Book Interviews

Chapter 11: Joey Burns’ Guide To Tucson, Arizona

[Calexico – “Frontera/Trigger” live MP3]

Joey Burns of Calexico is out on tour in Europe when I arrive in Tucson. He knows a thing or two about road weariness, too. When I first saw Calexico in October of 2003 he launched in a tirade (although with his quiet demeanor I’m not sure that’s the correct word for it — perhaps he eased into it) against the travails of driving across America:

“It’s amazing that we’re here on time everyday with all the construction. It seems like every year you go back to the same cities and there is just…more construction. We don’t mind…we don’t mind…we’re in it for the long haul. We want to see these cities grow up nice and strong. Avoid as much spread and sprawl as possible. Keep nourishing that part of downtown. Don’t go to Starbucks, go to that old coffeeshop that you used to go to when you first started drinking espresso. I know it’s hard to resist. Especially when you’re flying all day on airplanes — the first chance you get…there’s a double-shot waiting for you and a smile. But some way you just gotta find that new kick. That new start. Maybe it’s wheatgrass with a shot of pineapple juice. It did wonders for me on the road in Canada when I was sick last week. Maybe you’ll try it too sometime, you never know. Or maybe like Old George our bus driver…see Georgie over there, that’s right…he likes the Red Bull. And I think I might join him tonight…as I ride…in a convoy…that’s right, me and George in a convoy. Listening to the trucker radio and reverb and feedback about all the construction along the highways. It’s a beautiful day on the highway.”

In lieu of an in-person meeting Joey and I e-mailed back and forth a couple times. He had promised to steer me towards folks in the Tucson area who might be available for interviews, but nothing came through while I was in town. Still, he was nice enough to lend his support, and I greatly appreciated that. In his last e-mail to me he wrote, “I do a fair amount of traveling myself. I can sympathize with your odometer and weariness. I don’t count the numbers, only the memories which are mostly all good and leading to a positive path.”

He also added, “In Tucson we just had a huge 20th anniversary for Club Congress, in the heart of our downtown. So there has been a gust of activity here lately and much has been written about the town’s historic hotel and music scene. There has even been a Tucson music documentary film made called High and Dry: Where the Desert Meets Rock ‘n Roll. It was directed by Michael Toubasssi.” The film features area stalwarts Calexico, Giant Sand, and others. The documentary asks the same questions I came to town to try and ask. It explores the ins and outs of the scene and its major players, and tries to determine Tucson’s place in the American musical landscape.

When I asked Joey to offer some tips for visiting Tucson, here is how he responded:

Important People And Places
• Bill Elm from the band Friends Of Dean Martinez
• Dave Sluthes from the bands Sand Rubies/Sidewinders. He’s also booking agent for Club Congress.
• Nick Luca from the band Luca. He works with us at Wavelab studio and with John Doe.
• Al Perry and the Cattle. Front desk Hotel Congress. Radio DJ KXCI.
• Steven Eye at Solar Culture has been around for years. He used to run the downtown all-ages warehouse, the DPC (downtown performance center).
• Kris Kerry at Plush is super nice and helpful.
• Curtis McCrary at the Rialto is also a great writer for the Tucson Weekly.
• Jim Blackwood KXCI local downtown radio and works as an archivist for live shows.
• Dave Larussa friends with Jim, he knows the history of Tucson for eons and eons.

Tucson Writers
• Steven Siegel for the music editor of Tucson Weekly.
• Gene Armstrong at the Arizona Daily Star and Weekly.
• Fred Mills, who is now living in North Carolina. He writes for Magnet.

Record Labels:
Bloat Records is my favorite.  Their roster includes bands like Pork Torta, Doo Rag, etc.. Then there is Funzalo Records, who are releasing Luca’s new album. What else? I dunno. We release our own tour CDs here, but i wouldn’t call ourselves [Our Soil, Our Strength] a label. We’re more a boutique thing.

Recording Studios:
Wavelab downtown (see Craig) within walking distance to the Hotel Congress and the famed Chicago Music Store. This place is the mecca for all used
instruments and many a story about the owners from Chicago giving folks a lovely hard time. Also Jim Waters of Waterworks studio. Pals with his past NYC buds Jon Spencer, Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth. He’s funny as hell and a great hang.

• Cafe Poca Cosa (151 N Stone Ave Tucson, AZ 85707) – Downtown. “The little one.” Cafe Poca Cosa Rules. They make the best chille relleno as well as an excellent mole.
Taqueria Pico De Gallo (2618 S 6th Ave Tucson, AZ 85713) – It’s on South 6th Avenue near I-10. They’ve got the best tacos. Their fish, avocado, carne asada, tortilla soup and horchata are all superb.
• La Indita (622 N 4th Ave Tucson, AZ 85705) – This one is near the University of Arizona area. Great stuff. I love their potato tacos as well as their mushroom and spinach enchilladas.
• Rosa’s (1750 E Fort Lowell Rd Tucson, AZ 85719) – Right at the corner of Campbell and Ft. Lowell. The best salsa — lots of garlic and chiles. I love their enchillada sauce.
• El Guero Canelo (5201 S 12th Ave Tucson, AZ 85706) – It’s an outdoor grill atmosphere with good burros and condiments with fresh grilled green onions. Guge ones. And their famous Sonoran Hot Dogs wrapped in bacon with chiles? Sheesh. Amazing stuff.

Record Stores:
• PDQ Records (CLOSED) – It’s located on Dodge. They offer lots of vinyl. Just when you think you saw all of ’em, open the back door to the warehouse and there’s more. Fuck, lots of vinyl.
Toxic Ranch Records (424 E. 6th St Tucson AZ 85705) – It’s right near 4th Avenue. Close to the University. Good ole punk rock!
• Hear’s Music (CLOSED) – Other stores in Tucson are…hmmm. I’d say they’re so-so. Except for Hear’s. They’re great for roots, blues and world music. They boast a great staff. Honestly, Tucson need more stores like this.


I meet people and they disappear. People meet me and I disappear. Do I leave a lasting impression? Sometimes I think my memory does not serve me well at all. Sometimes I wish I could remember the faces of each person I’ve encountered on the road. They’re gone in a flash. Shadows imprinted on my brain. How many kind souls have I come across so far? Too many. How many of us are lost? How many yearn for something bigger? We should all strive for something greater. Gretchen mentioned she wanted to learn to play guitar once she moves to Wyoming. I made her promise to give me her address. I would gladly send her my old Washburn if it would bring her joy or help her realize her dream. When we recognized shared principles in others we should be required to exchange ideas with one another or do the best we can to strengthen each other’s ideologies. I want to spend the rest of this trip talking to anyone who will listen. Let’s trade thoughts on life and its meaning. Let’s share fears and talk one another through them. Let’s show the world that our hearts and our minds are in their right places, even if our eyes temporarily become fixated elsewhere. Let’s speak of the arts. They harness inspiration and transmit it to a wide audience. A man or woman behind a desk humming a song they like as they type away on a keyboard is being inspired to complete work even in a mundane atmosphere. The song is a mantra propelling us forward. The painting teaches us how to work delicately. The words of others help us learn to write our own, for someone else, to inspire them.

It’s day 19 of this trip and I’ve been drinking since just after breakfast at Millie’s Pancake Haus. Tonight we wound up at Matt’s old roommates’ apartment. I was surprised they remembered meeting me last year considering their faces were being smashed into the pavement during a bar fight at the time. Gretchen has long since left Matt and I to our own drunken devices. Matt’s device happens to be sleep. This is my device. I sit alone and ponder. Is this even making any sense?

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