Hector on Drums
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Hector on Drums


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"Fantastic Journey"

Alejandro Escovedo retraces his steps

For the last 16 years, Alejandro Escovedo has been one of America’s two or three greatest popular music artists, but if you just moved to Austin, you probably don’t know it. If you live somewhere else and know the longtime local, perhaps it’s because you saw the YouTube video of him performing “Always a Friend” with Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, April 14 in Houston. Maybe you were a subscriber to the late, great No Depression, the roots-music bible that in 1998 named him Artist of the Decade. They got it right.
It’s almost funny Escovedo became more prominent singing one song at the Toyota Center arena than he did in 15 years of playing some of the most thrilling shows anywhere. I’ve seen him solo in a room with 20 people, as a duo with another guitar or a violin, with the scabrous glam rock band Buick MacKane, and with the Alejandro Escovedo Orchestra. I’ve dragged people by the ear to see him at midnight simply by saying, “Other than Bruce, he’s the best live artist I know.” I got it right, too.
Real Animal, his ninth release, is his Born to Run, the album that justifies every superlative ever thrown at him, and it does so by retracing his journey from Orange County, Calif., where he grew up, to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. The focus centers on the music he loved and the life he lived before arriving in Austin in the early 1980s. It’s not a throwback to other bands he’s played with or led, Rank and File, the True Believers, and Ronnie Lane’s last Slim Chance. Rather, it’s a throwback to the music of the Stones, Bowie, T. Rex, the Stooges, and all the other rock bands that inspired him. It was even produced by Tony Visconti, who made all those great Bowie and T. Rex records.

One smart decision was using Escovedo’s road band. It’s an odd assortment for a guy who declares at the beginning of one new song, “All I ever wanted was a fourpiece band.” If you don’t expect that to mean guitar, bass, drums, and strings, you don’t know Alejandro Escovedo’s music. These are essential collaborators.
He’s worked with drummer Hector Muñoz, who plays like a mighty beat beast throughout Real Animal, for 25 years; violinist Susan Voelz for about 20; Brian Standefer, the cellist, for 13; guitarist David Pulkingham, with whom he does live gigs when he’s playing acoustic, for six. Bassist Josh Gravelin, formerly of Cotton Mather, is the newcomer. Prophet was until lately the other guitarist. He departed to fulfill commitments to his well-trenched solo career.
- Austin Chronicle

"New York Times album review"

New York Times Picks “Real Animal” As Critic’s Choice, 06/23/08

Alejandro Escovedo can be a pensive, cryptic, death-haunted songwriter, as his recent albums attest. But every so often he prefers to blast some basic rock, and that’s what he does on his ninth studio album, “Real Animal.” Mr. Escovedo looks back on his punk rocking 1970s youth, when he was a founder of a San Francisco punk band, the Nuns, and then of what was called a “cow-punk” band, Rank and File. This time his songwriting embraces bluntness. “It’s 1978/We know we’re not in tune/We know we’ll never be great,” he sings in “Nuns Song.”

Mr. Escovedo, 57, isn’t trying to erase the decades between his past and present. Mortality is still on his mind in songs like the harmonica-hooting “People (We’re Only Gonna Live So Long),” which observes, “We still got time/But never quite as much as we think.” The album has some hard-riffing two-chord guitar stomps, but it’s not wedded to a punk sound. “Real Animal” was produced by Tony Visconti, who worked on David Bowie’s best ’70s albums, and it has tracks that knowingly look back, like the “Ashes to Ashes” homage in “Golden Bear.” Elsewhere it uses Mr. Escovedo’s own preferred configuration: a rock band augmented by a string quintet.

The particulars of Mr. Escovedo’s autobiography on this album — his wanderings to New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Austin — may not matter much to those not already following his music. But the songs also tell a larger story: of reckless youth and unrepentant maturity, of time’s ravages and insights. In “Slow Down,” which concludes the album, Mr. Escovedo sings, “Want to live in this moment/But I’m tangled in the past.” He doesn’t pretend to be young on “Real Animal,” but he hasn’t forgotten how it felt.

Jon Pareles-The New York Times - New York Times

"Alejandro Escovedo has another breakthrough album"

By Dana Schimmel AP Writer

Ask his fellow musicians about Alejandro Escovedo, and you’ll hear nothing but praise. Yet he’s never been a household name, and even among rock fans, his work, though influential, is not widely known: He’s been more of an aficionado’s musician.

But over the last few years, the veteran singer, songwriter and guitarist has gotten a higher profile, though he’s still far from mainstream. His album “Boxing Mirror” in 2006 was deemed by some critics to be the greatest work of his decades-long career; with his new album “Real Animal,” released last month, he cracked the Billboard Top 200 album chart for the first time.

Escovdeo doesn’t know why, after suffering through a devastating bout with hepatitis C and near financial ruin, that these last few years have been so fruitful, artistically and commercially. He says it’s never been a priority for him. But at 57, he is clearly enjoying his moment now.

AP: After “Boxing Mirror” many critics said that was your definitive or career album — they’re saying the same thing about the new CD.

Escovedo: It’s nice to have a lot of career albums, I guess. I think that (with) “Boxing Mirror” … after this illness that I was faced with and the uncertainty of whether I would play again. There was a lot emotional rallying around the album and myself. For me the fact that I made an album at all was quite a feat and that was a victory in itself. And now with this album, it’s a completely different world for me and I view everything differently now as a result of what I went through in the past. … It was deeply personal in a more kind of emotional, spiritual sense I guess.

read the whole interview at: http://alejandroescovedo.com/?p=88 - San Francisco Chronicle

"Rolling Stone Review: “Real Animal”"

Rolling Stone Review: “Real Animal”

“Real Animal” - 3 1/2 Stars.

To call Alejandro Escovedo the godfather of modern country rock would sell him short. He fronted the influential twang-rock outfits Rank and File, and True Believers, but as a solo artist, he’s transcended labels, and his latest is a chrome-bright autobiographical song cycle with flashbacks that roar into the present. “We came to live inside the myth,” Escovedo hollers on “Chelsea Hotel ‘78,” a reflection on being Sid Vicious’ neighbor back in the day. The track’s sung-spoken verses and scuzzy surf-rock riffs reflect the Pistols and the Hold Steady’s heartland-punk update. “Sensitive Boys” and “Real as an Animal” conjure Lou Reed’s “Coney Island Baby” and the Stooges, respectively, while “Hollywood Hills” and “Swallows of San Juan” are chamber-folk reveries captured in amber. David Bowie producer Tony Visconti helps give the set an ageless sheen; check out “Golden Bear,” a meditation on death whose synth gildings echo Bowie’s similarly themed “Ashes to Ashes.” But Escovedo, who nearly died of hepatitis C in 2003, clearly believes in the life-giving powers of rock & roll, and Real Animal is one powerful sermon.

By Will Hermes

- Rolling Stone Magazine

"Bowie, Escovedo and the Brooklyn Boy"

During the spring of the Summer of Love, 1967, 23-year-old Brooklyn-born bassist, songwriter, and arranger Tony Visconti – already a veteran of rock & roll's continuing big bang – boarded BOAC for London in hopes of becoming a full-fledged record producer. Manfred Mann the first day, Procol Harum the second. "What I didn't know was that I would bump into Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones in a corridor at Olympic Studios and I would also see Jimi Hendrix jam later that evening," writes Visconti in 2007's Bowie, Bolan and the Brooklyn Boy.

"God knows what would happen on my third day."

Twenty-two and a half years later, the Man Who Produced Bowie's The Man Who Sold the World – as well as Low, Lodger, Heroes, Young Americans, Scary Monsters – virtually all of T. Rex, and a trio of titles by the Ziggy Stardust-scoffed Thin Lizzy (Bad Reputation, Live and Dangerous, Black Rose) took a trans-Atlantic one-way back. Should you detect a puff of "Ashes to Ashes" on "Golden Bear" from Alejandro Escovedo's new Visconti-rocked Real Animal, it's no coincidence.

"I'm glad you picked that up," enthuses Greenwich Village's most fulfilled studio pioneer. "That intro, on the demo, just captivated me. It haunted me. And I fought for that song being on the album. It wasn't a favorite of the record company, but it now is. I said, 'That's magic, that intro.' My mind, which is usually very analytical, just couldn't understand the chord changes, the beauty of it."

