July 26, 2011
"If brass wakes up as a bugle, it’s not to blame." — Arthur Rimbaud
Although it has long been acknowledged in serious pop-music circles that Alejandro Escovedo’s art comes under the heading of sui generic, uniquely "beyond category" as Duke Ellington would say, listening to him quietly spin yarns about his surfer-punk days in Huntington Beach, California, totally caught me off guard.
The Austin legend’s intimate show at Pat’s BBQ in South Salt Lake back in September of 2006 had just come to a rousing conclusion with a succession of encores when, after briefly waiting my turn in a CD-signing line, we began dishing on the L.A. music scene of the ’60s.
Our alternating anecdotes soon made it evident that we shared very similar life-experiences during those heady musical times, but when he began a story about a particular summer evening at the famed Golden Bear and I was able to finish his quite distinctive tale, well, to say we were both astonished would be to understate the obvious.
Back then, it wasn’t all that rare that if we found ourselves in Huntington Beach on a night when one of our favorite acts happened to be performing at the Golden Bear and, say, the show was either sold out or our current entertainment budget had been found wanting, we would slip around to the back alley and the load-in door just off to one side of the stage.
When it got too warm inside for the band, they would often open the door to allow more air to enter, thereby creating an audio and visual window for those of us lower on the food chain. It was a scene unto itself back there in the alley with the sharing of recreational refreshments and musical insights always the order of the day.
Recommended Stories For You
So you can imagine my amazement that evening at Pat’s BBQ when Alejandro began prefacing yet another tale by explaining the ’60s back-alley scene at the Golden Bear. He got no further than " and then Janis (Joplin) noticed us outside the door" when I jumped in with " and swung it open and let us all in as her guests." It’s always been a small world for musically obsessive alley cats.
Escovedo’s stint in "surf city" followed his family’s move to Southern California from Texas during the late ’50s. His musical clan included parents with long attachments to Mexican trio music, brothers into Latin jazz, a slightly older cousin who turned him on to Elvis, Chuck Berry and the Big Bopper, and his niece, pop percussionist Sheila E.
A musical sponge of sorts who allowed an eclectic assortment of influences to inform his muse, Alejandro, following a punk-rock epiphany that immersed him in the then seminal scenes of San Francisco and New York, found himself back in Austin by the mid-’80s.
Slipping seamlessly into the already-in-place orbits of Townes Van Zandt, Billy Joe Shaver and Stevie Ray Vaughan, not to mention scene godfathers such as Willie and Waylon, Escovedo quickly became an honored and beloved addition to the Austin cultural revolution.
By the time of his Pat’s BBQ gig, it had been three years since my last Alejandro update and that one had been dire indeed. The reports were that his long bout with Hepatitis C had taken a sudden and critical turn for the worse.
But, obviously, 2006 was lookin’ a whole lot better, what with him on his way to Pat’s rib joint as part of a national tour behind his recently released album, "The Boxing Mirror." Produced by John Cale of "Velvet Underground" fame, the recording process had proved cathartic.
Up until then, however, Alejandro had been off the local-music-promoter radar, although it’s very possible that it was I who was out of the loop and that some local impresario like Otto Mileti may have slipped him into the old Zephyr club at one time or another.
Then things began to change with a triumphant show at Red Butte Garden alongside Son Volt one summer, another on a bill with the Arc Angels up at Snowbird, and, last year, a club date at The Stateroom.
And now he’s bringing his highly-evolved and multi-layered musical shtick to Park City this coming Saturday as part of Mountain Town Music’s Free Concert Series at The Canyons. Don’t miss it! If Alejandro wakes up as a genre unto himself, he’s not to blame. It’s his nature to be singular.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for the past 40 years.