Musician has come long way from his days as a punk rocker

By John Benson

Alejandro Escovedo was a member of the punk band The Nuns.

Singer-songwriter Alejandro Escovedo remembers that he almost met Bruce Springsteen in Cleveland in 1996 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Woody Guthrie tribute show. However, the latter performed at a smaller Agora show, while the former dazzled audiences at Severance Hall.

It would be a dozen years before Escovedo, who recently released his ninth solo album, “Real Animal,” finally crossed paths with The Boss. In hearing the Texas-born, Southern California-raised alt-country artist tell it, the wait was well worth it. This past summer, Springsteen asked Escovedo to join him and the E Street Band on stage to play a song at a sold-out show in Houston.

“I got up and did my song ‘Always a Friend,’ which is before the release of the record,” said Escovedo, calling from Austin, Texas. “So I was able to get up and play a song in front of 18,000 people. I had just met him that night and with the E Street Band, which is one of the top three bands of the world. It was just an unbelievable experience.”

Considering Escovedo isn’t exactly a household name, not to mention he performed a then unreleased song, that’s one heck of a focus group with which to try out new material.

“It’s funny — and I’ve said this before — but those four minutes seemed like it was a culmination of everything I had done previous,” Escovedo said. “It was more important than the 33 years I had been playing music.”

On the surface, Springsteen and Escovedo don’t appear to have much in common. As a member of the seminal Bay Area punk band The Nuns, Escovedo eventually landed in New York City before finally relocating to Austin and becoming an influential artist in the alternative country scene of the ’80s and ’90s.

Even though the two baby boomer artists come from different coasts, Escovedo feels a kinship with Springsteen regarding a shared love for ’60s English and American rock, as well as both artists’ ability to tell heartfelt stories about the common man. It’s the latter that Escovedo has explored fully on “Real Animal.”

“The first song, ‘Slow Down,’ that we wrote is the last song on the album,” Escovedo said. “I wanted to create the image that I had of this place I grew up in. And ‘Slow Down’ is about taking someone who is younger than yourself back to this place where you lived, which for me was Huntington Beach, California. It was the ’60s and surfing and being young.”

He added, “And then a song like ‘Chelsea Hotel ’78,’ I feel is one that really captures what it was like being in bands for me in the late ’70s after punk rock and living in New York City. It’s a place I had always wanted to go to when I was a kid.”

Escovedo — who returns to Cleveland for a Sunday show and then visits Pittsburgh the next night — is somewhat on the comeback trail. Despite the fact Escovedo beat the odds after being diagnosed with hepatitis C, an experience dealt with in spades on his 2006 album “The Boxing Mirror,” the artist who lived to fight, write and sing another day doesn’t feel sorry for himself.

Actually, he’s focused on not letting the entire experience define his existence or his music. Though the 57-year-old acknowledges the importance of this chapter in his life, he’s ready to move on.

“I often think that’s just life, that’s just what happens,” Escovedo said. “Now I deal with it, and I try my best to live a positive life, a life that still embraces life. And when people are asking me what my next move will be, what’s the next record going to be like, so far I’ve said that I really want it to be about nothing at all.

“I just want it to be songs. I think I’m kind of sick about talking about myself.”

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