"Golden Bear" pads a gentler Real Animal, as does "Sister Lost Soul," whose Spector-ish flourish also came about intentionally.

"Yeah, that started out as very much a country song, and I said: 'We can't go there. We can't have too much twang in this song.' It could have gone country, and I thought that would've been inappropriate, because we were making a rock album."

In full agreement that film's auteur theory extends to the likes of George Martin, Gil Evans, even Rick Rubin – audio directors leaving imprints as indelible as visual counterparts Hitchcock, Fellini, Romero – Visconti offers his style as organic with a technical swagger.

"I just made that up!" he laughs.

With Real Animal, Visconti accomplished what no other producer including John Cale realized on an Escovedo LP: uniting the Austin icon's bleeding Latinate with his black Gibson SG. Lexington, Ky., last December found string-benders tuning guitars, violins, and violas to the same emotional frequency.

"I couldn't understand why Alejandro had a fascination [with strings], but he does," puzzles an arranger almost as renowned as Atlantic Records' late, great Arif Mardin. "He feels it's very much an integral part of his sound. On this album, though, I consciously directed the string players to play 'rock strings': 'We're gonna put guitar effects on your equipment. We're gonna go for a rock sound. We don't want a quasi-classical sound on this album. It's gotta be really up-to-date and earthy.'

"And they just rose to the occasion. Susan [Voelz, violin] and Brian [Standefer, cello] were fantastic. Both of them are arrangers, and I'm an arranger, so the three of us actually cooked up the parts together. We had a good time doing that."

Paradoxically, the results unleashed an animal Escovedo fans have fed for decades.

"Hector Muñoz is one of the best drummers I've ever worked with," gushes Visconti, who first became aware of Escovedo and company as New York chapter president of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences during the Por Vida campaign. "I couldn't believe Hector's power and his taste. That's a rare combination to be powerful, loud, and also have great taste, reserve when it's necessary.

"Hector completely blew me away.

"And I like the fact that they weren't hardcore studio musicians. Everyone in the band has soul, and I can work with that better than professionalism. They played together really great in rehearsal, facing each other in the same room and all that. I tried to get the same atmosphere in the studio. I didn't put up any screens, any barriers. If I turned off Alejandro's microphone on the mixes, you could hear his live vocal on the drum kit. He was singing that close to Hector.

"This made the spirit of the album, to have everybody in the same room playing at the same time. Consequently, it didn't take long to record, because we didn't spend tedious weeks overdubbing. A lot of that stuff is the live take. We redid the guitar solos, and about 40 percent of the vocals I used Alejandro's live vocal."

Given Escovedo's Bowie-and-Iggy-romp-in-Berlin DNA mutation, does Austin's Real Animal compare in stature?

"Sure," says Visconti without hesitation. "My benchmark is, 'Does this person sound like anybody else?' And so many people do. But Alejandro is unique. He's a one-off. I see audiences just enthralled. Talk about charisma and having people hang on every breath. I have seen that. I've witnessed that. He has that effect on me, too. When he sang - Austin Chronicle


Alejandro Escovedo 'Real Animal' --EMI/Manhattan 2008

Alejandro Escovedo 'The Boxing Mirror' --Back Porch/EMI 2006

Hellapeno 'Hellapeno' --Hellalujah Records 2006

Alejandro Escovedo 'By the Hand of the Father' --Texas Music Group 2002

Alejandro Escovedo 'Official Live Bootleg: Live in Germany' --Blue Rose 2002

Alejandro Escovedo 'Man Under the Influence' --Bloodshot Records 2001

Alejandro Escovedo 'Bourbonitis Blues' --Bloodshot Records 1999

Alejandro Escovedo 'More Miles Than Money' --Bloodshot Records 1997

Darden Smith 'Trouble No More' --Columbia 1992

Dino Lee & the White Trash Revue 'The New Las Vegan' --New Rose Records 1989

Skank 'I Never Said That' --Spindletop 1986



Hector Muñoz just doesn't play drums; he plays music on the drums. His goal whenever he sits behind the kit is "playing for the sake of the song - allowing space and being the heartbeat," says the longtime veteran of the world-renowned Austin, Texas music scene and 2004 inductee into the Texas Music Hall of Fame who the Greensboro News and Review hails as a "powerhouse drummer."

