Hello Stranger from Issue #63
Our history with Alejandro Escovedo goes back a fair ways, as those of you who have been with us since the early days likely remember. Grant wrote a feature story about him in our second issue back in early 1996, when his Rykodisc album came out. After that record deal crashed and Escovedo ended up on Bloodshot for a live retrospective in 1998, we revisited him; this time I did the writing, and we somewhat audaciously declared Alejandro to be our artist of the decade.
At the time, it may have seemed a bit far-fetched, for his attempt to play at a larger commercial level had basically failed. Once again, as was the case after he left Rank And File in the early ’80s, and then following the demise of the True Believers in the late ’80s, Escovedo seemed relegated to the role of local favorite with a limited national profile. A writer for the daily paper in Austin humorously chided us for our artist of the decade choice, sarcastically suggesting it was akin to announcing that our athlete of the decade was Lance Armstrong.
The following year, of course, Armstrong won the first of seven straight Tour de France titles, which provided me with a nice retrospective chuckle. Indeed, Escovedo’s stature expanded exponentially during those subsequent years as well, if largely the result of an outpouring of compassion in the wake of his near-death from Hepatitis C complications.
All those fans and fellow musicians who came out of the woodwork to help didn’t just spring up overnight, though. Their presence was a direct reflection of how hard Escovedo had worked to build an audience in the ’90s, making memorable and moving music and taking his show on the road relentlessly.
Our point, partly, back in ’98 was that Escovedo deserved to be recognized with such esteem, even if the marketplace had failed to validate his art.
Nearly a decade later, Escovedo’s former True Believers bandmate Jon Dee Graham is in a somewhat similar position. Since his 1997 solo debut, Graham has consistently put out a terrific album every year or two, gigged tirelessly in his home region, and considerably expanded the frequency and range of his touring beyond Texas.
Like Escovedo circa ’98, he recently lost his deal with a higher-profile indie label. Furthermore, he’s also been hit by a health crisis, though in this case the victim is not himself but his son, who’s fighting a rare bone disease. And, just as happened with Alejandro, fans and fellow musicians have rallied to the cause with benefit recordings and shows.
Both of these guys have battled their share of personal demons as well, even with each other; some of their songs have spoken to those conflicts, and resolutions. Escovedo’s live reworking of Mott The Hoople’s “Ballad Of Mott” into “Ballad Of The True Believers” circa 1990 comes to mind. Or Graham’s poignant “Wave Goodbye” on his Escape From Monster Island disc.
In the end, from our perspective at least, it’s about shining a light through the darkness, about throwing a lifeline during a down time. I’d joked with Graham a couple of times over the years that maybe he’d be our artist of the next decade; frankly, though it’s a tad too early to make such pronouncements, his body of work so far would at least warrant consideration (even if the likes of, say, Buddy Miller provide stiff competition).
Maybe Graham doesn’t have the numbers, but neither did Escovedo back then. (Nor did Armstrong, for that matter.) At the very least, we believe the strength of Graham’s music warrants his appearance on our cover. Just as Escovedo’s music continues to do so.
Truth be known, there’s not a whole lot of artists that Grant and I tend to see eye-to-eye on. Much of the success of our magazine has depended upon the differences in the way we hear things, and the (hopefully) greater overall understanding we project as a result.
But from the start, we’ve both gotten — and believed in — both Alejandro and Jon Dee. Their music has demanded no less.