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Alejandro Escovedo: Punk Rock Roots In Texas

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Singer-songwriter and guitarist Alejandro Escovedo is a punk rock pioneer and veteran of Latino rock scene whose career has spanned almost 45 years. But the San Antonio-native and now-Austin resident is not the only one in his sprawling musical family to write a song or pick up a guitar; encouraged by their parents, especially their father who also played played, eight of the 13 siblings in became professional musicians.

Escovedo's path to music took a jump forward when he moved to New York City in 1975 and by the late 70's, things started to move fast. In 1978, Escovedo and his band, The Nuns, opened for The Sex Pistols' final show at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom. Reflecting on his early days on the scene, Escovedo said, "Punk rock was more about expression than it was about technical abilities, so here we are 45 years later." Escovedo moved to Austin in the 1980's and played the bands Rank & File and The True Believers — and has since carved out a successful solo career with over 15 albums.

Alejandro Escovedo on Ask Me Another at the Majestic Theatre in Dallas, Texas.
Jack Akana / Reflections HD for NPR

Now 67, Escovedo's latest record, the 2018 concept album, The Crossing, is a cinematic ode to Texas. Although recorded in Italy, the songs were inspired by the stories of immigrants he met in Texas while on the tour with his co-writer, Antonio Garmantieri of the Italian band Don Antonio. The record tells the story of two boys who discover their love for American punk music as they work together in a Texas restaurant.

In a conversation at the Majestic Theatre in Dallas, Texas with Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg, Escovedo discussed how music became the family business, his punk rock roots, and his album, The Crossing.

Inspired by his love of surfing and French cinema, and his own big musical family, Escovedo is challenged to a round of This That Or The Other, where he chose between three categories — surfing lingo, title of a French New Wave film, or a band featuring one of his brothers.


Interview Highlights

On how Escovedo and his siblings got into the music business:

"My father was a man who came from Mexico, he crossed when he was 12. He loved music and he played guitar very punk rock — very crudely. He loved to sing, and he loved to dance. He thought of himself of a croner, so there was always music in our family."

On a health scare that almost changed his life

In 2002, Escovedo collapsed on stage during a play about his father's life called By the Hand of the Father. He was later diagnosed with Hepatitis C.

"It was the late '90s and I began to get very tired and very sick. And so I went to a doctor in Austin. And at that time, they didn't know what Hep C was. They called it Non A, Non B. When I last saw [the doctor], she told me, 'I'm going to tell you what I tell my AIDS patients, and that's to go out and live the best life that you can.' So I was depressed, and the more I read about that stuff, the more I read I was going to die very soon.

"Through some kind of miracle, I found Tibetan medicine. I found these monks that were traveling through. I started taking Tibetan medicine that kept me alive up until four years ago, when they finally came out with a medicine that has a 99 percent success rate, and I took it, and now I no longer have Hepatitis C."

On the inspiration behind his latest album, The Crossing:

"[The album] is very much [biographical]. I wrote this with Antonio Garmantieri from [the Italian band] Don Antonio... But yes, the esthetic values that they go in search of are very much our own... We went and hit the back roads of Texas in my pickup truck, and stopped a lot of restaurants and ate, and met a lot of people here in Dallas who were [DACA] DREAMers. And we interviewed them and listened to their stories. And a lot of their stories helped shape the record and songs."

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