HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE: 8 December 2011. We talked to The Band’s organist, keyboardist and saxophonist, Garth Hudson. The Band is one of the greatest and most influential bands in music history and Garth played in Woodstock Festival with them. He has also played and recorded with Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Roger Waters and many others. He still remains a very active session player. Read below the very interesting things he told us:
Which are the current projects you are involved with (I know that you often do gigs as Garth and Maud)? Are you doing any recordings this period?
Yes. I have done recently some recording sessions with Jerry Marotta (Peter Garbiel’s drummer) at his Dreamland Recording Studios near Woodstock, NY. (..)I played piano, keyboards and sung with Leonard Cohen. Leonard Cohen has participated in the writing of the songs. (..) Her role in recording industry is important. She has a great voice and plays well, she plays keyboards accurately and with great feeling. I was involved in accordion and other featured instruments. I met Leonard again and I’ve done recordings with him back in the late ‘60s. I’ve recorded with him a couple of times. I also recorded during last month with many people: I recorded with Chris Castle, a very talented folk songwriter. With Fabrizio Poggi, a very famous Italian harmonica player. He plays a lot in Italy. He came over here and I recorded with him. We also played in Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble, last Saturday (December 3rd) with Jimmy Vivino. We did 12 songs with bass and drums and these were The Band songs, not usually done. It was dedicated to Richard Manuel (ed:The Band vocalist/pianist who committed suicide in 1986). Jimmy Vivino is very talented man. He’s known from Conan O’Brien television band and he’s a great guitar player but also excellent, excellent piano player and singer. His singing is very powerful. At this show, last Saturday was also Jackson Browne. That is what happens in our neighbourhood. We played a couple of these songs with Jackson Browne. We also got a call from a very talented Canadian songwriter, Doug Paisley and we have done several little things together. Very good, very talented. I’ve also worked with Kevin Hearn in his last record. He’s keyboard player of Barenaked Ladies and has his own group, Thin Buckle. Fine, fine player, you know. Very talented keyboard player, songwriter and as an organizer. I travelled recently in Toronto for a festival honouring Ron Sexsmith and Kevin Hearn organized that concert at Massey Hall. That’s the great concert hall in Toronto where all the classic players have appeared. The Band have played there. Massey Hall is an important concert hall in Toronto.
You released last year “Garth Hudson Presents: A Canadian Celebration of The Band” album. How long did you plan that album and how difficult was to gather all these great musicians (Neil Young, Bruce Cockburn, Blue Rodeo and others)?
Thanks to Maud for her tireless work on it. In production we had to match the songs with the singer or the group. Maud contacted the managers of people to perform the numbers we have chosen. We had to match the songs with all those people. So, it took a long period of time before the first session started. We recorded it in two separate time periods. We recorded in Toronto with the Canadian talents, a Canadian engineer and a Canadian producer (Peter J. Moore).
Are you satisfied from the feedback you got so far from fans and press for “Garth Hudson Presents: A Canadian Celebration of The Band” album?
Oh, sure! Oh, yes! We had great reviews so far here in USA. The musicians who contributed in that record did their best.
The live album “Live at the Wolf” you released with Maud in 2005 is a very emotional and personal album. Did you rehearse for a long time the songs in these particular arrangements or the recorded versions happened spontaneously?
Yes, we did rehearse but it was spontaneous. It came up in a hurry because we had a short time to prepare. We wanted to do something like this for years. Maud and me, were thinking about this and which songs to choose. We were playing them for years and we had a very big repertoire. It was done quickly and perfectly. It was crafty and wise to finish the arrangements like this. Every time I play a song it’s different. It seems similar, you can hear the same sound, but I never played a song in my life with The Band, with Maud that it has the same notes.
You are a Lowrey organ/keyboards pioneer. How difficult was to establish your sound in rock’n’roll music? Did you face any problems with managers/producers/bandmates that they weren’t familiar at time because of your signature sound?
