Hotel Troubadour: At the Belmont with Alejandro Escovedo and Nancy Rankin

Alejandro Escovedo and his wife, Nancy Rankin, chat in the Belmont Hotel lobby. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)
Alejandro Escovedo and his wife, Nancy Rankin, chat in the Belmont Hotel lobby. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

The Texas music legend in our midst

There is just one super-cute two-bedroom apartment at the Belmont Hotel, and a Texas rock ‘n’ roll legend has been its resident for over a year.

Alejandro Escovedo and his wife, Nancy Rankin, moved from Austin to Oak Cliff in September 2015. They originally came when Nancy was hired as a hair stylist on USA’s “Queen of the South,” and they’ve made our neighborhood their home.

This will come as no surprise to most of us, but they love it here.

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The Escovedos are on tour this winter and spring with Alejandro’s new album “Burn Something Beautiful.” Nancy photographed the album cover, and she passed up a job on the HBO show “The Leftovers” to document the tour. They sat down with us before they took off in early January.

What is it that you like so much about Oak Cliff and West Dallas?
We travel so much that we’re hardly ever home. But every time we come home there’s a new place we want to eat at, or we hear of a new record store or something going on. We love Spinster Records. We made friends with them right away. Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters is great. Ten Ramen. We eat there almost every day when we can. There are a lot of places we enjoy: Taqueria Mariachi, El Pueblo on Jefferson …

Detail of one of Escovedo’s guitars.(Photo by Danny Fulgencio)
Detail of one of Escovedo’s guitars.(Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

There’s no shortage of good eating-places here.
We love having a sense of community, and yet it’s very private. People don’t know who we are here. In Austin, it’s hard to do anything and not have someone approach you while you’re out having lunch with the family. I like having the anonymity of a place where people don’t know who you are and meeting people based on genuine human contact rather than what you’ve done in the past. We like how diverse the city is too. Austin is not as diverse as it once was. It’s so much easier to get around Dallas than it is Austin, too. The traffic in Austin is always bad.

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You’re leaving on tour in a couple of days. Which are your favorite cities to play?
I’ve probably played almost every place to play there is in America. I love going to New York, Chicago, Toronto, Vancouver, Hudson, N.Y., Portland, San Francisco. Los Angeles, not so much. If I never pay L.A. again I really wouldn’t feel like I’ve lost out on anything. It’s just such a hassle. The vibe is so different. It reminds me of what I really despise about the music industry. Dallas, Denton and even Austin remind me of why I love making music. But L.A. is always a struggle.

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Do your Austin friends come and visit you?
Yes, and they love it here. People don’t expect this hotel; there’s no other place like it. And then they realize how comfortable we are here. And how happy we are and that we’ve got great people around us. I think they’re all very happy for us. Everyone’s become like family here, especially at the Belmont.

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Everyone loves the Belmont.
This is a real special place. I’ve lived in hotels before. I lived in the Chelsea Hotel for a while … the beauty of living in hotels, especially those geared toward artists, you meet really interesting people all the time. And it’s a transient relationship. We’ll meet someone here, but then we’ll see them in Chicago. People who travel and know we live here now come and just want to say, “Hi.”

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You’re doing occasional Tuesday-night concerts in the hotel lounge. Tell me about that.
The last one I had Will Johnson from Centromatic … he sings and then I ask him about songwriting and what inspires him. It’s kind of like a storytelling thing. It’s a very laidback setting, around 40 or 50 people on Tuesday nights. Any more than that is too many. We have a little P.A., and it sounds great.

The Escovedos’ Belmont Hotel apartment came with an eight-track player, so they came with eight-track tapes.(Photo by Danny Fulgencio)
The Escovedos’ Belmont Hotel apartment came with an eight-track player, so they came with eight-track tapes.(Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

How did the two of you meet?
We met at the Continental Club. Nancy came with a friend, and I was performing. We just met that night, and it was kind of crazy. In the late ’90s, Nancy lived two houses down from where I lived, but we never knew each other. We also had a best friend in common, but we’d never even heard of each other. So it wasn’t the right time yet.

What are your observations about the Dallas music scene?
If you’d told me 10 years ago that I’d live in Dallas, I would’ve said, “You’re crazy.” Music’s always been up and down here. People from Dallas who make it big musically, except for Erykah Badu, they leave. There’s no elder statesmen who are going to mentor the community and be proud of being from here. With a lack of that kind of example, it’s hard to create a scene. My class of musicians … in the early ’80s to the ’90s and beyond all had Doug Sahm. And there was Jimmie and Stevie [Vaughan] and Townes [Van Zandt] — he’s been gone 10 years, and I still miss him. But they were all open and accessible. Without that I think it’s really hard.

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Are there any shows that stick out in your memory?
Well the last show we did at the Kessler. It was a double bill with Ian Moore. I was very nervous about it because it was my first show here after being considered a resident of Dallas. A lot of people came out. Dallas is not an easy audience to play to. When I’m in Austin, I really only play the Continental Club. That’s like home. I’ve played that stage so many times. Dallas has always been a little more reserved. Like you really have to impress a Dallas audience before they exude. I don’t understand why certain cities are like that. I like playing in New York because it’s the most challenging audience to play to. If you can overcome whatever intimidates you about New York … I always feel very accomplished.

Your fans really love you.
I have fans that have been around so long, their kids are fans. I have generations of fans, and I really like that. My brothers said to always be kind to people and always exude love. You never try to force yourself on the audience or other people. They will come if you make good quality music. The way I present myself is the way they presented themselves, and it’s a great example to have.

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