In 1980, Gelb formed the post punk band Giant Sandworms, with his closest friend Rainer Ptacek; renowned blues-oriented slide guitarist and beloved Tucson icon. Rainer died from brain cancer in 1997, and you can't talk long with Gelb without his name coming up. They went on to record together for years before his untimely demise.
Before that was a series of 4 track recordings done by legendary Pennsylvanian NPR engineer George Graham, including Howe's first country songs under the moniker 'wow + flutter' (1976), first rock opera (1977) and the punk band 'The Stains' (1978).
Giant Sand emerged in 1983 and released that group's debut album, Valley of Rain in 1985. In the 25 years since, he has released an estimated 40 albums or so. He's not sure of the exact amount.
Since the first record release came about by handing his tape over, in a less then a lucid state, to a touring band's manager passing through Tucson in the early 80s, so had he continued the tradition by accepting the demos and facilitating the first releases of Grandaddy and M. Ward along the way.
The new Giant Sand record, Blurry Blue Mountain, is due out Oct. 25, 2010 on Fire Records, and brilliantly includes all of the mashed genres that reflects the band's credo from the get go. Fire is also reissuing 30 albums from the entire back catalog (complete with remastering of the early titles) and nicely marks the 25th year of Giant Sand releases to date.
The most recent solo project is entitled, Alegrias, by 'Howe Gelb and A Band of Gypsies', was recorded on a roof top in Cordoba, Spain during the last several years. The band is a collection of Andalucian Gypsies featuring guitarist extraordinaire Raimundo Amador, that is, quite frankly, stunning.
Local Tucson music journalist Gene Armstrong writes:
How do you write a bio about a musician who has spent more than 30 years defying musical conventions? You could trot out all the cliched rock-critic terms: seminal, hyperbole, incendiary, eponymous, masterful, achingly poignant, priceless, alt-country, old-school, outlaw. Some of those might even fit if you shoehorned them into context.
Howe Gelb long has been saddled with such titles as "godfather of alt-country" and "elder ambassador ofdesert rock." When confronted with such accolades, he clears his throat, amused and a little embarrassed, and he ponders. His summer-sun squint turns into a twinkle when he finally asks his questioner, "What do you think of it?"
In three decades he's managed to combine elements of rock, country, blues, punk, garage, lo-fi, jazz, gospel, avant-garde noise and flamenco gypsy music.
Guitar and piano are his weapons of tumult. He sings like a gruff angel, a town crier tapping you on the shoulder, reminding you that the world need not be seen in the conventional ways to which we revert when the world goes blurry. He weaves impressionistic imagery into personal narrative and indulges listeners in expansive observations of the world. In his early years there had been comparisons to artists along the paradoxical lines of Neil Young, David Byrne, Bob Dylan and Captain Beefheart, comparisons that all fit clumsily. Nowadays, other artists get compared to Gelb.