Nino’s Steakhouse once sat on a sad stretch of North First Avenue. “Not just for Cowboys
...” read their logo’s tagline. Yet there were plenty of pointy-toed cowboy boots on feet of regulars and barflys, but most of those never once walked anywhere near cow dung pastures or stepped into a saddle stirrup.
This steakhouse was a spawning ground for the post-punk Tucson music scene in the early ’80s, and probably the birthplace of post-punk’s petulant bastard child “desert rock.” Here, in this restaurant by day, sweaty music incubator by night, I saw singer-songwriter/producer Howe Gelb performing with the Giant Sandworms for the first time.
It takes years for a worthy artist to find and develop their voice. And Gelb is unequivocally a tenacious artist. He started humbly, playing the low-ceilinged backroom at Nino’s to a handful of people.
It’d be egregiously remiss to not acknowledge and commend Gelb’s musical evolution and prolific output—one could easily stay up for a couple of days straight, fueled by caffeine, and still not have listened to all of the songs that Gelb has written and recorded or played on—that spans a three-decade long career. Dude’s insanely accomplished. His is staggering body of work, and it’s easy to lose count; some 50 albums, which include critically acclaimed records such as 1998’s Hisser
, 2000’s Chore of Enchantment
, 2006’s Sno’ Angel Like You
, 2008’s ProVisions
and 2013’s The Coincidentalist.
Gelb has also been featured in numerous films: Drunken Bees
(1996), Looking for a Thrill: An Anthology of Inspiration
(2005), High and Dry: Where the Desert Meets Rock and Roll
(2006), This Band Has No Members
(2006) and Ingenious
There is a tree of life whose fruit-heavy branches span far and wide with Gelb comprising the roots and trunk: Giant Sandworms, Giant Sand, The Band of Blacky Ranchette, Rainer & Das Combo, Friends of Dean Martinez, John Convertino, Joey Burns, Arizona Amp and Alternator, OP8, Calexico, Brian Lopez, Gabriel Sullivan are but some of the fruit.
In addition, Gelb has twisted lots of knobs, even co-produced Scottish singer/songwriter KT Tunstall’s fifth studio album Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon
(2013) on which he also co-wrote and sang on several songs. Gelb produced Sylvie the great 2014 debut album by Sylvie Simmons esteemed writer, former editor at Mojo and biographer who penned I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen
(published by Ecco in 2012). He did John Doe’s latest.