Even if he wanted to, Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb couldn’t repeat himself. Just watch him sing sometime; the guy’s got two vocal mics, one distorted, one clean, and he doesn’t make up his mind which one he’ll be singing into until he’s halfway through his line. Tucson (Fire), Gelb’s latest release (credited to Giant Giant Sand), is named after his Arizona hometown. He will also be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week.
Gelb: When we started in Tucson, there weren’t many places open to our kind of music. For a while there was only a steak house called Nino’s that would welcome our post-punk ethic on a regular basis, but only during its after hours. (Billy Gibbons actually discovered Rainer there one night.) Way before that and way out of town, in the middle of nowhere, was another steak house called Lil’ Abners, the real deal.
It was there that Dean Armstrong And The Arizona Dance Hands played every weekend for almost five decades. For a while, Jimmy Rodgers’ slide player filled in, as well as local veteran fiddler Ed Smith, Toni Clark with her ‘58 P-bass and Ed Mock on a variety of instruments in fine form. When Sonic Elders hold court, especially with their instruments bought a half century ago, they tend to warm up the room the way nothing else can, like ancient over tones sinking in to soothe the soul and granting us all a grace along the way.
Dean Armstong passed away last year at the age of 87 and played the steak house until the end. I’d take my family to go up and see them play whenever we could, even though we were mostly vegetarians.
Last summer, having vowed long ago to never buying another guitar, I stumbled upon an irresistible find: a 1947 Epiphone. It had only one previous owner and a heart shape belt-buckle rash on the back side. When I played it, it made me young again. On another night last year at a local function, I was approached by Dean’s son, Larry, who came over to check out my new guitar. It turned out that Dean had the same model, and it made me wonder then if I subconsciously fell for the Epiphone because of seeing Dean play it time and time again.
This is the way the elder does it. Like my old friend Rainer (fit years my senior) said way back when: “to teach without really teaching”.
Just last weekend my brother found a little old amp at a thrift shop. He had a feeling I might like it for some reason. By the time I got there a couple days later, it was gone. Somebody had just bought it an hour before. Startled by my own lament, I then lied to myself thinking maybe they’ll return it, as if there was still be a chance to get it. We tell ourselves things like this, something like a lie that just hasn’t had time to come true yet.
A few hours later on my way home I decided to stop back in that shop for something else I saw there for my wife. At that exact moment when I went to pay, a fellow there was returning an amp he’d bought earlier there that day. That same amp from earlier that day. He said it made a strange noise. Since I like strange noises, I bought the amp and wondered about the immaculate timing of it all and how I ended up with the amp like it was a thing of destiny. It wasn’t until I got home that I saw who it once belonged to. There on a slip of paper glued to the back of it that read “Dean Armstrong.”