Happy Birthday Garth Hudson: Performing With The Band In 1976
The performance features the improvisational masterpiece "The Genetic Method" and its live companion "Chest Fever."
Today marks Garth Hudson’s 84th birthday. The renowned multi-instrumentalist for The Band was born on August 2, 1937 in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. An innovative, multi-talented musician, Hudson’s time in The Band saw him practically creating the blueprint for the modern keyboard player: a wizard surrounded by a number of magical instruments. In a 1983 profile, Keyboard Magazine called him, “the first true rock keyboard virtuoso” and Time dubbed him “the most brilliant organist in the rock world.”
While he is also a skilled saxophonist, Garth’s primary instrument was the Lowery organ. Hudson’s adoption of the Lowery — beginning with his time in Ronnie Hawkins and The Hawks and continuing as a backing musician for Bob Dylan and into The Band — was somewhat rare as most keyboardists preferred the Hammond organ. While both electronic organs, the Lowery is more akin to a synthesizer and offers a wider variety of sounds, perfect for Hudson’s innovative nature.
The many tones, textures and unique phrasing in Hudson’s mastery of the Lowery are on full display on his signature song “The Genetic Method,” an instrumental improvisational piece that prefaced The Band classic, “Chest Fever,” off their debut 1968 album, Music From The Big Pink. The studio version of “Chest Fever” features an iconic organ opening from Hudson inspired by Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D minor.” In live settings, Hudson’s explorations of the intro evolved into a song all its own and a spotlight moment for Hudson dubbed “The Genetic Method.”
The improvisational piece is different every time but an exemplary version can be glimpsed at The Band’s July 20, 1976 concert at Casino Arena in Asbury Park, New Jersey. “The Genetic Method” stretches to over four minutes and begins with an almost string-like sound before Garth cycles through a number of tones and textures and works the whammy, at which he was also a master. Although he is mysteriously shrouded by his keyboards, at one point viewers can see a huge smile on Hudson’s face. There is also video of “Chest Fever” from the concert, which features a particularly growling, gritty organ tone.
To celebrate Garth Hudson’s birthday, watch him perform “The Genetic Method” and lead The Band into “Chest Fever” below: