Happy Birthday Garth Hudson: Listen To A Compilation Of Solos With The Band
Hear a masterful collection of Garth's solos with The Band across the decades.
The Band multi-instrumentalist Garth Hudson was born on this date in 1937 in Windsor, Ontario in Canada just across the border from Detroit. Hudson was adept at a number of instruments including saxophone and accordion as well as his main axe the Lowery organ. Hudson’s genius on keyboards and accordion can be heard in a compilation of solos with The Band, which JamBase takes a look at in celebration of Hudson’s 85th birthday.
Garth began taking piano lessons at an early age and played organ in church as well as in his uncle’s funeral parlor. Hudson went on to continue his musical education at the University of Western Ontario where he studied, among other things, the work of Bach which would later inform some of his signature pieces with The Band.
Hudson joined the group that would become The Band, Ronnie Hawkins and The Hawks, in Decemebr 1961. The Hawks had pursued Garth for much of that year while he played in another band called The Kapers. He joined The Hawks under two conditions: one that they buy him a Lowery organ and two that he give the rest of the group — drummer Levon Helm, guitarist Robbie Robertson, bassist Rick Danko and pianist Richard Manuel — music lessons.
Hudson’s tutelage played a big role in refining the young players’ raw talent leading to an infamous run backing Bob Dylan before The Band was formed in 1967. While no longer touring, Dylan and The Band’s collaboration continued, most notably with The Basement Tapes. Although released in 1975, much of the recording took place in the late 1960s. Here’s what Hudson said about the sessions in the Sid Griffin book Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan, The Band, and The Basement Tapes:
“We were doing seven, eight, ten, sometimes fifteen songs a day. Some were old ballads and traditional songs … but others Bob would make up as he went along. … We’d play the melody, he’d sing a few words he’d written, and then make up some more, or else just mouth sounds or even syllables as he went along. It’s a pretty good way to write songs.”
Hudson’s organ line on one of those songs, “Apple Suckling Tree,” kicks off the solo compilation. Following “Apple Suckling Tree,” is Garth’s outstanding work on an outtake from another Basement Tapes cut, “Bessie Smith.” Hudson’s innovative melding of classical motifs with blues, gospel and rock is already on full display in both solos.
From there the compilation moves on to The Band material proper beginning with “A La Glory” from the group’s 1970 album Stage Fright. Garth’s watery, weepy tone is accentuated by his deft mastery of the Lowery organ’s pitch bender, at which he excelled. Next is Hudson’s line on the Cahoots cut, “The Moon Struck One,” on which Garth showcases the Lowery’s versatility with an almost sythesizer-like sound.
While Richard Manuel was the band’s primary piano player, listeners can hear Hudson’s work on the instrument on his work on Cahoots closer “The River Hymm.” Finally, Garth’s amazing accordion chops are heard on his zydeco-inflected run on “Knockin’ Lost John” from The Band’s final album with their original lineup, 1977’s Islands. The compliation fittingly comes to a close with Hudson’s iconic accordion on The Band’s 1993 cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City.”
To celebrate Garth Hudson’s birthday today, listen to a compilation of solos from keyboardist’s time with The Band below:
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