Howe Gelb's Giant Sand is the most resilient and consistently inventive American band of the last two decades--part of the well spring of the Tucson musical dynasty.
Most artists who have amassed a body of work as enormous and varied as Howe Gelb have made some impression in the collective consciousness, but he continues to reside in a dimly lit corner of the rock circus. Out in the Arizona desert, Gelb painstakingly cuts and pastes home recordings into heartrenderingly intimate solo albums and rushes into spare studios for hurried jam sessions with itinerant musicians of all generations.
The Giant Sand Ordeal
Howe Gelb - Membership since 1983
Born of Austrian, Welsh and Spanish decent. Plucked from Pennsylvania at the tender age of 15, from flooding hurricane Agness. Landed confused in Tucson, Arizon. Remained confused until death.
After failing to pass any audition in any cover band, (no one recognized "Riders on the Storm" or "You Never Give Me Your Money") he began just changing the chords around and making up any lyrics. Off course the Europeans understood and embraced him, as they would any imported beer...2 six packs short of a full case.
John Convertino - Valued member since 1987
Born on Long Island. Raised in Oklahoma. Clings to his Italian roots. Confused and happy he toured America a la Partridge Family style with his brothers and sisters, playing nothing but covers, 3 sets a night in his family band.
John's background in music is well fortified by the teachings of his father, a famous accordionist in the Tri-State area, and the son of actual Italian immigrants. John with a sturdy background in the classics, began playing drums professionally at the age of 9.
Still reamins in a trippy state of momentum.
Joey Burns - A mmember in good standing since 1990.
Born in Canada. Raised on the California coast. Worked at SST Records as a young man. Joey has extensive training in both music theory and harmony.
Remains in constant search of his Irish roots, while at the same time embracing his new found love: Fado Music of Portugal. His actual middle name is George and is related somewhat. He emits stance of a sold citizen, well confused and lean.
Giant Sand Land had existed at first in Tucson, followed with a slight stint in Hollywood, a longer stretch there after near Joshua Tree (the suburbs of Pioneertown), and has once again returned to the confines of Tucson for the last slip of years.
About "Cover Magazine"...
"I think a time to recycle is called for. There's plenty of stuff out there...too much. Perhaps the ozone does suffer from too many songwriters and their emittings slowly floating up and tangle up the atmosphere. This record needed to be choreless. It is mostly captured live in the studio, with the intention of seeing where exactly we (me, John and Joe) are with each other at the moment. A buoyancy occurred."
-Howe, Tucson 2001
Reflections on each song by Howe:
1. "El Paso" (Robbins) / "Out on the Weekend" (Young)
-Welp, it seemed to one day that both songs had the same chord structure. When I tried it out, I was almost wrong, and so close to being right that I forced the issue. The lyrics to both, I realized after the surgery of such, reflected a similar patter of involvementÖWhy was the lonely boy packing it in? Why head out to LA? What troubles did he leave back in Texas exactly?
2. "Johnny Hit and Run Pauline" (Doe, Cervenka)
-X was such an importantly fun band for us in Tucson during 1980. We had the gumption to open for them back then. I cut the track here on just an acoustic guitar with an A/B switch to my amp, added some favorite radio white noise on the top, sprinkled on Polly (PJ Harvey) for taste. Specifically when I realized how young she was in 1980 and had therefore never even heard them before, I knew there had to be some kind of triangular fusing.
3. "Iron Man" (Iommi, Butler, Ward, Osbourne)
-One of the greatest songs ever written and oddly over looked for reinterpretation. I heard the ëLibre de Graseí boys playing their set one night and had an immense desire to utilize the piano with them. Bringing them in to attempt Ozzy became a kind of obsession. After the obtuse session, I realized the recording of my bathtub drain might fit nicely over the top. Ooh, hear how it mixes delightful with the congas?
4. "Human" / "Lovely Head" (Goldfrapp, Gregory, Norfolk, Locke / Goldfrapp, Gregory)
-John Parish gave me a record he played on while we were on tour last year. It was Goldfrapp. I hunkered down in the bunk with it for many a mile (those bunks are not unlike coffin confinementÖand very conducive to such a soundtrack.) Tania Bowers sent me a cd of her own stuff (Via Tania), and without telling John and Joe, while we were cutting the song, I played her cd a bit right there and thenÖwith one hand on the walkman and one on the piano. Nice fit.
5. "The Beat Goes On" (Bono)
-Somewhere in Spain a fine fellow driving us to the festival played this version of Buddy Rich and his twelve-year old daughter doing this song. I couldnít shake it. John, Joe and I sat around the studio like professionals for most of the morning, then got up and nailed this one in one take and took the rest of the day off.
6. "Plants and Rags" (Harvey, Ellis)
I met Polly through John Parish. They helped me out when I was trying to put together a tribute record for my friend, Rainer Ptacek when he was stricken with cancer. They did not know him at the time. I will always love them for that. And since have come to grow enamored with the spin of such a Polly.
7. "Wayfaring Stranger" / "Fly Me to the Moon" (Cash / Howard)
This was one of the first songs Rainer ever taught me back in the 70ís. It was with him in mine I suppose that it came across my fingers here and now. It was also the first song of the session without the mics completely set up yet. But how can you control such harvest? Late that night when everybody had left, and me and Craig were winding down, Neko (Case) and Kelly (Hogan) and her posse showed up to unload their equipment for their upcoming session. Perfect timing. They were all just road tired enough to mean it more than ever.
8. "Red Right Hand" (Cave)
-The wife again. She made me learn this one. Sheís so good to me, what could I say? Could be construed as an odd gloved Christmas tale of Saint Nick lurking the countryside.
9. "King of the Road" (Miller)
-This one struck me in Chicago just moments before the New Years Eve gig last year with Calexico. Ha ha ha. I donít know what that means either.
10. "Iím Leaving Now, Adios" (Cash)
-Johnny and Merle singing with each other. Who could resist? Great way to head out.
11. "Blue Marble Girl" (Gelb)
-I guess this is a cover now since it was on the solo record instead of a Giant Sand record. This evening was recorded on a big mobile truck in Oslo when we were opening for Pollyís tour then. Since Calexico were also on the road, I assembled this band with the darliní French girls from Candie Prune (aka Andice Rupen) and the good people of Grandaddy. A tear wells up with the memory.
12. "The Inner Flame" (Ptacek)
-Same as above, but this is one of the songs Rainer wrote during his final year here on the planet. The family reinvented and captured there in Norway.
13. "The Beat Goes On" (Bono)
-The very first thing we did was this radio show in Brussels on that PJ Harvey tour. We had no idea how or what we were going to do to pull off said tour. The boys beat the beer bottles, the girls wobbled their warble, the piano toyed with the motions. All in all a good omen.