Saturday, April 23 • 8 p.m.
$13 in advance, $15 door
255 N. Front St.
The music industry is a tough business, especially for Mexican-American artists. There are stipulations that a musician must either fit into the Carlos Santana mold, or be of the Freddy Fender variety, or have the commercial success of Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba.” What if there is a strong blend of all three with rhythmic guitar, poignant vocals and emotive lyrics? That’s the best way to describe accomplished musician Alejandro Escovedo.
Escovedo has had a lifetime of genre twists and emotional turns. His music spans decades and transverses cultures. The years of touring and determination led from one album to another where his personality is a constant throughout his artistry. His current tour has a stop in Wilmington at the Soapbox this Saturday night.
The journey started in Texas with a family rooted in music. His father was part of a mariachi band, several of his brothers are professional musicians, while his niece is acclaimed percussionist Sheila E., who has worked with both Prince and Ringo Starr. Escovedo grew up as one of 12 children in San Antonio. His parents favored Mexican trio music, and he got a taste of Latin jazz from his brothers who listened to Cuban and Puerto Rican percussion music. It was an older cousin who introduced him to the sounds of the ‘50s, including Elvis and Chuck Berry. Later, the family moved to California where Escovedo was swarmed by surf music and the dance life.
“You can’t be parochial about music,” Escovedo once explained to writer Lenny Kaye (Escovedo wasn’t available for an encore interview). “I learned that if you immerse yourself in something, listening to records over and over, so it becomes a language, you could learn to speak it. When I began to come of age, and was able to play the music, it became like a religion to me. We were fortunate that radio at that time had no boundaries. It was all brand new. No one knew you couldn’t play Marvin Gaye, and then Captain Beefheart, and then Sun Ra. It was all great, and to me, it all made sense.”
It was the 1970s when Escovedo was immersed in the punk scene of San Francisco. Some of his first performances were with the new-wave band the Nuns, where he wrote songs and played guitar. This newfound liberation in punk drove Escovedo’s passions even harder. After moving back to Texas in the 1980s, he discovered a wealth of inspiration from the local clandestine talent.
“It was this place that was completely open,” Escovedo enlightened Kaye. “The community really supported the musicians… So to be in this small town where everybody encouraged each other, there were great shows all the time.”
The ‘90s brought about Escovedo’s triumph as a solo artist. He made three albums with producer Stephen Bruton (Elvis Costello, Carly Simon) from 1992 through 1996. “Gravity,” “Thirteen Years,” and “With These Hands” created a huge underground buzz for Escovedo. Moving on from the loss of Bruton, he found a connection with Chris Stamey (the dBs) while working on his next two albums.
Tragedy struck in 2003 when Escovedo had to succumb to an unstable bout with Hepatitis C. The illness put touring on hold while he focused on recovery. His family and friends gathered to support him and released a tribute album “Por Vida.” On his way to making a full recovery in 2004, Escovedo returned to his love of performing and recording. Released in 2006, “The Boxing Mirror,” produced by John Cale (The Velvet Underground) served as a therapeutic album for Escovedo. The 2008 release of “Real Animal” incorporated his past within conceptual songwriting. He wanted to share his motivation and how he was inspired by things in his life.
Now, Escovedo has established a core band with The Sensitive Boys. They helped rein in the collaborative feel of the album “Street Songs of Love” (June 2010). Hector Munoz has been his drummer for 23 years, while David Pulkingham has played guitar with Escovedo for the past seven years; newcomer bassist Bobby Daniel rounds out the group. Escovedo wanted to branch out again from his solo career, developing an interesting way to arrange the album. They built the record in front of a live audience every Tuesday night for two months at Austin’s Continental Club.
Escovedo never let hardship stop him from doing what he loves most. His hard work and commitment has put him in the company of some of the finest and earned him some well-deserved respect as a musician.
“You just do your good work, and people care,” Escovedo explained. “I always believed, when I was a kid, that if you just worked hard, you would find fulfillment. I think I got a lot of that from my father, and my brothers. A working musician is all I ever wanted to be. Hard work, to stay true to what you want to do, and then eventually someone would notice for that very reason.”
Music-lovers will take notice this weekend at the Soapbox, as Escovedo returns to the stage on the 23rd, 8 p.m. Tickets are only $13 in advance or $15 at the door.