For the last dozen years he's done just that - played music for the song on the drums - in Alejandro Escovedo's band on critically acclaimed albums and in a variety of venues - from America's major rock clubs and halls to festivals like WOMAD, Bumbershoot, Edmonton Folk Festival, Austin City Limits Music Festival - including television on MTV, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, The Today Show, Austin City Limits and various theatrical stages - playing behind one of the most original and visionary rock musicians of our day, hailed as "Artist of the Decade" by No Depression Magazine well before the 1990's even ended. From massive rock 'n' roll grooves almost orchestral ballads, Muñoz always hits the pocket within the many moods and modes of Escovedo's music. "He is one of the most intuitive drummers I have ever worked with," says famed producer Tony Visconti, known for the landmark albums he made with David Bowie, Marc Bolan & T. Rex and producer of Escovedo's recent breakthrough masterwork 'Real Animal'.

To wit, Muñoz "was always banging on cardboard boxes, pots and pans and stuff like that when I was a kid" in the colorful and musical city of El Paso, Texas. Music was always playing in the Muñoz home, from such favorites of his father as Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Ray Charles and Stax to the Mexican Mariachi balladeers his mother loved. He took up guitar in fourth grade "but I just wasn't feeling it," he recalls. "So I gave the guitar to my brother and started playing on thick cardboard boxes that were once homes to liquor bottles, with Husky pencils with those big erasers." He arrived home one day while in the eight grade "and there was this big box in the center of the living room from the Spiegal catalog. I opened it up and there was this red sparkle drum kit, I was hooked," Muñoz remembers.

Although he has little formal training, Muñoz was in a way taught by experts. "I set up my kit in my bedroom and put the turntable next to me and put on all my favorite albums and played along. Those basically were my teachers: Charlie Watts, Ringo, Mitch Mitchell, John Bonham of course, Kenny Jones, Keith Moon, Cozy Powell, Ian Paice. All those great English drummers were the guys that I learned from."

He cut his chops in garage bands that played keg parties out in the desert and rock quarries of the Franklin Mountains within El Paso, powered by generators. And from music playing from the cars driven by the city's low riders he soaked up the grooves of seminal Latin rock bands like Santana, Malo and Azteca in which his future musical compadre Alejandro's brothers Coke and Pete Escovedo played percussion.

Muñoz got his first professional kit courtesy of Buddy Miles, who played an El Paso club when Hector was 17 and had to stand out back to hear the show. "He was just beating the beejesus out of the drums." The rental Slingerland Louie Bellson set Miles used that night was on sale at a slashed down price the next day at Danny's Music Box. "There were dents in every head, including both kick drum heads," Muñoz says with a chuckle. "I called my dad to come down and co-sign a loan and got them."

In 1980, a visit to a high school pal attending college in Austin convinced him it was the place to make his way as a drummer. "There was new wave, reggae, punk, funk, blues, jazz, Tex-Mex, traditional and outlaw country and more there. I was wowed by it all! In 1982, after the breakup of the band I was in, I packed my car with half my kit, enough clothes for a week and $50 in my pocket," he remembers. "Found a job the next day and someone to play with two days later."

Soon he was playing with Skank, a popular local funk/new wave dance band, gaining new skills as the groups percussionist as well as playing the traps. "People would say: "You're Latin man, you should have it in you. And I'd answer: I don't know about percussion, I'm a drummer. But I went out and got timbales, congas, cowbells, shakers and the rest." He studied Airto Moriera, Max Roach's landmark M'Boom album, the Fania All-Stars, Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente and others and then brought what he learned back to the kit.

Muñoz also gained a mentor in legendary rock drummer Barry "Frosty" Smith, known for his work with Lee Michaels in the late 1960's and early '70's. "He taught me how drumming is all about stick control, color and phrasing - that's it!" After a stint with Austin's reigning controversial party band, Dino Lee and the White Trash Revue, Muñoz first joined up with Escovedo playing drums in his band True Believers in their