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Alejandro Escovedo, Vagabond & Wandering Spirit

Iconic rocker’s love affair with the USA, part one

By William Harries Graham, 3:03PM, Fri. Jan. 10

Alejandro Escovedo, Vagabond & Wandering Spirit
photo by Todd V. Wolfson

Saturday at the Moody Theater, Austin rock & roll icon Alejandro Escovedo presents the United Sounds of Austin, a star-studded journey through the history of local music. Guesting Lucinda Williams, Roky Erickson, Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, Rosie Flores, Dr. James Polk, the Skunks, and many more, it’s the show of a lifetime.

Some Escovedo essentials: At 7 years of age, he was introduced to the “vagabond thing and wandering spirit” when his family ventured to the West Coast on vacation and never came back – leaving the dog, horse, toys, and friends; he’s a diehard San Francisco Giants fan; he was a Mexican teen surfer in a conservative white neighborhood in Huntington Beach, California; he left home at 15.

“There was always music going on and a sense that a party was about to break out any time,” he reminisces. “My brothers would come back from gigs in L.A., driving up in convertible Cadillacs with beautiful girls. My mom would start cooking and my dad would start singing.”

Austin Chronicle: Let’s talk baseball.

Alejandro Escovedo: I grew up in a family with seven boys and five girls. Eight of us are musicians. My father wanted nothing more than a ball player. His biggest disappointment was that he never got a right-handed pitcher out of the whole thing. We all played. My dad loved baseball and so do I.

It’s funny, a lot of musicians love baseball. Johnny Thunders. I know a lot of cats that were baseball players then became musicians. There’s something special about pitchers and the focus it takes that somehow applies to music. I was a pitcher and played third base.

AC:Why Austin?

AE: I was on tour when Ronald Reagan was elected President. We decided to come to Austin to visit music writer Lester Bangs. I remember calling my girlfriend from a pay phone after visiting the Contempo Culture House at 24th and Rio Grande and telling her that we were going to move to Austin from New York. That was 1980.

The biggest difference to me is Austin’s sense of community. A big flood happened right after we moved and all of our equipment was under water. The next day we were swarmed by kind, compassionate people who helped us out. It’s the people that make Austin so wonderful. Sometimes, as the city grows, I think we lose a little bit of that, but it’s still a hardcore music scene. And everyone intermingles: the jazz guys play with the rock guys, the rock guys play with the blues guys. We all appreciate and respect each other.

AC: Success?

AE: People used to ask me all the time, how come you’re not more successful? I said I’m so successful, you have no idea. I get to play music every day. I get to travel around the world. I get to meet great musicians and exchange ideas. I have a great band. I’m healthy. That’s success. If you can do this as your life, that’s the greatest success of all artists.

AC: Best live memories?

AE: The True Believers played a sold-out show at Club Lingerie in Los Angeles. Our record had just come out and we were on top of the world. We were playing “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and Iggy Pop was dancing with his shirt off in the audience. When we got into a limo for the airport and a double-decker plane to go on our first tour, our single came on the radio. That was so amazing. All of our dreams had come true. Playing with Bruce Springsteen in Houston was massive and playing with Patti Smith on her birthday at the Bowery was also a big one for me.

AC: Heroes?

AE: My father and my mother. Also, the wild ones. I love the ones who fought against all odds and never gave up. I also admire the dreamers, the ones who are ready to go at any moment. Buick Mackane would just go. We wouldn’t have gigs set up. We’d ask Dash Rip Rock for openers. Just go and follow the open road.

AC: What influences your music the most?

AE: My family, friends, and the emotional touring that we crawl, run, skip, and surf through.

AC: Perfection?

AE: Perfection is everything in my eyes. Happiness is sometimes fleeting. I’m onstage, I’m singing my songs, playing my guitar, and people are digging it and at that point, I am one with the world. I work hard. It’s all about working. I see it as hard work. I get in the van and I play.

AC: Advice for musicians?

AE: Listen to as much music as you can. Never think that you’re there. Once you start closing the doors, you lose perspective on this incredibly wide open space called the world. It’s important to venture into places that seem uncomfortable. Be open and be loving.

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