Howe’s Tour Journal

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October 18, 2008

on the way down under : a bit of giant sand history


there had been talk, but not enough could be heard. capacity had been had. so many details about so many varied tours filling up the second half of the year. nothing was in focus until it was directly eye to eye.

now i was supposed to play solo in new zealand and australia.

first came the band run to promote the new giant sand “provisions” album. the stateside september tour with neko case and her band coincided with its release nicely and america felt great to play it to.

we had a few days off back in tucson with everybody and then did a show in tucson which directly followed the cancelled phoenix gig.

next, was a headlining run up the west coast. los angeles was a good show, but the same low number in attendance there as usual.
matt ward sat in on guitar for a few songs and i decided to fast that night. no water. nothing for 24 hours. atone is a tone too. last time i played this place, the echo, pj harvey sat in with me for a song. we sang ‘dear diary’. there were less people here then.

the band stayed with friends that night and i bunked in with matt somewhere in the hills in echo park. the next morning he was gone and i headed back to the airport while the band drove up to san francisco. when i flew to LA the day before, they got to the venue before i did. i picked up a rental car and got stuck in traffic for about the time it took them to drive at least a 3rd of the way from tucson.

san francisco had a bigger crowd and always so enthusiastic. chuck prophet sat in with us and it was a spine tingle to have that kind of guitar spark. afterwards we all clustered with good old eric drew feldman and sylvie simmons. a lovely thicket of tangled humans.

then i flew up to portland to have a day to visit family. the show the following night was about sold out and great. the band was playing very well.

and finally seattle. it was a sold out show in some kind of huge dinner theater. very nice and surreal. the next day we did a radio show. these radio shows have been sounding way too good. its imperative we release a tour only cd from just the collected tracks from these kind of sessions. they are just way too good.

latter that day, half the band flew back to denmark and half the band headed back to tucson. the states had been handled. next up was a few days off, and then the endless flight to the southern hemisphere.

whle i was flying home i was thinking about the time in los angeles.
while in the car, i tried to call up some music shops to see if i could rent some kind of piano for the night. one call lead to another until i recognized the voice on the other end of the line;
“jack ? jack waterson ? … is that you?”

“it should be”, he said, ” i do own the place.”

i haven’t talked to jack in years. he started out in tucson the same time we did as giant sandworms. he was younger and played bass in a band called ‘the serfers’. none of them could really play except for the organ player, a feller named chris cacavas. but the singer would work himself up into a rage enough to carry the band and excite the night. his name was dan stewart. he was always funny and unhappy at the same time, and usually loud about it. they all moved to los angeles and changed their name to ‘green on red’, but the drummer decided it sucked and headed back to tucson to start his own band, “naked prey”. i produced his first song and basically just stepped on all the distortion pedals while he played guitar. his name was van christian.

van was also the first drummer in ‘the band of… blacky ranchette’, back when i called it ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’. somewhere in there tom larkins took over on drums and van began working on his own band. jack martinez played bass with us and he and tom were thee mighty rhythm section. rainer rounded it all off on soaring slide.

i set the whole thing up just to eventually play with rainer again in a band, him having left the original line up he and i started in giant sandworms. they were some fun times. country music like it was meant to be meant, if you consider that hank williams was actually the first glam rocker.

but giant sandworms were still in existence at the same time as that blacky band. then in 1983 the worms broke up and became just giant sand, and tom came along into that band too. but first, the seat was filled by winston watson, although we never toured together, and tommy bailed at the end of the first american tour to go play with ‘naked prey’, which was fine of course, except that we were about to head out on our first european tour when he decided to leave.

so it was just me and bassist scott garber. he had been originally asked to be in giant sandworms after we got back from living in the lower east of new york in 1981. billy sedylmayer and dave seger invited him in while i was away with a country band fronted by ned sutten up in the black hills of south dakota for the summer.

but scot and i were beginning to realize we weren’t so compatible once we began touring. and now we were headed to europe for the first time with no drummer attached. it kinda sucked, but hey, it was our first european tour, so how bad could it be.

he and i weren’t getting along days before we left for the plane. i stayed at another friend’s house in texas, where we were supposed to leave from. patrice sulivan tried driving me to the airport and we were so early we decided to eat something just outside the airport instead. when it was time to head to the plane, there was so much road work going on that she took the wrong road back. after about 20 minutes i began to worry. there was no sign of the airport.

