Garth Hudson Biography

Eric Garth Hudson, 2 August 1937, Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Multi-instrumentalist Hudson is widely regarded one of the most creative and technically accomplished musicians of the rock era, and can boast of an extensive session career alongside his membership of one of the most respected groups of the late 60s and early 70s, the Band.

Raised by musical parents in London, Ontario, Hudson was classically trained in piano, music theory, harmony and counterpoint. After playing with a number of local dance bands during the late 50s, in 1961 he joined the Hawks, the backing band for rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins. To appease his parents, who were displeased he was joining a rock ‘n’ roll band, he was compelled to give music lessons to his bandmates Richard Manuel, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko and Levon Helm. The Hawks evolved into the Band in 1968 and made their acclaimed debut the same year with Music From Big Pink. One of the album’s key tracks, ‘Chest Fever’, was notable for Hudson’s Lowery organ work. In live performances the track would become a showcase for his improvisational skills, with snippets from Bach and other classical pieces incorporated into the lengthy introduction known as ‘The Genetic Method’.

Hudson’s musical interjections became a key component of the Band sound, with particular highlights including his ragtime piano romp on ‘Rag Mama Rag’ (from The Band), his saxophone work on ‘Tears Of Rage’ (from Music From Big Pink), ‘The Unfaithful Servant’ (from The Band) and ‘It Makes No Difference’ (from Northern Lights-Southern Cross), and the remarkable sound of a clavinet being played through a wah-wah pedal on ‘Up On Cripple Creek’ (from The Band). The previously mentioned 1975 collection Northern Lights-Southern Cross was notable for featuring Hudson using synthesizers for the first time on a Band recording, and the lush, widescreen sound achieved by the unit on that album can be largely attributed to his musical arrangements.

Following the initial dissolution of the Band in the late 70s, Hudson concentrated on session work and soundtrack contributions. In addition to work with Van Morrison, Emmylou Harris, Hoyt Axton, Leonard Cohen and Don Henley, he produced and played keyboards with mid-80s stadium rockers the Call. During this period, Hudson also composed the music for Our Lady Queen Of The Angels, a 1980 exhibit created by sculptor Tony Duquette for the Los Angeles bicentennial.

In 1983, Hudson rejoined his Band colleagues, minus main songwriter Robertson, to resume touring, and went on to contribute to all three albums released by the revived unit during the 90s. He remained greatly in demand as a session musician into the new millennium, working on albums by Danko, Helm, Robertson, Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, Michelle Shocked, Mercury Rev, Neko Case, the Lemonheads and the Secret Machines. He also worked with country supergroup Burrito Deluxe, playing on the albums Georgia Peach (2002) and The Whole Enchilada (2004).

In 2001, Hudson released his official solo debut The Sea To The North. The album, which included vocal contributions from his wife Maud and backing from the Crowmatrix, was a free-ranging romp through Hudson’s vivid musical imagination, drawing on classical, jazz, rock and roots and with the artist employing a veritable arsenal of instruments. The follow-up, LIVE At The WOLF, was in stark contrast, an intimate piano and vocal album recorded by the Hudsons at the Wolf Performance Hall in their home-town.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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