Ricky Gelb is known as the frontman for Low Max from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. He's recorded with the late Vic Chesnutt; Johnette Napolitano from Concrete Blonde; and Isobel Campbell of Belle and Sebastian. Gelb spent time in Los Angeles before returning to Tucson, and then took time off to care for his ailing father and stepmother. After his father died, Gelb says, he decided to start an airport shuttle and cab service that's paying the bills and helping him return to music. Gelb performs Friday, Jan. 21, at 9 p.m. at Solar Culture, with Leila Lopez and Joey Pena. For more information on his shuttle service, go to MyAirportDriver.com. You can listen to his music at www.reverbnation.com/rickygelb.
When did you start My Airport Driver and 4th Ave. Cab?
Two years and four months ago. I had to quit work to care for my dad before he died in 2006. His wife—my stepmother—got sick in the middle of it, so I took care of both of them. It was such a life-changing experience, and I was glad I was there for them. But afterward, I had to figure out a way to make a living to feed a family of six. I came up with the idea for the airport shuttle. ... It fit in with the spiritual direction I am (going in). I kept thinking of the title of the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and airport driving kept coming to mind.
Before that, were you focusing on music or other work?
Before all that, I'd say, I was on a spiritual path. I was going through a separation and divorce. It was a hard time. I found this monastery and lived with these monks for a while. These guys showed me the path. It helped get my mind together. When my dad died, I didn't want to work for anyone else or rely on anyone else. I believe in old-school America, in hard work and being a man of your word. I figured if I focused on starting a business on my own, it would work out, and that's what I've done. ... The schedule can be tough. I can go days and weeks and stop my daily practice. That's when I have to stop and force myself to meditate and get back to that place. There are two faces of Ricky Gelb: the centered place, and the other. That's when my ex-wife tells me I'm chasing my tail.
On your Facebook page, you discuss the college kids you taxi on the weekends. Those posts have been pretty entertaining.
Oh, yeah. I call it "Drunk Sorostitutes and Mundane Cabdriver Chronicles." Ninety-five percent of my business is airport transportation, but I turned one of my cars into 4th Ave. Cab on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. It's mostly university kids. You could almost make a living doing just that. The stuff I see ...
How was the reunion show with Low Max earlier this year?
It was great to go up there, but I just didn't know how it went. Si (Jargo), the original bass player, was there. He's still such a metal head. ... It was good to be there, even though it was hard. I was nervous. What was great about the whole weekend was seeing people I hadn't seen in years. It really was a reunion for all these musicians who played together back then and shared some important times.
How did you find yourself in Tucson?
My dad married a woman and started a new life in Tucson. That was in 1972. ... My father came out here, and I'd come out to visit. My brother Howe (Gelb) came first, then when I was 17, I came out and got a place with some friends. But when I was about 23, I went back home, and I put together a band in Pennsylvania. We were driving out West when we ended up breaking down outside of Tucson. That's why we just stayed put and became a Tucson band.
Does it feel good to be performing locally again?
When I played at Plush (before the Low Max reunion), it had been 12 years since I played live. It was hard, and I felt like I was paying my dues all over again. But there have been a few shows since that have felt right, and there are more shows coming up. I'm working so hard right now, but everything that's going on is part of this spiritual path I've been on, and right now, that feels right.