I Wanted to Be There, When "Garth" Started Playing
by Mark T. GouldBy Mark T. Gould, Sound Waves Magazine. Special for The Band Website Copyright © Mark T. Gould. You are not allowed to reprint or redistribute this article for commercial purposes.
For those of us who are long time Band fans, we've always been impressed by the downhome, hospitable standard they've set since the days of the "Next of Kin" family photograph inside the Big Pink album cover.
Now, thanks to the warmth of Maud and Garth Hudson, both at their Woodstock home/studio, and on the telephone from a Nova Scotia gig, I can confirm that what we've all wanted to believe about them is true.
Back in mid-summer, I heard that Garth was releasing The Sea to The North, his first solo record. I contacted Breeze Hill Records, and was put in touch with Garth's manager, Steve Rothenberg, in Kingston, New York, just outside Woodstock. I told him that, everything being equal, that I'd like to interview Garth in Woodstock., a three hour ride from my home. Generally, I don't like to travel that far for interviews, prefering to do them either in my home state of Connecticut, or else by phone. Yet, the possibility of seeing if that "Woodstock/Band magic" was true, in person, was too good to pass up.
Little did I know how truly incredible, as a fan of Garth and the Band, this experience, and that magic, would be.
Steve called to back a few days later, and told me that Garth agreed to do the interview, and, much to my pleasant surprise, agreed to do it in Woodstock, at his studio/home.
It was a beautiful, cool September day when my wife and I traveled up to Woodstock, an area that I had not been to for over 20 years. Little, thankfully, had changed. The scenery was beautiful, the craft stores still quaint and original, the whole vibe just so peaceful.
We found Garth's home, and arrived at the appointed hour. After greeting each other, he walked me a short distance along his property to the studio. He brought me in, arranged for some light and some chairs for my tape recorder and notes, switched on the stereo to Garrison Keillor, and said he'd be right back, leaving me alone in this truly Shangri-La.
I've seen a lot, musically and otherwise, but this was something else. Like most Band fans, I've always been mightily impressed by Garth's genius, and, to be alone in the very room where he worked and created was quite a mind-blowing experience.
It was just as I wrote in the article. His instruments, in various stages of packing and unpacking, lay about; rows of cassettes, some with Band shows on them, some with other recorded works, were stacked on one wall; a few compact discs were around.. What appeared to be an original music score sat on the piano. Above that was the real mind-blower, the gold record for Rock of Ages.
Wow, I thought, it felt like I had entered the Band museum. A living, breathing museum.
A few minutes later, he came back, and said that he had to go to the store. Naturally, I volunteered to ride with him. Now, I've done a fair share of interviews over the years, and getting to chat with Garth that evening was one of the best times I've had in an interview context. Rather than verbally joust with my questions and giving me standard, canned answers with his manager hovering nearby to make sure that nothing too personal was asked, Garth just acted like a friendly neighbor who was driving me to the store, all the while, getting to know me, and me getting to know him, in the process.
As we cruised the store aisles, he put the makings for Maud's chicken soup in his carriage, all the time talking about music, Woodstock and just about anything else that came to mind. Back in the truck, he turned the truck radio to a rap stations, turned up the bass, and told me that he really enjoyed listening to that kind of beat. It was clear, in a short time of being with him, that his mind is a clear reflection on the depth of his incredible musicianship.
We drove back to his home, and he took the food inside to Maud. A few minutes later, he came back out and we chatted a bit more. Then, since I had a long ride back home, I excused myself. Before I left, he asked for my e- mail address, because they wanted to send me a photo to use with the magazine article.
Later the next week, I wrote an e-mail to Maud, thanking her for their hospitality, and wanting to know, in addition to the picture, if I could ask her some questions, since Garth was so emphatic in our talk about the strong influence and input Maud had on the new record.
Several days passed. Then, late one night, the phone rang. It was Maud, with Garth, calling from Nova Scotia, Canada, where they had gone for a series of post-album releases gigs. Maud graciously answered all my questions, and then some. She then put Garth on the phone, and, in one of the smoothest, easiest interviews I've ever done, he responded to more of my questions about the record, The Band, Bob Dylan, everything.
Again, there was nothing of the "public relations" aspect of promoting a new record event in their call. It just seemed that they wanted to chat. The call was such a pleasant surprise, out of the blue, and it clearly showed me what down to Earth people Maud and Garth Hudson are, and, for me, solidified my belief that the members of the Band were , and are, truly, for us fans, our "Next of Kin."