Pete And Sheila Escovedo
Solo Two, the debut LP from percussionists Pete and Sheila Escovedo, makes a lot of convincing musical points and an interesting nonmusical one as well: that a father and daughter can work in the same band! As Solo Two producer Billy Cobham puts it, “Pete and Sheila work together with a freedom built on mutual respect and love.”
Pete Escovedo describes himself as a “mad man”; but it’s divine madness and it’s under perfect control. He’s a vibrant, personable, and purposeful man. Born on Friday, July 13 in Pittsburg, California of Mexican immigrant parents, Pete has been surrounded by music all his life. His father was a singer in the big Latin bands that traveled the California valley, and Pete himself can’t remember when he and his brother Coke were not around a lot of music.
Pete has lived in the Bay Area all his life, and, as a musician, has supported a family of six, including his oldest, Sheila, who’s 19. Both Coke and Pete played with Santana when that band was breaking down all the barriers between Latin music and commercial rock and roll. “Coke was with Santana for about a year, I was only with the band for about five or six months. By that time, Carlos was getting into his religious thing, and the band had changed a lot. That’s when we left.”
In 1970, on their own and with the Santana experience behind them, Pete and Coke decided to form a band. There were five or six players and they called themselves Azteca. They did a demo for Columbia and were immediately signed.
The manner in which Azteca developed gives one a good understanding of Pete Escovedo’s warmth, love, and generosity. What happened to Azteca is very simple: it grew. The band eventually had 24 members! “It was the most fun I ever had in my life,” smiles Pete. “It was just incredible. We had everybody in the band. Anybody who could play and go on the road with us was welcome to join. You can imagine what it’s like to take 24 people and all their equipment on the road. It was a real circus and an absolute gas.” Azteca toured the with Stevie Wonder and the Temptations, “but we were too strong to be a good opening act. When you’ve got a 24-piece band playing good, hot Latin music—well, that’s not your normal opening act!”
In October ’73 Azteca was leaving for South America and, on Pete’s recommendation, his daughter Sheila went along, filling in for a conga player who couldn’t make the tour. Sheila Escovedo’s first plane trip was to Bogota, and she says itwas a nerve-wracking experience. “I was really nervous about flying, first ofall, and going to another country. Then we had a lot of hassles getting out of the country so we stayed at the airport, and I sat tight until they let us leave!”
Finances were the end of Azteca. Supporting 24 people is not easy, even if the gigs are big. “There just wasn’t enough money to go around, and so some of the people naturally had to leave. People just started drifting away from the band—not because they didn’t like it, but they had to eat. In the end it was just me and Coke.”
The Escovedo father/daughter combination is rather unusual, and certainly a tribute to the wife and mother, Juanita Escovedo. “Our house is always full of people and music, that’s for sure,” says Pete. “Juanita is AAA#1. She’s the kind of woman who has to kiss everybody who comes in the door. She’s the boss and she’s beautiful!” There are also three younger children—two teenage boys and a girl age nine.
While any man in his forties with four children is likely to have been through a few experiences, if you’ve played with bands like Santana and Azteca and if you’re Latin, then you’re more likely to have experienced more. Such is the case with Pete. “People, especially musicians, need to have an out. There has to be some way to escape, or some way to express yourself that’s just for you alone. For Carlos [Santana], it was religion. I’ve seen other musicians get into a heavy health food/body thing; others have gone off into one form of drug or the other. For me, it’s painting.” Pete is an accomplished painter, and the walls of his home, and those of his friends, are covered with his primary-color, Latin-muralist paintings. “It’s a kind of private thing for me. I can do that and I don’t have to be good at it—my paintings aren’t going to get reviewed and I don’t expect to earn a dime from them. Not until I’m famous, anyway!” Pete chuckles.
Just in case you think Solo Two is an out-and-out case of nepotism, you should know that Pete considers Sheila to be the best. “She’s already surpassed Coke and me—by far. She can outdo either of us!“Sheila and I have both played under all kinds of conditions—big gigs and little neighborhood bars. Sometimes they hassle us about her age. It doesn’t make any difference to a clubowner that I’m her father. If they tell me she’s under age and can’t be in the club, then I say ‘she plays or we all go.’” Needless to say, the Escovedos usually play.
Billy Cobham first met the Escovedos in early 1976 when they were performing regularly with Roger Glenn’s Salsa Band in San Francisco. “I was knocked out by both of them,” Cobham recalls. “There was a special quality in their music that can only be present in a relationship like theirs.” He immediately invited them to join him in the recording studio (on a forth- coming album of his), and resolved to work with them on their own project.
Solo Two, recorded in fall ’76, is the exciting result of their musical collaboration. The conga and timbales work of the Escovedos is augmented by a powerful rhythm section consisting of Mark Soskin (keyboards), Ray Obiedo (guitar), Abraham Laboriel (bass), and Bill Summers (percussion); horn players include Alvin Batiste, Roger Glenn, Julian Priester, Al Bent, and Tom Harrell.
Pete also gets to demonstrate his worth as a crooner on “Clean Air,” a soothing ballad by Alvin Batiste. The rest of the album’s material comes from Soskin, Cobham, trombonist Bent, Milton Nascimento, and Pete himself.
Solo Two is a heady and distinctive combination of Latin, jazz, and funk. But however you delineate it, there’s an immediacy and pulse and warmth to it that labels it, simply, good music, and an intriguing introduction to Pete and Sheila Escovedo.