a one-off semi-supergroup, the Setters, with fellow songwriters Michael Hall and Walter Salas-Humara, and signed a deal with Rykodisc, the independent label that successfully released the True Believers anthology. In 1996, they released With These Hands, Escovedo's ambitious third solo album, and a collection of Buick MacKane material, The Pawn Shop Years, followed in 1997. However, Escovedo's relationship with Rykodisc quickly crumbled when sales of With These Hands proved disappointing, and he was soon without a label.

It wasn't long before he found new champions at Bloodshot Records, Chicago's pioneering "insurgent country" label. Escovedo had assembled an album from a handful of live recordings, and Bloodshot released More Miles Than Money: Live 1994-1996 in 1988, in time for Escovedo to be named "Artist of the Decade" by alternative country journal No Depression. Escovedo also appeared on a Bob Wills tribute album assembled by Jon Langford with his ad hoc group the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, and in 1999 he released Bourbonitis Blues, a combination of live tracks and studio material that featured fresh originals alongside covers of songs by Ian Hunter, John Cale, and the Gun Club, among others. 1999 also saw Escovedo appear on the album More Oar: A Tribute to the Skip Spence Album, which featured him alongside Robert Plant, Tom Waits, Beck, Robyn Hitchcock, and many more. In 2001, Escovedo released A Man Under the Influence, an ambitious and musically diverse set that earned him some of his best reviews to date. The album also received some scattered airplay for the song "Castanets," though when Escovedo learned the song appeared in a mix on President George W. Bush's iPod, he declined to perform it again until Bush left office. Two songs on A Man Under the Influence were originally written for a play on the Mexican-American immigrant experience, By the Hand of the Father, and an album of the show's full score was released in 2002.

In April 2003, Escovedo was performing By the Hand of the Father in Tempe, Arizona when he collapsed shortly after the show ended, having vomited up blood earlier that day. Escovedo was living with Hepatitis C, contracted during a dalliance with hard drugs during his days in New York, and the disease was threatening to claim his life. Long a heavy drinker, Escovedo gave up alcohol and took on a rigorous regiment of treatment. Lacking medical insurance, fans and musicians began sponsoring benefits to help cover Escovedo's hospital bills, and in 2004, a double album entitled Por Vida: A Tribute to the Songs of Alejandro Escovedo was released to raise more money for the artist, featuring interpretations of his songs by Lucinda Williams, Los Lonely Boys, Charlie Musselwhite, Ian Hunter, the Jayhawks, the Minus 5, and 25 others. A collection of performances by the Alejandro Escovedo Orchestra was also released to fans under the title Room of Songs in 2005.

John Cale, long one of Escovedo's major influences, recorded a version of "She Doesn't Live Here Anymore" for Por Vida, and when Escovedo was healthy enough to begin working again, he invited Cale to produce his next album. The Boxing Mirror, his first release under a deal with the EMI-distributed Back Porch Music imprint, was a powerful but low-key effort released in 2006. In 2008, Escovedo went into the studio with David Bowie and T. Rex producer Tony Visconti to cut a lean rock & roll album, Real Animal, a set of songs co-written with guitarist Chuck Prophet, who anchored his new road band, the Sensitive Boys. Escovedo also joined a new management team, Jon Landau and Barbara Carr, who also handled the career of Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen, a fan, brought Escovedo on-stage with him to perform a duet version of "Always a Friend" during a stadium show in Houston, which appeared on Springsteen's EP Magic Tour Highlights. Springsteen also made a guest appearance on 2010's Street Songs of Love, another Visconti-produced set that was Escovedo's first release through Fantasy Records. 2012's Big Station would prove to be Escovedo's last album with Visconti and Prophet; he broke up the Sensitive Boys, and in 2014 he set out on a co-headlining tour with former R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, in which Buck and his band (guitarist Kurt Bloch of the Fastbacks, bassist Scott McCaughey of the Young Fresh Fellows and the Minus 5, and drummer Bill Rieflin of Ministry and Swans) backed up Escovedo after finishing their own set.

