When Howe Gelb appears on my computer screen for our interview, he is wearing dark sunglasses, turquoise rings, and holding an “I Heart Dad” coffee mug. “You don’t mind the sunglasses, do you?” he asks. “It’s morning here. Also, they have built-in readers.”
Gelb celebrated his 60th birthday in October with a bash at Tucson’s Rialto Theater—one that was attended by Exene Cervenka, John Doe, and Scout Niblett. Over the past 30 years, he has produced around 50 albums, hopscotching across dozens of genres (punk, indie rock, country and jazz), and released under a flurry of band names. There were four albums with The Band of Blacky Ranchette, a pair of one-offs with OP8 and Arizona Amp Alternator, and a whopping 21 under his own name. Giant Sand, his best-known project, released 26 albums between 1985 and 2015.
For his latest record, Future Standards, he’s added a brand new moniker: The Howe Gelb Piano Trio, for an album that’s a reimagining of the American songbook. Recorded in New York, Amsterdam, and Tucson, the record features Gelb on piano; Danish bassist Thøger Lund (who has played with Great Sand for 15 years); and drummer Andrew Colburg, with guest vocals provided by Phoenix-based Lonna Kelley (whose voice recalls Dolly Parton’s) and a little help from a drummer who moonlights as a bartender at NYC’s Village Vanguard.
Gelb moved to Tucson in 1972, after his family’s house in Pennsylvania was destroyed in a flood. Although he now spends a substantial amount of time in Europe (his wife is Danish), he’s still considered one of the leading lights of the Tucson indie music scene. In fact, on the day we spoke, Gelb was scheduled to give a TED Talk about that very topic. So, how was he going to approach it? “I haven’t figured it out yet,” he said. “Maybe I can practice on you.” Continue reading