i asked her to let me drive cause it would be better if we missed the plane if i was driving. so i turned the car around and hauled ass. when we got to the airport i decided to just dash up the one way street the wrong way to get to my drop off point. i grabbed both guitars, and ran in to the head of the line at the ticket counter. the woman calmly explained that making my plane, which was literally leaving in 10 minutes, was now impossible. i informed her it probably was not impossible and she obliged me with a boarding pass.

i began running down the corridors in a full gallop. i don’t remember any security lines back then. in each hand was a guitar, i have no idea where my suitcase was or if i had one. on my feet were big clumpy cowboy boots making a huge racket as i ran, but surely they were used to that in texas. on my face were prescription sunglasses. on my head was a black 5 inch brim resistol cowboy hat with several rolled doobies hidden in the hat band. clumaty clump-a-lot was the sound i made down that long hall.

i got to the gate and the captain (?) was waiting there and already new my name. he said in a fatherly tone; “mister gelb, they will not stand for this kind of lateness in europe”. that’s why i am proud to be an american, i explained to him completely out of breadth.

i got on board and found my seat next to scot. he looked pale and shaken. thought for sure i ditched him by ducking out of the flight. the only thing worse then heading out on a maiden european tour without a drummer is heading out there without the singer-songwriter-guitar-playing feller too.

scot and i didn’t choose each other and that had something to do with the eventual struggle of our alliance. we had different values. different ideas and approach. overall, just different. when we realized it further down the line, i don’t think we knew what to do with each other. my inclination was to let nature take its course, but that’s not always kind or efficient.

normally i gravitate to someone for what seems like inexplicable reasons, and then enter into a long lasting relationship by instinct. i am very good at choosing pets too, cars and especially guitars. might be that someone from beyond this realm is whispering in ways i can understand and affording me an inside track in such choices.

i’m sure scot was a good man. we were just ill suited. he played the songs well and he gave it his signature slam while he was in the band.

it could just be my theory on heartbeats and how they allow certain folks to hang together more reasonably then others. the hearts have to beat in a poly-rhythm that is in itself syncopated with each other, and has a natural groove with each other’s heart that way.
i think its just the application of physics and the physical groove applying itself.

but that didn’t happen with scot. he played a fretless bass, which i don’t think i realized until many songs later. but we had no dedicated bass player in giant sandworms. just me and dave switching off when we needed to. but the fretless bass was not what the eventual songs would need in any case.

when that band broke apart, i headed out to LA for our 1st gig there.
not wanting to cancel just because the band was breaking up, i pushed myself to go out there to play it no matter what. this kind of challenge made sense to me and i liked the gamble of it. when i was heading out i offered anyone there in the breaking up band to come along for the show and whatever we were about to become. scot was good to go. ok.

we arranged to hook up with winston watson who was living out there and we pulled it off pretty good i thought. the venue was madam wongs downtown. the day after that i set up recording time in a little 8 track studio on western blvd that suzie wren turned me onto called the control center. the owner/engineer was a surfer dude named ricky mix. he was great. simple and easy and great. we stuffed the session on one 30 minute reel of tape. when enigma records heard it and wanted to release it they required more recording time on it to make it the legal album length and not a 30 minute EP instead.

that’s when we were introduced to mad dog studio in venice beach, run by dusty wakeman and michael dumas, and finished the album there with eric westfall engineering and tom larkins on drums. eric was a wonderous mad man too. on all the following records, he would use his keys to get us into the studio and work all night to get our next record recorded if we needed to spend all night doing doing it, which we always did. he was an amazing piano player, a gifted arranger and a genius. he ended up learning japanese and moved off to japan about 10 records later.

so we recorded the first giant sand recorded out in LA and some months before that, recorded the 1st ‘band of blacky… ranchette’ there too at the control center. it was 1984.

now i had 2 record companies offering to release them. the one in france, new rose, wanted the country record of ‘blacky’ and the label here in the states, enigma, wanted the rocking giant sand.

each record cost me 400 dollars to record and we did each of them in a day, and took another half day to mix them.

i figured maybe it was time to leave tucson again for a while.

