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La Vida Escovedo

Alejandro Escovedo's journey to health and happiness

"Excess" is a term too often attached to the behaviors of professional musicians, and the consequences of their actions can end careers. When Austin, Texas-based singer/songwriter Alejandro Escovedo collapsed after a performance in 2003, the diagnosis was bad — very bad. Even though he was aware that he'd had Hepatitis C since 1996, Escovedo gradually drifted from the strict health regimen that was prescribed to control the disease back to the excesses that one finds so frequently in the music world. The Hep C was now compounded with advanced cirrhosis of the liver, vascular disorders and a poor prognosis. La vida loca had caught up with Escovedo. Again. And this time it looked like it was getting the best of him.

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Born in San Antonio to Mexican immigrant parents and raised with 11 siblings, Escovedo discovered rock music at a late age. In the 1970s, while his brothers Pete and Coke went on to fame with the Latin-influenced sounds of Santana and Malo, Escovedo joined a punk band called the Nuns, best known for opening the original Sex Pistols' final gig in San Francisco. From there he ventured into cowpunk with Rank & File, then after relocating to Austin, he formed the legendary True Believers with Jon Dee Graham. Considered one of the most important bands in Austin's rich musical history with its hard-edged guitar work and provocative lyrics, the Believers had a short but fiery lifespan. In the early 1990s, Escovedo began a solo career that spawned one great album after another, and gained enough respect and recognition to be named No Depression magazine's "Artist of the Decade." But all the critical accolades didn't translate into financial success, so Escovedo toured and performed endlessly to make a living. Then he crashed.

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Returning home to seek treatment, Escovedo faced another problem common to professional musicians: no insurance. But here the story takes a good turn. The extensive respect and camaraderie Escovedo shared with other musicians was returned to him in a big way. A fund was set up, and a series of more than two dozen nationwide benefit shows were organized to raise money to help offset Escovedo's medical and living expenses (including a local Atlanta star-studded show at the late great Echo Lounge). In addition, a double CD was released featuring many of Escovedo's friends singing his songs, and all the revenues (plus royalties) went to him. It was a grand gesture that confirmed Escovedo's high status among his peers, and gave him a respite from debt and financial worry that allowed him the opportunity to heal without distractions.

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Following extensive treatment and now living a healthy, holistic lifestyle, Escovedo has gradually returned to doing what he loves best: making music. His schedule is a little lighter these days, and he rarely books more than three shows in a row. But the creative fire still burns, and Escovedo has returned to form with his recent work. Shifting with ease from his rock band to a string quintet to the grand Alejandro Escovedo Orchestra, he is regaining his strength and confidence, and giving something back to the people who supported him during the dark days of his illness.

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Escovedo's most recent release is an independently produced double CD titled Room of Songs, recorded live at the Cactus Cafe in Austin by the Alejandro Escovedo String Quintet. Consisting of songs from his past releases, the album presents the familiar material in a new light, allowing Escovedo's exquisite melodies and powerfully emotional words to shine. In addition, he is working on a new album of previously unrecorded original material, with close friend John Cale producing. From all reports, Escovedo's brush with mortality is addressed musically through the new material in his usual stoic and dignified manner. For someone who has put so much of his heart and soul into his music, it's good to see the fruits of his labor when the community gives something back. Alejandro Escovedo is a lucky man, and we are lucky to still have him.