Born in Wilkes-Barre PA in 1956, Howe was sent out West after the family’s home was gulped up by the enormous, flooding Susquehanna river. To Tucson AZ precisely where he was raised by wolves, rumors have it. He’s got only one good eye so one didn’t get in the way of the other in his single-minded focus: songwriting and composing his music. Fusing different styles with the heat of the sand dunes, he became a pivotal figure on the Tucson music scene, laying down a blueprint for what’s been called the ‘Tucson Sound. His art eventually reached far beyond the bronze deserts, eastwards and on to other continents.
His genius has been attracting first-rate musicians like the sandworm attracts the armadillo. ‘Notice the list of guest artists over time, Neko Case, PJ Harvey, Juliana Hatfield, Vic Chestnut, M. Ward, Isobel Campell). In the late 70’s he met up with the electronics wizard and duolian guitar player Rainer Ptacek (an acoustic guitar that produces sound through the bridge to one or more metal resonators, rather than the guitar’s sounding board). He founded Giant Sandworms with Rainer, adding David Seger on bass and Billy Sedlmayr as «musical artist». Later, the album «Valley of Rain» (1983), featuring bass player Scott Garber and drummer Winston Watson (Bob Dylan, Alice Cooper), was released. Joining from Calexico were John Convertino and Joy Burns, the band now flickering on the radar as «Giant Sand». After the death of Rainer, the band’s concept remained Howe’s baby and he kept on rocking the cradle with musicians from Tucson and Denmark.
He released the album «Giant Sand Returns» in 2018, which had him work with original members Scott Garber and Winston Watson and newcomer Thorsten Lund. Like sand dunes, his art keeps shifting and spreading, this year saw him recording a new version of the 1986 classic «Re-ballading The Thin Line Man» for which original member, New Zealander Tommy Larkins manned the drums. Earlier, Tommy had been a member of Johnathan Richman’s «Modern Lovers».
Like the desert, Howe Gelb’s music will live forever. Oh, on the album «Gathered» (2019) Talula, family man Howe Gelb’s daughter, sings her unique version of the classic «Moon River» (Henry Mancini & Johnny Mercer).
Howe Gelb & Giant Sand, live at El Lokal. Right by the side of our own moon river.