- – - – - – - – -

now before all this we tried moving to new york city. in one year since or inception, we had gotten as popular as could be possible in tucson, and now needed to see what we were really made of outside of the desert. rainer decided to bow out and stay in town about then, so we left as a 3 piece.

the lower eastside (NYC) was a funky trip for a that year in 1981. it was out of control and dangerous, but i was 24 years old and resilient.

- – - – - – - – - – - –
now, some years later, we were going to try hollywood. i was 28, getting too old to not have real records released yet. i had to make up for some lost time.

i left my girl friend and the broken band back in tucson. loaded up my van with stuff and headed out. i had built up the inside of my chevy van with certain specific accoutrements. on the front dash i wired some switches to turn on certain colored lights that me and my friend dichoy dong wired up in the nogales serape i stapled to the ceiling. i had also paneled the entire van so i could insulate it for colder trips cross country. in the mid section i had a couch that sat width wise and a convenient moon roof above it. it had no air conditioning, but none of my desert cars ever had air conditioning, until 1994, when i could finally afford one.

i separated the rear section with a walls on both sides of the crawl space and had dozens of old black and white blues, jazz and country postcard photos stapled up there. they were all black players except for hank williams and gene vincent, and one of sofia loren, for good luck.

in the way back was the elevated bed with enough room to stash all band gear under it. the van was 6 feet wide and allowed sleeping that way.

so we headed out to LA on the day that our first new record company was hosting a debut of one of their bands called the “screamin’ sirens” (which featured rosie flores on guitar) at the club lingerie.

we pulled into town, and being big city wise from my time spent in NYC, i immediately unloaded everything of value first. scot didn’t seem to think it was necessary. he left his stuff in the van. we headed over to the venue to catch the end of the evening. i parked the van on wilcox street and had the instant premonition that it was going to get ripped off. i told scot, but he easily dismissed my hunch.

we entered the club, got wasted, and when we emerged hours later, the van had been broken into. they got in through the little side window.

all of scot’s stuff was gone and i noticed that my little book with all the phone numbers was gone too. what the hell ? why is that gone ? it had all the record company connections in it.

so we drove to place called canter’s to eat something and absorb what had happened as well as the alcohol. that’s when i suddenly realized i had forgotten to unpack the master tapes! i had stashed them behind the couch and totally forgot about them. if they found the tapes and stole them too, then no record deal, no nothing.

i went out to check. . .
… 2 out of 4 tapes remained.
one was the rough mixes of the blacky record, which sounded great thanks to ricky mix, and the other was the pre mixed masters of the giant sand record.
i could work with this…
our future was back on track.

it was all thanks to jon rosen.
jon was originally from new york city, but had long since moved to tucson. he was the first guy in town to publish a music paper and support all the new bands in the post punk era of the late 70s well into the early 80s. then he got a radio hour and became the only dj playing new stuff on the air. he was known then as jonathan L. we had no other radio station of new music in town. the college station only played classical and jazz, which didn’t help at all back then …
(but now-a-days is a huge relief).

anyway … jon kindly asked me to deliver a present to one of his LA friends, it was a large potted cactus. of course, jon, no problem.

and it was that cactus that saved the 2 tapes from being stolen. the crack addict that had stolen in there in the dark must have come across it when he reached over to the furthest side of the couch and got stuck pretty good.

thanks jon.
these first 2 records only exist now because of you.

editor’s note:
jim blackwood, the archivist, recently discovered a cassette tape with the original mixes of that first giant sand album, ‘valley of rain’. and to mark its 25th year of existence in 2010, we aim to re-release it, re-mastering it with the original intended mixes as done by ricky mix. the tape sounds great compared to all the digital sounding records being done today. even the part of the cassette where the tape crumples sounds great by comparison.

so. the next morning, awaking with slight hangover of our first night in LA, i headed back to the scene of the crime to see if i could recapture my phone book. it had to have been thrown away in a garbage can nearby by a severely cacti stuck fool.

scot got nervous about going back there, but i was going no matter what. i had survived the lower east side in ‘81 for a full year and that made living anywhere else “cake”.

when we pulled up to the spot, i noticed a very dim and run down slum hotel right beside where we parked the night before. ok. i am out to scour the litter cans. scot is still apprehensive.

when a sly looking dude shuffled out of the hotel, i told scot to just let me do the talking, and try to look like back up. no problem. i asked the dude if he happened to find my missing book while staring him squarely in the eye. yes he did, he said. no way, i thought. remaining icy calm. “if you can get it for me, there’s a reward attached”.

so he went back into the darkened hotel, and scot erupted, startling me out of my momentary splendor of getting that book back.