For years I didn’t use a Hammond organ, I was a Lowrey organ player. It’s very different. I used three different models which I could develop throughout the years. I started playing with it in festivals in 1961-62. It was a tour organ. Then I got my first transistor organ and later a theater-style with further digital and electronics developments.
You have a great career performing with The Band, Bob Dylan and many others. Which do you consider as your highlight moment?
That’s difficult. There have been so many times, I don’t know which one was bigger than the other. I think the moment I was able to record it in the interplay between musicians and thunderstorm at Watkins Glen (ed: festival in 1973 with The Band, Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers Band). The rain was pouring down heavily and I remember somebody from the road crew or manager saying “Do something!”. So, I started playing in the midst of thunder the introduction of “Chest Fever” and then there was more thunder and the rain stopped. The audience was out in the storm. Then, I would say Woodstock.
How difficult was it to have a normal life when you’re a so successful musician? I suppose that would be easy NOT to have a normal life..
We didn’t have many problems with eccentric behaviours. You know, we were pretty normal guys. We would go to then shows and then we could get on the bus and leave. People would come and they weren’t an ordinary crowd, they would listen to the music. We rented houses next door and we spent all day together and things like that. Although we did move in city we lived close to each other.
21 years ago you played with The Band in Roger Waters “The Wall live in Berlin”.(Roger is a huge The Band and Dylan fan).What memories do you have from that monumentary show?
Wow! I enjoyed that show a lot. I enjoyed people come and going: Van Morrison, Marianne Faithfull, Joni Mitchell, Sinead O’ Connor, Cyndi Lauper.
Do you remember the sessions you did for Leonard Cohen’s “Recent Songs”? How was working with such a great poet and songwriter? (Leonard Cohen lived in 60s for several years in a small Greek island,Hydra).
Oh, yes. Sure, I remember these recordings. He’s funny, he ‘s marvelous.
You are a part of rock ‘n’ roll almost since its beginning. Do you think that rock n’ roll is dead nowadays and everything is just marketing and contracts? So, Jim Morrison was right?
No, I can’t say rock ’n’ roll is dead. It has always been about producers and records. It was always top-10 oriented. I listen every night to college radio from 8pm to 5am and I hear what is going on, all the young people. Amazing use of sounds and it’s definitely different one band from another. I listen to techno rock music from the college stations. I also hear a lot of old stuff, I also hear metal. Ofcourse, I like Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath). I don’t know the other names.
Is there anyone you’d like to play with and hasn’t happened yet? It’s hard to think.
Yes. They are many people who come from the past. I am interested to work with many people in rock’n’roll more than I was interested in other kinds of music.
Have you ever been to Greece? Send a message to your Greek fans.
No, I haven’t. Maud and I, want to be there. When we first joined Bob Dylan, we stayed in New York City at the Irving Hotel and then at the Chelsea Hotel and I didn’t go to jazz clubs or folk clubs or rock clubs. I went over to 10th Avenue to Greek clubs. I was going to the Britannia. It’s no longer there. I went over there to hear the bouzouki player and also in that band and I found it interesting and I want to ask you, was an oud player. He was very good, I would say excellent and ofcourse the bouzouki player. There were 5 or 6 Greek clubs in that area. I went in different places and I thought that the bouzouki player was using a little too much reverb. But the only pure form I met was in Britannia. I want to ask you about the oud player. Apparently, an Arab oud player would not want to play in a Greek band. Somebody told me that this oud player was from a country close to Greece.
Oud is also a traditional Greek instrument.
So, it wasn’t for Saudi Arabia or Iraq? You’re saying that he was from a country closer to Greece. He was an excellent player.
A great Greek bouzouki player who died in 1970 had influenced Jimi Hendrix. His name is Manolis Chiotis.
Let me write it down(pause) .
I don’t have any other questions. Thank you for your time.
We ‘ve been waiting for a long time to go there.
I hope so.
You never know. We would like to come in Greece. Perhaps, I would be a university or a music college to tell some of the stories, to give a lecture.
A huge “THANK YOU” to Mr Garth Hudson for his time and his answers.
Also, I would like to thank Mrs Maud Hudson for her help to make this interview happen.