Alejandro Escovedo – Leave the light on, he’ll be home by 2am
He’s also gone about the business of being a father, and a grandfather, and lending advice to Pork, his wife’s band. As it happens, though, the Escovedo clan has provided many of the Latin voices in the Anglo rock world. Even El Vez, a canny Elvis reinterpreter, is related (by marriage; Javier married Robert Lopez’ sister, and both men played in the punk band the Zeros).
Alejandro resists the notion that he is somehow an unusual presence on the national stage. “There’s always been guys like, obviously, Ritchie Valens,” he says with some reluctance. “Question Mark, Sam the Sham, the Midnighters.” But even that frame of reference is telling.
“It’s funny, because when we play, the Hispanic kids always come out. Like here in Texas, in San Antonio, they’re really into hard rock. We [the True Believers] were kind of hard enough to please that part of their appetite and yet, I think they just enjoyed seeing us up there. We gave them hope, inspiration, being able to rock. We got invited to play the Cindo De Mayo festival, I think it was in Lincoln Park in East L.A. There was like 45,000 people there, all Chicanos, all celebrating Cinco de Mayo. At first they weren’t really into it, because we weren’t doing folklorico stuff, we weren’t traditional. After a while they dug it. And I think David Hidalgo [from Los Lobos] came out and said, ‘They’re as much a part of us as we are.’ ”
Part of Escovedo’s secret is that he has been able to inhabit many worlds. And he has Willie Nelson’s cellular phone number.
“Mickey Raphael [Nelson’s harmonica player] played on Thirteen Years, and he also played on this album,” Escovedo explains. “Originally we had this idea that we would open ‘Nickel And A Spoon’ with a cinema verite collage, where there’d be kids playing, a beat-up accordion, a violin, kids’ laughter, and you would hear this string section playing the melody line, but the string section would all be kids. We got all the kids to do that.
“Listening to the song, and thinking, both of us flashed on Willie Nelson soloing. So we called him on the tour bus, and he said sure. He came in with his old Baldwin amp and Trigger — his guitar, the one with the hole in it….” Escovedo laughs for a moment. “We were in this funky studio, too, I think there was a leak in the ceiling, but he made himself at home and just played. He stayed for about five hours. He wanted to sing that verse. It’s beautiful. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard anyone connect with my material.”
Naturally, Escovedo’s material is still changing, restless, evolving. “There’s always been one song on each of these solo albums that’s been a jumping point,” he says. “On the first album it was ‘Bury Me’, on the last album it’s ‘Baby’s Got New Plans’. And on this record I think it’s ‘Tugboat’. I want to do more of that.”
There is another pause as Escovedo contemplates the man for whom “Tugboat” was written, the late Sterling Morrison of the Velvet Underground. And then he’s off, toying with the temptation to work again with a large band (some of With These Hands’ songs and ideas date back to that 12-piece ensemble Escovedo led), and wondering aloud why Elvis Costello wrote such tame music for the Brodsky Quartet to play.
Meanwhile, there are children to raise, grandchildren to pamper, and the small matter of brother Javier’s career. “He’s not making records right now,” Alejandro says with obvious sadness. “He’s about to get together another demo to try to get a deal. I’m going to try to help him; he writes great songs.” It always comes back to family.