Enter the Dragons

In the tradition of the Zeros and the Nuns, the youngest Escovedo talks siblings, booze and Dragon slaying

Escovedo understates it thusly: "My marriage is still together. She puts up with me and I'm lucky. She's a good girl."

"If you think about it," he adds, his voice just topping the drone of the van's motor, "for 10 years it [Dragons] is part of our lives. We've gone from being all, like, single guys to where some of us are married. I got a couple of kids, Jerrod has a kid. The personal lives keep going on, but you know, it has been going alongside the band, too. And whether to end the band was never a question."

As I often spout in this space, any band lacking wide mass pop respect is struggling for survival. And now more than ever. This is the age of rock stars pawning Puma sportswear or Hilfiger leisure blazers. David Bowie's face graces credit cards.

The Dragons: Steve Rodriguez, Kenny Horne, Mario Escovedo and Jerrod Lucas.
The Dragons: Steve Rodriguez, Kenny Horne, Mario Escovedo and Jerrod Lucas.

Dragons drummer Lucas works as a handyman at an apartment complex. Bassist Rodriguez is a representative for a shoe company. Guitarist Horne is a student. Escovedo listens for news breaks on a police scanner for an all-news radio station.

Escovedo ponders the rock 'n' roll fame chase in a time when it is all about TV celebrity skin and clever ways to redefine jerking off.

"That's one [idea] that I think has kind of changed. I think it is getting better as far as rock 'n' roll. Right now there is like a ton of great bands. Glucifer is great. Supersuckers as always. The band called the Black Halos. There's Electric Frankenstein who are great. There's a lot of great bands out there that are touring and seem to be doing well.

". . . Blink 182 is like punk, but they are still hitting that teen audience that is always gonna buy those records. You know they talk about masturbation a lot."

Mario Escovedo grew up Mexican-Catholic in Huntington Beach before moving with his family to San Diego. He is the youngest of 13 siblings. His father is still kicking at 93.

His family has produced more than its share of ruffians wielding a bottle and a song. His pop, a retired plumber described by anyone close to the family as a hard drinker, would often sing songs at parties and generally raise hell. You can hear Escovedo smile when he says, "You knew it would be a late night if he had a union meeting."

Eleven of his siblings -- half sibs, actually -- are from his father's first marriage.

"My mom raised all the kids except for two. So she took on his whole previous family and then started having more kids. So it was like a house that was a terror all day long. I don't know how they survived it."

The family genealogy includes Santana percussionist Pete Escovedo and his daughter, Sheila E.; and Martin Short musical director Peter Michael Escovedo. There's press darling Alejandro Escovedo and Zeros/True Believers Javier Escovedo.

"I look at Alejandro. And Alejandro tours the country and he's got like six kids, and he spends seven months out of the year out on the road. And you don't even question it, it is just what you do."

Escovedo learned his way around four-chord songs from Javier and Alejandro. Javier was a founding member of the great late-'70s teen punk band the Zeros, a band once dubbed by Slash magazine as the Mexican Ramones.

The Zeros released a new record in December and still do well in, of all places, Spain. Alejandro was in the San Francisco-based Nuns, followed by Rank and File, True Believers (with Javier) and Buick Mackane.

"Me and Javier are the closest out of all of us," Mario says. "But Alejandro has always been there to give me a slag here and there. When we all get together, we are all slagging each other all the time. My brother will say, 'Hey, I like what you are trying to do.'

"When I was growing up [with Javier] I was forced to listen to his stuff, you know, when it all first started coming out. That was when I first started listening to the Dolls, the Heartbreakers, Johnny Thunders, then the Clash and the Sex Pistols. It used to crack me up 'cause Javier would paint his shoes silver and put glitter on them. He would write 'New York Dolls' on telephone poles and stuff."

Escovedo explains his band's lack of PR skills with self-deprecating irony. He figures that could be why the band hasn't been more successful.

"It's kind of been a hard thing for us because we are not really fighters as far as, like, the business side of things. We ain't hard negotiators or anything like that. The problem is, we like to play so much we would be more than happy just to play anyway. We've done stuff where we've driven 24 hours for one gig."

Kids are warming up to the Dragons. And not just in San Diego. Relentless gigging in strange towns in front of six people is starting to show dividends.

"That's what I feel really good about, you know, building an audience one person at a time. And now it is finally starting to do us some good. It feels good. It's not like we did anything overnight, I mean, we have been working for this."

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