Twenty-five years after he accidentally created the seminal San Francisco punk band the Nuns, singer/songwriter Alejandro Escovedo is finding the roots of his identity. All but crushed by the suicide of his second wife, the Austin, Texas-based Escovedo delivered two solo albums on Watermelon Records -- "Gravity" in 1992 and "Thirteen Years" in 1993 -- devoted almost exclusively to working out his life in death's shadow.
As the pain slipped into history, the remarried grandfather (with six children of his own) signed with Bloodshot Records. His debut for that label was the critically acclaimed 1998 live album "More Miles Than Money: Live 1994-96," with the riveting 25-minute suite "Gravity/Falling Down Again" at its center. Escovedo's latest, Bourbonitis Blues, pits his "classical glam" Orchestra against some of the greatest rock & roll scribes.
"This album started off as just a cover of Mick Jagger's 'Evening Gown' for a Bloodshot compilation," Escovedo says by phone, coddling his fussy six-month-old daughter, Juanita. "Then we did a bunch more covers because people keep asking for them." The CD includes Ian Hunter's "Irene Wilde," Lou Reed's "Pale Blue Eyes," John Cale's "Amsterdam," and Jimmie Rodgers' "California Blues."
Escovedo continues to refine a concept he began with the Alejandro Escovedo Orchestra, a mostly unplugged outfit pairing acoustic guitars with viola, cellos and fiddles. Evident from the pull of stringed instruments on opening cut "I Was Drunk," he weaves both his own material and the covers from the same textured emotional fabric. As with most of his solo work, the result is imbued with a sense of melancholy.
"That is pretty much what I write about and sing about," says Escovedo, 48. "I've always been attracted to those types of songs and that type of literature and filmmaking. Not that I don't have a good time, but when I first started writing songs I was 30. So the rock & roll dream didn't mean as much as it used to, and I started looking for other things: checking out my history and family and culture as a Chicano. And melancholy is very much a part of that culture."
Brother of Latin jazz percussionist Pete Escovedo and uncle of Prince-associated pop star Sheila E, Escovedo is considering putting together a boxed set that spans his musical history, from the Nuns, to the early cow-punk of his band Rank and File, to the rootsy True Believers with his brother Javier, all the way to the solo work.
"I feel the solo stuff is really what I'm all about," says Escovedo. "If I have a name at all, that is what it is based on."
He's also putting the finishing touches on his first play, "By the Hand of the Father." With a reading staged at the major music conference South by Southwest in March, the play will go through revisions and, with Escovedo and an ensemble providing live music, premiere in L.A. sometime next year.
"The play is sparked by songs I have written about my dad. It traces the story of five Mexican men at the turn of the `last` century as they cross the border into the American Southwest. I deal with their struggles to assimilate and raise families, and how we as parents teach our children those same lessons now that we are facing the millennium."
Playwriting takes Escovedo back to his early efforts at filmmaking, which gave birth to the Nuns. Scripted as a little more then a prop in an unfinished movie Escovedo was making about an Iggy Pop-like character who joins the world's worst band, the Nuns were never supposed to be real. Yet Escovedo and the Nuns opened the final U.S. show by the Sex Pistols in 1978. How bad were they?
"When we first started we had to ask people to come up on stage and tune our guitars for us. But we had our own style, and I guess we were in the right place at the right time."
Escovedo and members of his band will perform a free set at 4 p.m. Friday, July 9, at Park Avenue CDs, 528 S. Park Ave., Winter Park. Call 629-5293 for information.