“did you see the shirt he was wearing ?”
i hadn’t noticed, having only looked him squarely in the eye.
it was a giant sandworms shirt. he was wearing scot’s shirt.
we were hot on the trail.

he came back out and handed me my slightly crumpled phone book, now stripped of its fake leather cover. i was overcome. the game was on again. i asked him about the reels of tape, and he told us to follow him inside, that there was a pile of stuff at the bottom of the stair

we went in, and man, it felt like a trap. very dark in there and getting darker as we headed to where the stairs were. we walked past the desk window which was completely covered up in smudges and impossible to see through. i remembered everything i learned from living in new york, watched my back and looked for any motion in the shadows. when we got to the pile of stuff at the stairs, it was all scot.s clothes, but none of his electric gear. he’d rather not have that stuff now, he said. ok then, i poked around for the tapes, but no more luck

this dude was well weathered and worn with leathery black skin and skinny as a rail. a man that had been put though hard times and maybe made them harder by the only way he could get by. i liked him. he had a blurry gentleness that had been pulverized by the ravages of existence. i offered him 50 bucks if he could come up with the 2 reels of tape. told him i’d be back in hour to meet with him.

back outside, i reached to pay him something for the phone book. just as i took out a 10 dollar bill and handed it over, a loud cop car siren blooped on and from its loud speaker came the squelching voice: “nobody move, put your hands where i can see them … move away from the building and put your hands where i can see them.”
they were making a drug bust.

they were getting out of their squad car now and pulling out their weapons, shouting at us to spread eagle on the parked cars. being new to town and ill familiar yet with the pot laws of southern california, i decided it might be a good idea to slip the rolled doob out of my pocket and slyly toss it off into the lawn unseen.

after they frisked us, i tried to explain our story, which just sounded like a dumb cliché hollywood movie, but since we were in the exact place they invent those things, they seemed to believe me.

so that was that … that was our first 24 hours in los angeles.

that’s how records get made there.

— – - — – –

back where we lived in new york, our visiting friends would be scared to death to come see us. no taxis would drop us off there either. we were surrounded by burnt out buildings secretly selling logo ‘smack’ like “the black mark” and the “toilet” stamped on the packets like the different brand names they were. our building was a 5 story walkup with no working lock on the front door. it was all puerto rican and the largest heroin dealership that side of harlem. once we got used to it there, we became part of the scenery. we adapted to the natural environs. we became as scary as the hood we lived in, i guess, cause i noticed people moving away from me when we would be out just heading to the mud club or danceteria.

one night i got jumped by 3 guys with knives and not only dealt with it, but was crazy convinced my new leather jacket was impossible to penetrate.

i was on my way to deliver a record to lenny kay, patti smith’s guitar player. he had ordered it from a record collector in tucson who thought it would be a good idea if instead i hand delivered it we would meet. (the patty smith group was one of the reasons we moved to new york … and the ramones, and talking heads and television. but when we arrived in 1981, all the guitar bands were replaced with bands that sounded like soft cell.)

so instead of heading up to deliver the record that friday night to lenny’s crib way way up on the west side, i headed home to my humble little slum in the lower east side. a voice interrupted my walk home. it came from inside my head somewhere. it told me if i specifically walk between the 2 parked cars i was about to walk between, something evil would befall me. having gone some degree of crazy from living in the city, i simply obeyed the helpful inner voice and instead crossed the street by walking in between the neighboring parked cars. the voice then muttered; “ now something evil will only almost happen”. great, i thought, as if i took care of another errand on the list.

so i continued my walk home, the next few streets getting more menacing as i approached my block. the cello of the city played in my head all the time when i walked along these streets silently. i always heard that cello moan, making wonderful mournful melodies like a suffering entity offering up solace in its wrenching strokes of endless accompaniment here where it was always so cold and grey and dangerous and void and lacking and lonesome, but always made better by that cello playing in my head..

