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The Band's Hudson Is Back with Solo Disc

by Kay Roybal

From the Albuquerque Journal North, Friday November 16, 2001. The text is copyrighted, please do not copy or redistribute. Reprinted with permission from the author.

Garth Hudson
An authentic musical genius and rock and roll icon has released his first solo record after four decades in the business. Garth Hudson, the man responsible for the rich and haunting quality of The Band's sound back when they were making everyone else sound like amateurs, has been performing lately in Canada and New York to mark the release of The Sea to the North.

The Breeze Hill Records release is a collection of six pieces of music -- five originals and a Grateful Dead number -- showcasing Hudson's incredible range and creativity on all manner of woodwinds and keyboards. Those of us who are lucky enough, and old enough, to have seen the original version of The Band perform will remember the moment when the darkened stage would take on the feel of a church, with variations on Bach and Anglican hymns pouring from the organ. A single light illuminated Hudson, bobbing in ecstasy, oblivious to his unruly hair that would brush the keys as he played. Those with the right vantage point could watch his stocking feet travelling the pedals, maintaining the jangled suspense of all those notes hanging in the air until he'd run that glissando down the keys and crash into "Chest Fever."

With all the talent embodied by that legendary group, Hudson was the foundation of the sound that made superstars of the day like George Harrison and Eric Clapton travel to Woodstock trying to join up. The classically trained Hudson was persuaded to join the Hawks, precursor to The Band, in the early '60s when they were Toronto's premier bar band. In his book, This Wheel's On Fire, Band drummer Levon Helm said the other members of the group felt honored by the presence of Hudson, who was as interested in good polka music as he was in Bach.

"He could play with Miles Davis or the Chicago Symphony Orchestra or at the Grand Ole Opry.," Helm wrote. "He'd listen to a song on the radio and tell us the chords as it went along. Complicated chord structures? No problem, Garth would figure them out, and we found ourselves able to play anything. Our horizons were lifted and the thing became more fun."

Bandleader Ronnie Hawkins paid Hudson extra to function as a music teacher. He also bought him a Lowrey organ that became an important component of The Band's rich, textured sound. Hudson has always had a facility for creating and manipulating mood. Some of the very best moments on records by The Band were typical Hudson touches: the twangy jaw harp sound on "Up on Cripple Creek" and "Jawbone" -- actually a clavinet played through a wah wah pedal -- the European street feel of the accordion on "When I Paint My Masterpiece," and the achingly beautiful saxophone on "Unfaithful Servant." On The Sea to the North, he continues to explore that territory. Lovely accordion and saxophone lines thread through the free-form record, taking the music into new territory and back again. One musician who has played with Hudson likened the sound to Thelonius Monk because "just when you think you recognize the neighborhood, he takes a left turn."

The songs range from the gorgeously complicated "Third Order," featuring the Bauls of Bengal and a drum solo by Levon Helm, to the beatifically lovely "Little Island," an etude-like acoustic piano solo that recalls the brief "French Girls" of the last Band record, Jubilation. There's also Hudson's take on the Dead's "Dark Star," including some talk/ singing by the man himself, and "The Breakers," with Eric Andersen's lyrics sung by Hudson's wife, Maud.

Maud Hudson has appeared in concert with her husband in Halifax and Windsor, Nova Scotia this fall and on Wednesday night at St. Mark's Church in New York City with other artists including Lou Reed and Little Jimmy Scott. She was on hand last weekend at the Woodstock Guild's Tinker Street Gallery for a sold-out show that also featured Andersen, singer/guitarist Eric Bazilian of the Hooters and another longtime Woodstock denizen, John Sebastian. Garth entered carrying three saxophones and performed his customary magic on many of Andersen's songs during the first set. A show highlight was the Hudsons performing "The Breakers" before the finale, a version of one of Andersen's best-known songs, "Thirsty Boots."

A founding member of America's folk community, Andersen has worked with Hudson for more than a decade, onstage and in the studio. This latest collaboration was something new. "I was passing through Woodstock last winter and called Garth. He invited me down to the studio where he had me listen to some tracks, and asked if I could write him a lyric. I don't know if Garth ever worked with a lyricist before, so it was kind of a kick to be asked. He gave me a title and told me Maud loved surfing. I started it in Montreal and finished it in Hawaii, where the coast is only sea, coral reefs and breakers. We had some consultations by phone, then I mailed them off and Maud recorded them. "

Hudson joined Andersen, his daughter Sari and Jonas Fjeld on a tour of Norway earlier this year, doing some of the music written and recorded by the trio of Andersen, Fjeld and the late Rick Danko. The Band bass player was, along with Helm, one of Hudson's frequent collaborators in and out of The Band. Hudson also plays with the Crowmatix, a Woodstock-area band, and occasionally with Helm's blues band, the Barn Burners.

Hudson's record is available at For touring information and everything else you could ever want to know about Hudson and the rest of The Band, visit their award-winning Web site at

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