(Photo: Nancy Rankin Escovedo) Alejandro Escovedo is a bit of a musical Renaissance man. The singer-songwriter was present at the onset of punk in the 1970s, when he was with the San Francisco band The Nuns. He reinvented himself somewhat in the 1980’s/1990s to become a part of the burgeoning Americana scene. By the late 90‘s, No Depression magazine selected him as the “Americana Artist of the Decade.” In fact, he could easily be considered the father of the modern Americana movement.
As other artists have discovered, the road from punk to country is not as long as it might seem. Several forward looking indie bands were nurturing the “Roots/Americana” sound in the 1980’s, albeit under the radar of the mainstream music scene. Escovedo’s band Rank and File, was one of them.
“We always saw a connection between them (punk and country),” explained Escovedo in a phone interview last week while he was on his way to a gig in upstate New York.
“I was in a band called the Nuns and my friends Tony and Chip Kinman were in a band called the Dills and we would get together and trade records and listen to music. There was a lot of crossover between our tastes in music. We’d listen to everything from Reggae, Dub to Waylon Jennings to George Jones, Hank Williams and Brian Eno. When we started Rank and File around 1978, we were playing all different kinds of things – Muddy Waters songs, Willie Dixon, Reggae stuff and we also played a lot of country stuff. That’s how it started for us and that was quite a while ago.”
A Musical Family
Escovedo hails from a leading musical family – his parents emigrated from Mexico to Texas where his father played in Mariachi bands. His niece Sheila E was a longtime percussionist with Prince and brothers Coke and Pete have played with groups including Santana, Azteca and Malo.
He’ll stop by the Odeum Theatre in East Greenwich Friday in between a five-night New York City residency which included a show last week at the Bowery Electric in the East Village. The venue is just down the street from the location where the legendary punk club CBGB’s once stood. He was joined by singer-songwriter Richard Barone, Patti Smith’s guitarist Lenny Kaye and other guests.
His NYC roots run deep, his first band The Nuns are famous for opening the final show for the Sex Pistols there in 1978. And although he recently moved to Dallas, his Roots-Rock sound is centered around Austin, where he lived for many years. He spoke about the connection between music and “place.”
“You have this wonderful little place in the middle of Texas which is a very, very red state. It’s a huge sea of red and then you’ve got this spec of blue which is Austin, Texas. It attracts a lot of the kids from farms, West Texas, South Texas. Many of them come to Austin to find themselves, re-create themselves, become creative human beings.
“When you travel from Austin in either direction, it takes you through some really beautiful terrain in West Texas which is barren but also very beautiful and inspiring. So when I got back to Texas, I was born in San Antonio, a lot of the landscape really inspired me to write the way I did.
I was also inspired to be around songwriters like Townes Van Zandt, Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, and all the other great Texas songwriters. I think it really is a combination of those things, the people and the place.”
Playing With the Boss
Escovedo gained widespread recognition in 2008 when Bruce Springsteen recorded “Always a Friend” with him. (See video below.) It had a great impact on his career.
“Bruce is an amazing and gracious and very sweet guy. When he asked me to get on stage with him and sing that song, that album hadn’t come out yet. Its rare that he does that, and he did it for me I’ll be forever grateful because that performance with him, changed my whole life and my exposure to a lot of different people, so I have him to thank for that.”
His most recent album, 2016’s rocking Burn Something Beautiful, solidified his reputation as a leader in the Roots-Rock genre. Escovedo shared that he is preparing a new album for release in September.
“It’s called The Crossing. It’s an album that I did in Italy recorded with an all Italian band called Don Antonio. I’ve toured with them, they’re a great band, great musicians, we had an incredible time.”
Meanwhile, you can check out Escovedo this Friday here in RI – Tickets and further details here. Check out more of Escovedo’s music below.