A second tour with Buck and his band was put on hold after Escovedo had another health scare, and while honeymooning in Mexico with his fourth wife, Nancy Rankin, the couple's vacation home was hit by a Category Four storm, Hurricane Odile. The two struggled with PTSD in the wake of the hurricane, and both went into treatment as they struggled with its aftereffects. Rankin's work led the couple to spend several weeks in Dallas, Texas, and Escovedo was invigorated by his new surroundings after becoming disenchanted with the growing gentrification of Austin. The Escovedos settled down in Dallas, and as they healed both physically and emotionally, Alejandro returned to an album he had planned to write and record with Buck and McCaughey. Recorded in Portland, Oregon with Buck, McCaughey, Bloch, and drummer John Moen of the Decemberists, 2016's Burn Something Beautiful also included guest appearances from Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney, Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, and frequent Neko Case collaborator Kelly Hogan. ~ Mark Deming
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Big Station

1. Too Many Tears

2. Sabor A Mi

3. Man Of The World

4. Big Station

5. Sally Was A Cop

6. Bottom Of The World

7. Can't Make Me Run

8. San Antonio Rain

9. Headstrong Crazy Fools

10. Common Mistake

11. Never Stood A Chance

12. Party People

x

Track List: Street Songs Of Love

1. Anchor

2. Silver Cloud

3. This Bed Is Getting Crowded

4. Street Songs

5. Down In The Bowery

6. Tender Heart

7. After The Meteor Showers

8. Tula

9. Undesired

10. Fall Apart With You

11. Shelling Rain

12. Faith

x

Track List: Real Animal

1. Always A Friend

2. Chelsea Hotel '78

3. Sister Lost Soul

4. Smoke

5. Sensitive Boys

6. People (We're Only Gonna Live So Long)

7. Golden Bear

8. Nuns Song

9. Real As An Animal

10. Hollywood Hills

11. Swallows Of San Juan

12. Chip N' Tony

13. Slow Down

x

Track List: The Boxing Mirror

1. Arizona

2. Dear Head On The Wall

3. Notes On Air

4. Looking For Love

5. The Ladder

6. Break This Time

7. Evita's Lullaby

8. Sacramento

9. Died A Little Today

10. Take Your Place

11. The Boxing Mirror

12. Blank Track

x

Track List: A Man Under The Influence

1. Wave

2. Rosalie

3. Rhapsody

4. Across The River

5. Castanets

6. Don't Need You

7. Follow You Down

8. Wedding Day

9. Velvet Guitar

10. As I Fall

11. About This Love

x

Track List: Bourbonitis Blues

1. I Was Drunk

2. Irene Wilde

3. California Blues

4. Guilty

5. Amsterdam

6. Everybody Loves Me

7. Pale Blue Eyes

8. Sacramento & Polk

9. Sex Beat

x

Track List: Thirteen Years

Disc 1

1. Thirteen Years Theme

2. Ballad Of The Sun And The Moon

3. Try, Try, Try

4. Way It Goes

5. Losing Your Touch

6. Thirteen Years

7. Thirteen Years Theme

8. Helpless

9. Mountain Of Mud

10. Tell Me Why

11. Thirteen Years Theme

12. She Towers Above

13. Baby's Got New Plans

14. The End

15. Thirteen Years Theme

Disc 2

1. Thirteen Years

2. Way It Goes

3. She Towers Above

4. Tell Me Why

5. Two Angels (Live)

6. I Wish I Was Your Mother (Live)

7. Pale Blue Eyes

8. Gravity (Buick MacKane Version)

x

Track List: Gravity

Disc 1

1. Paradise

2. Broken Bottle

3. One More Time

4. By Eleven

5. Bury Me

6. Five Hearts Breaking

7. Oxford

8. Last To Know

10. Pyramid Of Tears

11. Gravity / Falling Down Again

12. Tired Skin

Disc 2

4. Bury Me / Hard Road (Live)

5. I Wish I Was Your Mother (Live)

x

Track List: 1968 (Single)

