Just Backdated: Alejandro Escovedo looking forward to keeping the pace in his musical marathon

It’s daytime on New Year’s Eve, and songwriter/guitarist Alejandro Escovedo and his wife Nancy Rankin are at Milton Riemer’s Ranch Park in the hill country of Dripping Springs, outside of Austin, Texas, ready to go for a hike after Escovedo finishes his interview. It’s their tradition to go running or hiking on the final day of the year, and as Escovedo has been running the last few days, a hike it is.

“I’ve always been active,” he says. “You know, I grew up in Huntington Beach, California. I was a surfer, I was a baseball player, and I ran cross country in high school and then, I always ran. When I came back to Austin with (post-punk country band) Rank and File, there’s a large running community here so running was always really beautiful and there’s a lot of great places to run.”

While he was never competitive, once Covid hit, the musician began training harder and entering more races, with a goal this year of entering a marathon in The Cascades in Washington this September and eventually completing a 50K run in Oregon. Not bad for a guy who was diagnosed with Hepatitis C in the 1990s and who is turning 72 this month. “We’re very excited about coming to Calgary because there’s a lot of running there. A lot of great trails,” he says, adding he loves running on our river pathways and would like to check out some mountain trails this time through.

This year, after some shows with his full band, the singer dug back into the touring that had been interrupted by the pandemic. “I started touring a little more seriously with my trio (Scott Danbom of Centro-Matic and Mark Henne on drums who plays with Black Joe Lewis). They both have their own records out and they’re both into electronics and atmospheric music. So, what we’re trying to create with the trio is something that really kind of showcases the lyrics more.” 

They plan to record later this year, just over 30 years after Escovedo released his first solo album, Gravity, in 1992 after his Rank and File years, which followed his time with his band The Nuns, riding the original punk wave.

“It’s funny because I don’t think about the past all that much and I’m still very much into what we’re going to create in the future. I look back at those albums and I look at them with little fond memories, you know, the gigs that we did, the bands that I’ve had over the years. I’ve always been with really great musicians.” He adds that playing Calgary and Edmonton folk festivals and meeting the people in One Yellow Rabbit are special memories.

“Time, at this point, I’m going to be 72 in January. I never thought I’d make it this far, but I did, and I’m very happy that I made it this far. I mean, it’s a funny thing, because people are always — when I do interviews, especially with foreign press, especially German press — they always seem to be asking me why I’m not more successful. Which in a way is very kind of insulting.

“Because I’ve been able to travel the world making music, making a lot of people happy. I’ve made records all my life in the way that I wanted to make records. I was never under the oppression of record labels or some sort of success based on any particular song, you know, where I’ve been married to some song I may not have liked that much. I feel very fortunate. You know, I’ve never thought of myself as being unsuccessful.”

Besides, Escovedo’s 2020 release of La Cruzada, a re-recording of 2018’s The Crossing sung in Spanish, made the Billboard Top 10 Latin pop chart.

“You know, it’s funny because it made the Top 10 of Billboard Latin pop charts for about a week, and it sold out right away. Unfortunately, just as the album was released, Covid hit. We had a year and a half of touring booked and it was all cancelled.”

While his original goal was to be a filmmaker, being born into a musical family (his niece is drummer Shelia E and several brothers are professional musicians) means music came to him naturally.

“It seems that my role in the family legacy is to tell the stories of the family and to document musically what the family is all about. I mean, that’s a very sacred position in the family so I’m proud of what I’ve done.”

In the upside-down world, success is measured by units sold and money made, and often “successful” musicians under those terms end up in bankruptcy or languishing in the “Where are they now?” file down the road, or having to play that one song they hate over and over in a kind of decades-long purgatory, whereas artists like Escovedo create music with staying power that touches the listener’s mood, brain and soul, music that is true to their vision.

“I feel the same way. And you know, I think it was The Sun Also Rises, the Hemmingway book, and he talks about someone reading the wrong book at the wrong time, which led them on a path that was kind of dangerous for them. For me, all those records, The Velvet Underground records, the Stooges albums, the New York Dolls albums, the Leonard Cohen records, the Tim Hardin records, you know, these are all people who didn’t sell millions of records but they were so important to the ground work of what became this beautiful thing we call rock and roll or music, folk music, whatever label you want to put on – songwriting – but it was of the highest order, so, I don’t care about selling records.

“All the people who I loved didn’t sell a lot of records but they were amazingly influential to me and to a lot of other people.”

Listening to the songwriter’s voice and vitality, he sounds like someone in their thirties, not seventies. “You know that line in The Who song (Substitute) where he says, ‘I look pretty young but I’m just backdated’? That’s how I feel.

“I’m very healthy at this point. Covid was weird, I did contract Covid once, it was early on, and it was pretty bad, but I made it through that.” After becoming aware he had Hep C, he was on Interferon, and found the treatment worse than the drug, making him feel horrible. “I had to get off it because it was eating away my bone marrow. So, I was very weak and I was on the verge of death. I stayed off that but I did find Tibetan medicine and a Tibetan doctor who supported me and helped me through all those years of waiting for a better drug to rid me of the Hep C.

“And through that Tibetan medicine I was able to survive all those years. In 2015 there was a new treatment that came out … Anyway it was a combination of two drugs and I took it and the first two days I felt horrible and I thought, ‘I can’t do this, I don’t want to do this again.’ And then on the third day I jumped out of bed and told Nancy, ‘Let’s go get breakfast tacos,’ and from then on I felt great, and within a month we had a test and it was completely gone.”

Asked if we missed something he wanted to talk about, he tells of coming to Calgary in the 2000s to take part in the High Performance Rodeo, playing a gig with a local backing band. “We had so much fun and I met Michael Green (who died in a car accident in 2015) and Denise Clarke and Blake (Brooker) and I fell in love with that group of people, I really did.” That was followed by Escovedo performing in the play By the Hand of the Father a few years later.

“As great as it was as a concept and as a play, I always felt like it actually needed a little more. I always felt like the OYR people have a really wonderful approach to theatre and storytelling. And so when I wanted to do this, what I’m working on is a memoir at this point, and I want to create a one-man performance, kind of what Loudon Wainwright did and Ray Davies did, reading from the book, telling my story about music, and my family, and myself, and doing it in kind of a theatrical way. So, I rang up Denise … and asked her if she might be able to help me, so this may be premature, but I’m hoping I can convince them to help me with this performance.”

Alejandro Escovedo plays One Yellow Rabbit’s High Performance Rodeo Jan. 27 at The Grand. For more information go to