HotStar: Alejandro Escovedo

Alejandro Escovedo survived an ordeal that some may not have come back from: Hepatitis C nearly took his life five years ago and his chances of recovery weren’t good. But his fate wasn’t as written in stone as it seemed.

The Texas native was diagnosed with the disease around 1997 and underwent treatment, but said he was in denial about it until he collapsed after a show in Arizona in 2003.

“There was treatment – Interferon – but it was kind of unsophisticated and not very well regulated, so the chances of my surviving the treatment were pretty slim,” Escovedo told Pollstar. “The doctor’s advice was to just go out and live the best life that I possibly could and that’s what I did.

“After six years of moving and playing constantly, making records, touring … and having a good time, my liver and my body said, ‘I’ve had enough.’ When my body suffered as a result of what I was doing to it and was bleeding internally, I was faced with the true scope of what this disease can do to you.”

Escovedo took time to recover and re-evaluate his life, but it was difficult. The death of his father, Pedro, a mariachi musician who was a significant influence, was another blow. The support of his family and many friends who rallied to help him pay his medical expenses kept him going.

“The medication lends itself to some pretty psychotic episodes and … depression. You question absolutely everything,” he explained. “I survived for two years with the help of these friends, fans, record company people, club owners, sound men, waitresses and door people.

“It was just an amazing outpouring of love, you know? I’ve never seen anything like it.”

That experience led Escovedo to release 2006’s The Boxing Mirror, which signified his return to music along with a positive outlook on his health and future.

His latest album, Real Animal, chronicles that struggle and his more than 30 years in the music business. His family’s move from Texas to California; his first band, The Nuns; his musical evolution with Rank and File and True Believers, and other events are highlighted.

As one of eight siblings who are professional musicians, Escovedo built his career through many musical influences and experiences, such as when The Nuns landed an opening slot on the same bill as the Sex Pistols in 1978. Youthful perseverance made that happen.

“I think we pestered Bill Graham enough that he just got sick of us,” Escovedo said, laughing. “That was the [Sex Pistols’]last show at Winterland. I’d say that experience was pivotal in that it was the end of punk rock as we knew it. It was the end of that era and the beginning of bands like the Dead Kennedys.”

After The Nuns went their separate ways, Escovedo joined Tony and Chip Kinman to form Rank and File, which had a roots rock-oriented sound. After one album and a year of touring, Escovedo left Rank and File and returned to Austin, where he formed True Believers with his brother Javier and John Dee Graham around 1983.

Success nearly came after True Believers built its fan base on the Austin club scene and landed a major label deal with EMI. However, a restructuring at the label led to the band being dropped a few weeks before its second album was to be released.

After taking a break from the business and focusing on his writing, Escovedo launched his solo career in 1992 with Gravity and continued to redefine his sound with each album.

Barbara Carr and her co-workers at Jon Landau Management, which manages Bruce Springsteen, were alerted to Real Animal earlier this year. Carr knew Escovedo’s work because her husband, music journalist Dave Marsh, is a fan.

“Ian Ralfini, who’s the head of Alejandro’s label, is an old friend of mine. He called me and said, ‘Barbara, this is a very different album that Alejandro’s made.’” Carr told Pollstar. “I said, ‘Well, send me the record.’ I started listening to it and fell in love with it.

“He’s a lot like Bruce – they have a lot of similarities. It’s just that one has been a huge success and one has been a critical success and all musicians love him, but he’s never had the commercial success.”

Jan Stabile, who handles day-to-day business for Escovedo, also heard of him through Marsh and was impressed after she and Barbara met with him.

“You could see his connection to his music [and] could tell it came from his heart,” Stabile told Pollstar. “He also connects with his fans in a very special way. There’s no question about it, he’s the real deal.”

Escovedo, backed by guitarist David Pulkingham, bassist Josh Gravelin, violinist Susan Voelz, cellist Brian Standefer and drummer Hector Munoz, is gaining new fans through opening slots with Dave Matthews Band and Springsteen and appearances on the “Today,” show, late-night talk shows and at the Democratic National Convention.

The band will be on the road through mid-November, with tour plans after that still in the works.

Meanwhile, Escovedo is taking his new-found popularity in stride.

“I’m constantly being reminded of how long it took and that I’m a certain age and it’s odd,” he said. “But … I feel like it’s a continuation of everything we’ve been trying to do for so many years.

“It’s nice that we’re getting the breaks that we’re getting.”