More Miles Than Money

Alejandro Escovedo, true believer

Difficult, too, for us rabid Escovedo freaks. With all those miles he logs every year, he somehow hasn't played a show in his old home county in four years (it's been even longer since he last visited Long Beach, with the True Believers on an opening slot for the Replacements at the old Fender's Ballroom).

Now's a good time to hear Escovedo. He's wrapping up a new album (A Man Under the Influence; he's a huge John Cassavetes fan), songs from which he'll likely play at this week's gigs. For much of the past two years, he's also kept busy writing songs and music for a play called By the Hand of the Father, a multimedia presentation of the lives of several Mexican-born men who cross the border into Texas and how they deal with assimilating into a new culture. After several work-in-progress performances, it formally premiered in LA in June and next year will head out on a proper tour. If you nudge him a little, he might play something from it at these shows, too.

"[The play] changed my life," Escovedo explains. "Musically, it gave me a better understanding of the performance of music. I've always been drawn to English rock bands, who I think have a better understanding of performing than American rock bands. But until this, I never really got into that theatrical thing—for me, it was always about just playing the songs, performing in the same way that Miles Davis used to—not really catering to the audience but drawing the audience into the music. And, of course, the subject matter is very close to home—a lot of it is about my father. It's a very rich, emotional story."

Escovedo's family moved to OC from Texas in 1958, when he was 9. He still isn't sure about the reasons for the move, a subject he touches on in a section of By the Hand of the Father titled "Secrets." "It asks the question, why did we move? Why were we suddenly in California? We've been told so many reasons over the years," he says. "You have to understand that when we left Texas, we left under the guise of 'going on vacation,' and we never went back. We left everything there. My father originally told me that we moved for several reasons. One is that Texas was a right-to-work state, and he could work as a plumber and join unions in California. The other reason is that Texas had so much prejudice that he just wanted to keep us away from it. I think it was maybe a little of both."

He lived in OC through the '60s, first in Orange, then Santa Ana and finally Huntington Beach, where he became part of the surf scene. "I was a real surfer dude," he says. "It was interesting, though, and I talk about this in the play, too: even though I was a surfer, I was Mexican, and that was kind of an odd cultural thing, the whole 'all surfers have blond hair' mystique. So on the beach, I got a lot of you-don't-belong-here attitude. And then I really didn't belong with the low-rider culture, either, so it was really strange."

So maybe Escovedo's creative eclecticism is somehow his own way of still trying to fit in. Maybe. Mostly, he's just carrying around what influenced him during his wild, untamed OC youth, including all the bands that came through the Golden Bear, the storied Huntington Beach club near the corner of PCH and Main Street (demolished in 1986 to make way for the retail complex that stands there now). Mention the Bear, and it seems you can hear Escovedo grinning through the telephone. "I saw some of the most wonderful things there, like Paul Butterfield, Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters—and there was a little place downstairs called the Salty Cellar, and that's where all the local garage rock bands would play. In fact, I got a brick from the building after they tore the Golden Bear down. I finally got to play there, too, when the True Believers played with Los Lobos. I remember I met Dwight Yoakam there for the first time that night. He said we were 'some revved-up Texas kinda deal.' That was a very rich place."

Escovedo says he hasn't been back to Main Street since, says he's afraid to. Too many paved-over memories. "But it was the '60s, and it just kicked. It's amazing what else I saw—Ike and Tina Turner, Lefty Frizzell, all sorts of music. It was a great time living in Huntington. It pretty much influenced my record collection for the rest of my life."

ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO performs WITH JIMMY CAMp AT LINDA'S DOLL HUT, 107 S. ADAMS ST., ANAHEIM, (714) 533-1286. FRI., 9 P.M. $7. 21+; AND WITH THE MAJESTICS AT THE BLUE CAFE, 210 THE PROMENADE, LONG BEACH, (562) 983-7111. MON., 9 P.M. $5. 21+.

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