He’s made a professed fan and big-scary-friend of Bruce Springsteen (who’s covered his songs and jammed with him onstage), as well as Stephen King (who’s selected his long-players for yearly Top Ten lists) and President George W. Bush (whose iPod inclusion of the song “Castanets” led to a self-imposed performance embargo by the artist).
Other diehard aficionados include everyone who ever called themselves a rock critic, most musicians currently active today, and for whatever reason, all of our friends who happen to live in Philadelphia.
We thought we were being real Sidney Falco when we contacted Alejandro Escovedo‘s people in advance of his last solo jaunt Shoreside, and casually dropped the names of a couple of those mutual friends in the city of Sunny. The answer that filtered back was something to the effect of “The artist is absolutely not interested in doing an interview with you” — leading us to reckon that an agonizing reappraisal of the Escovedo ouevre was in order; or at very least a better class of friends to namedrop.
Alright, maybe Alejandro Escovedo doesn’t know who we are — hasn’t gotten the memo about how our Rolodex groans with the names and numbers of everyone from Ralph Nader and Uncle Floyd to Melanie and Madame. How we broke bread at the Red Oak with Gomez Addams, and had our pen stolen by Alec Baldwin. Well, no matter, because we know who Alejandro Escovedo is.
He was there with his old 1970s punk band The Nuns, when the original Sex Pistols played their infamous last show in San Francisco. He was there in the Chelsea Hotel when they carried out the body of Nancy Spungen. He’s called vintage Santana members Coke Escovedo and Pete Escovedo his brothers; Prince protege Sheila E his niece — and when he fell ill with hepatitis-C in 2003, an allstar assembly of musical superfriends got together to fund his medical bills and record the kind of tribute album that you don’t usually get until you’re six feet under.
Although he also went on to form bands in the vein of cowpunk (Rank And File) and “roots” rock (The True Believers, with younger brother Javier), Alejandro Escovedo didn’t really start to make a big impression (on a small but crucial segment of the audience) until he started making solo records in the early 1990s. His debut longplayer Gravity was a starkly satisfying set of hangin’ ballads, drinky waltzes, honkytonk weepers and drama rockers; setting the artist’s rough voice against a body of writing that should rightly cause many a “singer-songwriter” to lay that guitar down in shame.
What made this “underground” master’s take on Texas-flavored Americana so special — apart from the fact that he’d lived a couple of musical lifetimes by the release date of his first disc — was the fact that he approached this material from the service-entrance access point of the vintage punk and 70s glam rock he came of age with. Mott The Hoople and The Stooges were where it was at; a fact reflected in his gloriously noisy side project Buick Mackane, and in his recent choices of producer. His 2006 studio comeback The Boxing Mirror featured the raking, scraping string arrangements and guitar freakouts of Velvet Underground co-founder John Cale, while both 2008’s Real Animal (featuring the Boss-covered “Always a Friend”) and 2010’s tough-love Street Songs of Love bear the mark of the great Tony Visconti, the producer who was to the best T. Rex records as Sir George Martin was to the Lads.
With a clean bill of health, a classic second-act career — and a change of management that’s put him on speed-dial with Springsteen svengali Jon Landau — Escovedo’s appeared in recent years at Monmouth University’s Pollak Theatre (where he appeared acoustically with Los Lonely Boys in 2009) and at Asbury’s Paramount (where he was anything but lonely upon the star-studded stage of the annual Light of Day concert).
When he headlines the Count Basie Theatre for the first time on the night of Wednesday, May 4, Escovedo will build on some of that Shore-cred capital, with an event produced by Concerts East (and sponsored in part by Brookdale Public Radio). It’s a show from which a portion of proceeds will be dedicated to the Parkinson’s-pummeling Light of Day Foundation (co-chaired by Concerts East kingpin Tony Pallagrosi) and the Joan Dancy & PALS Foundation for ALS patients.
It’s also a show with a whole other headline-worthy name on the marquee — Jesse Malin, a fellow born-in-a-punk-trunk showbiz veteran and a favorite over at BCC’s WBJB radio. Tickets for Wednesday’s 8pm show ($18-$52.50) are still available from the Basie’s online box office.