Remembering Jo Tamez, a Tucson muse
Blessed are the muses. The people who see magic before the rest of us do. The fairy godparents of any given scene.
Jo Tamez was one of those.
A punk rock early adopter and an enthusiastic evangelist for underground music, Tamez turned a generation of Tucsonans onto the fabulous weirdness of punk and new wave and early post-punk as co-owner of the Record Room on Fourth Avenue in the early 1980s and a booker for several legendary shows in the days when Tucson’s nascent punk scene converged on spots like Pearl’s Hurricane, the Night Train and Tumbleweeds.
Back before there was such a thing as “desert rock” and the first Giant Sandworm had not yet poked its head out of the dirt and none of Tucson’s '80s-era bands had headed out to try their luck in L.A., there was Jo. Collecting the door price at shows. Promoting the hell out of local underground musicians. Believing in them before anyone else knew they were worth believing in.
And even after all these years, the Texas-born Tamez was a well-loved part of the fabric of her adopted hometown. Jo was adored by many — not just for the tales she could tell, or how unfathomably cool she was, but because she was genuinely kind, quick with a hug or a caring word, or that great big signature smile she had.
According to Dillon Christian, her son with Van Christian, Jo died peacefully, in her sleep, early this week. Since then, dozens of Tucson folks have taken to social media to offer condolences, including a number of the local musicians she once championed like Howe Gelb of Giant Sand, Phantom Limbs alum Jim Parks, The Pills/Gentlemen After Dark's Brian Smith and Naked Prey's Van Christian and John Venet. But perhaps the most touching of the many tributes was that offered up by Tucson expat Nicky Cacavas.
Nicky Cacavas: “Jo Tamez has passed away, a kind woman who played a significant role in an important chapter of my misspent youth.”
“I first met her after that wild summer of 1979 when punk rock belatedly bloomed in Tucson with Pearl's Hurricane bar at the epicenter. I was 14 and squeezed in with the sweaty crowd pogoing along to The Pedestrians, The Suspects, The Pills, and many others, including Z9, whose lead singer Ariel was possibly the most alluring, sexy creature I’d ever seen in my 14 years. I didn’t drink anyway, but would lay low, not risking to get kicked out and miss the raw music. The energy and newness was exhilarating in a dusty town where the Charlie Daniels Band and Marshall Tucker Band were the dominant culture.”
“By 1980 the scene had moved to Tumbleweeds on 4th Avenue. Joanne (and Richard) ran the Record Room up the street, selling hot punk vinyl in an even hotter Tucson. They also booked the bands playing Tumbleweeds, and again, being at least 4 years too young to be in bars, I’d stick to the walls or haunt the sidewalk out front between bands, maybe burn a couple quarters in the tabletop Space Invaders machine.”
“I didn’t even dare to order a Coke from the bar, not wanting to draw attention to myself and get kicked out, though occasionally a couple of kids my age were in attendance. I might get a swig off one of my brothers’ beers, or usually someone would would turn up with a pitcher of water. Mostly I found safety in the crowd.”
“Joanne was usually working the door, and I’d have my 3 bucks or whatever ready to pay the cover charge, and was always relieved to see her, not having to worry about showing a nonexistent ID. After I don’t know how many gigs, she would just smile at me and wave me in for free. I couldn’t believe my dumb teenage luck!“
“By then my brother Chris had joined the Serfers, and I’d see Giant Sandworms, Menage a Trois, Phantom Limbs, PTV (Peace Through Violence), Les Seldoms, Billy Clone and the Same, X (with John Cale in the audience) Black Flag pre-Henry Rollins, and loads more.”
“Most memorable were Snakefinger, and the Meat Puppets’ first gig, when everyone ran up the street to see the Stray Cats play at the Night Train where they scrupulously checked IDs and I had no chance of getting inside. The Meat Puppets were mind-blowing. I’d heard their one track in the middle of the album by that band Monitor, but I’d never seen such long hair, nor heard guitars and drums played so fast.There were only 6 or 7 of us watching them play, when 2 girls about 19 or 20 set a case of empty longneck Bud bottles before the stage, and started throwing them at the band one by one, until one bounced off the neck of the guitar. (The band) couldn’t see the bottles coming with all that hair hanging in front of their faces. Simultaneously, the burly cowboy bar manager grabbed one of the girls by the wrist, and probably 86’d them both.”
“I was also a huge fan of Loudness One featuring Barry Smith playing manic violin with Bob’s video backdrop of visuals, I was fortunate to see them many times. ”
“About 25 years later I ran into Jo again at our old church where my mom had rejoined the congregation after spending a couple decades in California. I immediately thanked Jo for her kindness all those years ago, and she smiled and said ‘you were always so good!’ I guess I could’ve raised more hell, but I only wanted to see the live bands, and Jo was the friendly gatekeeper.”
“Bless you Jo. And thanks. You made my impressionable years so much richer.”
While no funeral services have yet been planned, it's pretty clear what the best way to honor Jo would be right now.
Fire up your turntable or buff off your one of your old, hopefully only slightly scratched, CDs. Play something fast and fun and and loud and hopefully local.
And someday soon, when the era of face covering and distancing is finally over, let us all learn to smile at each other like Jo used to smile.
Those are the kinds of smiles that make the world go round.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported one of Brian Smith’s former bands.