howe gelb: the spark of the inner flame
I remember the moment when I heard Rainer play this new song ‘The Inner Flame’. He had surpassed himself there in the playing and the writing. They had both evolved beyond where he was at before he had been diagnosed with brain cancer.
When the cancer hit, it came with a seizure that sent him head over heels off his bike under the old 4th Ave. underpass here in Tucson. Then came the remedial routine of radiation and chemo. Although music is a great healer, Rainer now had forgotten how to play guitar.
A year later having barely survived the punishing cure, he had taught himself how to play along the way. When I heard him play his this new song, it revealed he was beyond back. As we would often do to each other, I softly suggested he pay us a visit the following day at the studio where we were recording the nest Giant Sand album. .. in case he wanted to maybe capture this new tune on tape with us.
So it began. Rainer cut his part live in one take with John Convertino on drums and Joe Burns on bass, and i stayed out of the way and produced. The important thing was the moment of impact. Evidence of his newly evolved brilliance is there in his stunning solo. Beyond the improvised notes, there at the clash of wood and steel, the clunk and the timing, like a racing car taking an impossible curve at dangerous velocity fearlessly ad knowing that this is not where the wreck will occur, but instead the race will be won.
I stayed awake all night alone at the studio adding everything else on the track never, completely satisfied I did him justice, mixing it before daylight and declaring it finished. .. for now. Time was an precious thing then. Every day living like the last.
To hear Rainer at the height of his powers, well after his recovery, listen to the album “Live at the Performance Center”.
It’s absolutely astounding.
But first came this extraordinary album.
The whole town here rallied to help Rainer in every which way they could. Having seen first hand at how benefit albums helped some of my other sonic friends who had mounting medical costs, I ventured to try and do the same to see how far we could get. The first thing was to contact the folks far and wide that knew the brilliance of Rainer’s music. Robert Plant had become his friend after catching him play in London and inviting him along for some of his own recordings later on. He readily accepted the request to take part in this project, and in doing so brought it to his label Atlantic Records to assist in it, and they handed it over to Yves Beauvais to oversee. These two guys made it all possible for it to have had the most impact. Magnificent humans.
Old friends like Vic Chesnutt, Evan Dando and Jonathan Richman immediately jumped on board. Then with the advent of the label in play, or just because of Rainer’s magical touch, the project began to snowball. Some folks that didn’t even know him became involved. Emmylou Harris and Madeliene Peyroux joined in at the invite of our buddy Malcolm Burn and PJ Harvey too at the request of new friend John Parish, whom i only met through postal correspondence. This thing was taking on a life of it’s own.
Evan after the album had been released new contributors such as Lucinda Williams and Granddaddy submitted brilliant renditions.
Everyone involved gave so much so freely for a man that chose to stay with his family and hold down a steady job at the Chicago store fixing guitars here with the rare exception of an overseas tour occasionally.
It is a grand legacy to the man that this thing ever happened and yet an unquestionable loss that such a thing ever had to.
To all those gracious folks included on this new re release, and all those from the original release, to you all there now taking it in to your hearts, a loving embrace and exceptional thanks for taking part in such a resounding man’s inner flame.
– Howe Gelb 4/19/2017
THE INNER FLAME Special 20th Anniversary Collector Edition is scheduled to be released October 6, 2017 on Fire Records.