Happy 85th birthday to Eric Garth Hudson, born August 2, 1937, in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. A living legend.
It's hard to describe the significance of a man who was a genius innovator and a humble person. I'm going to tell you all why Garth Hudson is the reason why I not only became a fan of The Band but how he led me to create my podcast.
I'd heard The Band before; being Canadian, we have a set of broadcast rules that dictate a certain percentage of all Canadian music we consume on the radio is Canadian. Thus The Band remained a rock radio staple throughout my childhood. I'd heard "The Weight" and probably a few other tracks. I wasn't a massive fan. I was pretentious about my musical tastes then and preferred a heavier cadence. I didn't like the Southern drawl of Helm's voice in "The Weight" and wrote it all off... Stupid, I know.
Fast forward several years, my now wife, comes from a small town outside of London, Ontario, one of the many stops The Band used to make when they toured legions and bars in Southern Ontario, and legend have it where Ronnie Hawkins finally convinced him to join The Hawks. Garth had been booked as the headlining act of a local festival, The Canterbury Folk Festival, her family was going, and we were in town; we went downtown to see what Garth Hudson was about.
The park where the stage was set was humming with workers as they moved the previous band's gear out of the way as we sat down. People had lined the grass, lawn chairs parked and a faint chatter. I was confused why so many people were showing up for the keyboard player of a Band that hadn't been overly relevant in several years. Though people were excited, many wore their Last Waltz t-shirts.
The show was supposed to begin at something like 8:00 PM, but there was zero sign of Garth or anyone from his group. Nearly two hours pass and people are starting to grumble, and a few even leave. Garth and Maud Hudson finally arrived with their band; apparently, Maud wasn't feeling well, and the poor driver had to find a nurse to administer a B12 shot, or else she refused to perform. The crew readied their gear as the sun crested behind the park trees, and people began to applaud.
When the music started, I was perplexed; it was good; doing renditions of Band classics and other familiar tunes, Garth swirled around in his office chair, hunched over his keyboards. Even though he looked frail, the man was a powerhouse behind the mountain of ivory keys. He had a Brittany Spears mic on that you could faintly hear his chuckles as he hammered away. Maud's voice was potent that evening, and the rest of the band knew their stuff. After a few songs, I realized why Garth had the microphone on. He would relay these long and exciting stories about the music before trailing off into another tune. I was fully engaged. The night ended with "I Shall Be Released," where Hudson brought up some other musicians from the festival to sing along.
I rushed home that night and started searching the internet, learning more about Hudson and The Band. I was enthralled by how this old, bearded man was a genius. After that evening, I set out on a path to learn about Garth and learn about The Band. Only a few months later, I would interview Garth Hudson and start my journey with Hudson and The Band, stories I will save for another day.
Garth Hudson means a lot to the Band community and me. He is a genius, and there is no better word to describe it. Happy birthday Mr. Hudson.