Rewards | Fire Keeper's Club
Friday, August 22 at 8 p.m.
Alejandro Escovedo’s solo recording career began in 1992 with Gravity, hailed in its very first review by The Austin Chronicle as “a near perfect album of stunning originality… some of the greatest music to be found anywhere and anytime.” Such consistent unstinting praise has marked every release that followed through to Street Songs of Love, described as "ageless rock ‘n’ roll” by The Washington Post and “required listening” by The New York Post. It’s no wonder that veteran Rolling Stone critic David Fricke pondered some years ago, “What does it take to make this man a star?”
But stardom has never been the motivation or the goal for Escovedo. He was raised in Southern California in a very musical family with a father who played in mariachi bands and older brothers making their marks as noted percussionists in such pioneering Latin rock groups as Santana and Azteca.
In his teens Alejandro was a devoted surfer by day who spent many of his nights going to rock ‘n’ roll concerts. It wasn’t until he was in college in San Francisco that he started playing guitar and formed a group with some friends. They became The Nuns, a seminal act in the burgeoning San Francisco punk scene, who opened for The Sex Pistols on the final date of their ill-fated 1978 U.S. tour at Winterland. He went on to play guitar in Rank and File, whose post-punk rocking twang presaged the rise of Americana and alt-country a decade or so later.
The band eventually landed in Austin, Texas, where Escovedo started a hard-charging roots rock group, The True Believers. The group’s ill-starred run saw them debut with a well-received album on EMI Records, only to be dropped from the label on the eve of the release of their follow-up (both were later issued in 1994 on CD by Rykodisc in one package titled, Hard Road).
Ultimately he has continued to thrive creatively by following a basic guiding precept passed to him by his older brothers: “If it’s all about the music, then let it be about the music,” insists Escovedo. By doing so he has served his music well, while it has at the same time carried and comforted him through life’s turns and travails. As a result his listeners reap a bounty of all but incomparable richness, depth and emotional impact from a truly great American musical artist.
A native of Amarillo, Texas, Joe Ely got his start in the early ’70s, working with Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore in a group called The Flatlanders. When he is not out doing his solo shows, he’s on the road with his saddle pals Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt and Guy Clark, doing gigs at honky tonks like Carnegie Music Hall.
With a career spanning 18 albums, thousands of live performances, and hundreds of thousands of miles on the road over four decades, Joe Ely needs no introduction. Roll out the Lord of the Highway, King of the Honky-Tonk, torchbearer of nitro-fueled, tornado-twisted West Texas rock and roll. Cite Lubbock and Austin for giving him a unique sense of place. Name-drop Buddy Holly, the Clash, and Bruce Springsteen. Bemoan radio's inability to decide whether he's too country for rock, or too rock for country.
In the late 1990s Ely was asked to write songs for Robert Redford's movie The Horse Whisperer, which led to reforming The Flatlanders with Gilmore and Hancock for an appearance on the movie soundtrack. Years back when Ely was big in Europe and touring with The Clash, Time Magazine reported that “one of the top country acts has yet to be discovered in the U.S., while he is taking Europe by storm.”
Around the mid 1970s, he formed an eclectic group that was able to swing from Cajun and western to honky-tonk stomps and rockabilly. They were signed to MCA Records in 1977. Ely released an eponymous debut that year, using songs written by Gilmore and Hancock and throwing in some of his own road-worn, oddly poetic originals.
The next year brought Honky Tonk Masquerade, the cornerstone of Ely's legacy and one of modern country's most ambitious albums. Further albums (especially Live Shots, recorded during his European tour with The Clash) brought him to the attention of rock fans and netted ecstatic reviews in country and pop magazines. And to this day, Ely still gets together with his Flatlander buddies to perform some barnburners.