when i entered my block,, i noticed that from out of the shadows was somebody now walking just beside me. yo dude, said i.

he said gimme your money. i said, ha, would i be living down here if i head any money. (i had a 50 dollar bill in my pocket, which was literally my entire savings and intended on hanging onto it.)

i was still buying this leather jacket i was wearing. got it from an army navy shop called quints back in pennsylvania when i visited my mom there in scranton. quint was a good man, he had tons of vintage clothes no one cared about yet. stuff left over that never got sold from the 50s and 60s. stuff with the original price tag on them, like chinos for 1.99, and he would sell them to me for that original price. he was a very sweet guy. and he was letting me buy my new 100 dollar leather jacket from him on a payment plan of 10 bucks a week.
thanks mr. quint, you saved my life.

so now i was face to face with a knife and a kid attached to it wanting my money. then i noticed he had 2 friends there in the shadows, all with knives.

i began now to yell just to cause them to get nervous and maybe to attract some attention. ”roberto said nothing would happen to us here on our street ..” (roberto being the boss of the smack dealers on our corner and whom we’d allow to come up to our pad when it got too cold so he could count his money.) “we don’t know no roberto.” revealed the knife dude.

then i knew i was home free if i could get free to get home.

but first i kept trying to get my own knife out of my jean pocket. stupidly, the tight jeans and my knit gloves made it too slippery to get it out quick enough. i would only get a moment to try and grab it before one or more of them kept coming at me, and then i would have to flail my arms up and give them a papago chicken scratch holler whoop. now i don’t even remember exactly what that is anymore, but before the tohono o’odahm tribe had taken back their original name, they were mistakenly called papago for many many years. and they had a rocking style of music called ‘chicken scratch’. and somehow old chuck tucker once taught me the papago chicken scratch holler, which i now have no idea what that was, but it happened somewhere in their set of music when they were rocking hard. so that was my only defense, shouting that out, and believing in my leather jacket as armor, within the failed attempts of getting my knife out to defend.

a woman opened the front door of the building we were battling in front of, and then slammed it when she saw what was happening. so i kept at it for a while, keeping the 3 of them far enough at bay like my city friend, jim calaruso taught me; “ just never let a knife get near your throat or belly and you’ll be alright”. he also taught me how to open my blade like a switch knife by flicking the wrist just so and having the blade open with a vicious snap. but i was not having much luck with that tonight.

At some point in the adrenalin rush, i heard a voice again. this time it was informing me that for every second i remained exactly here, the odds of ending up without a scratch were severely decreasing.

and so i yelped out one last chicken scratch whoop, and they all jumped back in unison again, which gave me just enough time to bend down and grab lenny kay’s record i had dropped while trying to retrieve my slippery knife.

i could hear one set of footsteps chasing me, and i knew all i had to do was get within a few yards of where i lived and they would not dare attempt to mug me without all the smack dealers getting seriously upset that a potential customer was going to have to give their money to a competing party.

i got a bout 50 feet from my door when i just stopped running. in fact i calmly began to walk as if nothing was wrong. i could hear the footsteps chasing me stop too. i walked up to my door and turned to my attacker who was just standing there confused. i stared at him with my devilish smirk, and he just stood there dumb founded.

i slowly walked inside and then dashed up the 5 flights of stairs to try and get my roommates exited enough to follow me back to re attack my attackers. i was so high from it all, but they were all just plain high, and not moving for anything.

anyway … it wasn’t until many days later i remembered about that inner voice that warned me not to walk between the two parked cars.
i don’t know what that stuff ever really means, but maybe being attacked just a few seconds earlier by not going a little out of my way between another set of parked cars might have had a completely different outcome. instead, that evil thing i was warned about only almost happened, just like the voice said when i chose the new path.

lenny got his record the next day.

the end.
- – - – - – - — – — – - – - — –

now where was i ?

oh yeah …. the trip to new zealand and australia.

the day i was to leave i was rathering not. i was ready to just stay home for a while. the band had gone home now and i was supposed to have a few days off before leaving on a 15 hour flight to new zealand.

i just didn’t wanna fly that long to get anywhere, even an exceptional place like new zealand. i wanted to just stay home and stare at my wife and kids.

the day i was leaving was the same day some bands were coming into town.

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