1. 1968

x

Track List: Burn Something Beautiful

1. Horizontal

2. Heartbeat Smile

3. Sunday Morning Feeling

4. Suit Of Lights

5. Redemption Blues

6. Shave The Cat

7. Johnny Volume

8. Beauty Of Your Smile

9. I Don't Want To Play Guitar Anymore

10. Beauty And The Buzz

11. Luna De Miel

12. Farewell To The Good Times

13. Thought I'd Let You Know

x

Track List: By The Hand Of The Father

1. By The Hand Of The Father Theme

2. Wave

3. Did You Tell Me?

5. Ballad of the Sun and the Moon

6. Mexico Americano

7. Seven Years

8. Rosalie

9. Hard Road

10. 59 Years

11. Inside This Dance

12. Cancion Mixteca

13. With These Hands

14. Silence

Comments

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One of the unsung heroes of Americana. His influences are all about all the ingredients which make America great. This man has done so much mixing it is like a cross country and historical tour at the same time. I would love this man even if he sold millions of records but people this original and unique usually don't. Sad but whatever. He has touched my heart & soul and for that I will always say, I love you, man. Thank you, God for the gifts you gave Alejandro.
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Yo soy americano. Puro Tejano. Texican
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Just saw him in NYC at City Winery. Truly an incredible performer, the band members over the top and the music simply complex if that makes any sense. A must see in concert.
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nomal44
I LOVE TEX-MEX MUSIC, ALEXANDRO ROCKS MY HEART JUST LIKE FREDDY AND FLACO. JUST DISCOVERED PANDORA ..NOW IM REALLY IN HEAVEN. BORN IN ROCKSPRINGS NOW LIVE IN SACRAMENTO CALIF. NOEL MALDONADO EMAIL nomal44@comc a s t . n e t
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sspergel1
Everyone should see Alejandro live, his vice is spellbinding , his rock kills and his lyrics hold your heart....a fan from NY after my first concert after hearing him on FUV 90.7 best station in NY and on web..check it out...
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jim32405
New fan as of April 4, 2014, Valpo Indiana. Awesome
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Haven't had the chance to meet him but did play accordion for his brother Mario Escovedo in the San Diego,Ca area for 3 years great guy
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Good dancing music!!
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an explosion ..NUNS SONG
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lfornoff
Extremely talented and underrated. Go see him with his band the Sensitive Boys if you ever get a chance. He rocks!
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azteca97
He is so awesome.... he bleeds his music. The entire band is incredible, just all around good people!! Just caught his show on Public Television - Austin City Limits Music show.
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I have to echo Udo comments, couldn't have said it better myself:) I cannot believe I have not been following this guy for years. Almost ashamed to say I got hooked by Castanets, cause I know now how much pain that caused him but damn, it's good stuff. Been exploring his other work for about 2 years now and never been disappointed .
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Saw him last nite in Pittsburgh,, , G R E A T show,,,and a very nice,down to earth guy as well....sign e d my T shirt with a handshake and a picture. Guitar player with him was phenomenal (Dave from Houston)...A l e j a n d r o is sooooo good,,,,,,,, ,
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chimprowe
Truly gifted
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listening to the cut silver cloud . amazing how many tunes are new to my ears each and every day. how good is that. always surprised and thrilled
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Saw this man last night in Northampton. I wish I had been following him for years. DAMN! This dude peels the paint off walls with hius playing. Great performer, great storyteller. His band was ROCK SOLID. I have a lot of catching up to do on his music and story.
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lauriejane
A few of months ago I turned on my TV to Austin City Limits and Alejandro Escovedo performing with his band. I was spellbound as I watched and listened to this artist, whom I had never seen or heard. It wasn't until the credits at the end of the program that I found out who he was. He had a new fan in me, that's for sure.
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I think its awesome that Alejandro, along with others, has broken the "sterotypica l " mold and is making music that his contemporari e s are acknowledgin g . BRAVO...Alej a n d r o . I would love to meet you some day and see you live in ALBUQUERQUE. . . l e n a @ www.lenajmun o z . c o m
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stgirl9
A true musician , with great feeling for his lyrics. Thanks Pandora!!
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ptmueller78
Brilliant, brilliant guy. Go see him if you get a chance. Solo, with a guitarist, with a string ensemble, with a full rock band -- doesn't matter. He's equally excellent in any context.
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jandreeff
glad this showed up on my keith richards station, never heard of him. i dig it!
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ilof38musich
This guy's voice is a hand of steel inside a velvet glove...his musicality is precocious and fresh...love his use of strings and that lovely acoustic guitar work. The rock tunes are mpeccable. Uhmmm-um-um- u m - u m !
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redorb123
He puts on a great live show too!
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Very nice.
'Baby's Got New Plans' by Escovedo came up on my Iron Maiden station (right after 'Back in the Day' by Megadeth which I like, and right before 'Criminally Insane' by Slayer, which I can't get into...). Anyway, will try out more Esco...
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Goofy,goofy, g o o f y lookin' -Alejandro Escovedo Is the the Billy Joel -The Joe Jackson -The Bloody Fingers of our time. No wonder that the powers that be have shunned him. they have left out all the true artists from consumption. This is what we have been waiting on. Piano, rock, pain, talent, insight.
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In the release of Real Animal, Alejandro has created the best album of his career. And, it's not a stretch to say this is one of the best albums of 2008. It has the sound and feel of an artist fully in command of his craft. For Alejandro, these skills are considerable , from evocative and thoughtful lyrics to solid instrumentat i o n , and production. It rocks. It pulls. It glimmers.
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Alejandro is another one of those Austin-based artists who should be more visible and well-known than he is. Great song writer and performer.
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The Boxing Mirror is one of my favorite albums. His appearance on Austin City Limits last year was phenomenal!
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justinjune28
Surprised I never heard this on warren zevon radio
Report as inappropriate
Alejandro is an incredible song writer.

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