- Garth Hudson was The Band’s multi-instrumentalist, who is sometimes overlooked compared to the other members of the influential group.
- Garth Hudson’s wife and fellow performer “Sister” Maud Hudson recently passed away on February 27th.
- According to sources close to Garth Hudson, ongoing letter writing campaigns sharing Garth’s current address publicly are being discouraged. Garth is an “incredibly private” person, and “doesn’t want to be flooded with cards and letters.”
From country to Americana, to folk and classic rock, from Canada to the United States and around the world, everybody knows and loves The Band, and their influence and appeal is stratified across genres and continents. Most all of us also know about the legend of Levon Helm—The Band’s drummer and often lead singer, as well as Robbie Robertson, the band’s lead guitar player and primary songwriter.
But along with Robertson, there is another surviving member of The Band, and one who is commonly and criminally overlooked when it comes to the Canadian group’s legacy. All of the members of The Band played an indelible part in making them one of the most influential groups in popular music, and eventually put them in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Their interconnectivity was one of the things that was so cool about them. That includes piano player and singer Richard Manuel who died in 1986, and bassist Rick Danko who died in 1999. Levon Helm passed away in 2012.
Along with Robbie Robertson, keyboardist, saxophonist, and accordion player Garth Hudson is still around too. He’s the one in all the old photos of The Band with the bushy beard. He was also arguably the most skilled and versatile musician of the lot of great musicians, and contributed greatly to the unique sounds and approach of the group.
Those cool frog croaking sounds you hear on the band’s iconic “Up On Cripple Creek”? That was Garth Hudson playing a clavinet through a wah-wah pedal. The mournful sax moans on “Tears of Rage”? That was Garth’s work too. All the brass and woodwinds you hear on the iconic “Ophelia”? That was all Garth Hudson. All of it. He could play just about everything, and did.
But some artists are better at selling themselves and their legacies than others, and some tend to blend into the background, even if their contributions are foisted to the forefront. Such is the case for the 84-year-old Garth Hudson. But over the last few days, folks have been taking to social media to remember one of the last living members of The Band, and for multiple reasons.
First, foremost, and sadly, Garth Hudson’s wife, “Sister” Maud Hudson—who was a singer herself as well as an actress—passed away on February 27th in a sad development in The Band’s sphere of influence. Performing with her husband as a duo, Maud was raised in Los Angeles where she met Garth. Over her career, Maud Hudson sang and recorded with the likes of Dr. John, Norah Jones, Cyndi Lauper, Albert Collins, along with many others, including, of course, The Band.
Even as Maud was ailing in recent years and wheelchair bound, she and Garth still performed as a duo. The death of Sister Maud Hudson comes at a time when some friends and fans of The Band were circulating an effort via social media for people to send personal letters to Garth Hudson. Two separate screenshots of social media posts said Garth was feeling forgotten, and gave addresses for fans to write letters to let him know otherwise.
However, as Saving Country Music worked to verify the addresses of the social media posts and the current status of Garth Hudson, representatives for the 84-year-old say the effort isn’t warranted, and sharing his address publicly is against Garth’s wishes. Attorney George T. Gilbert, who is providing legal assistance to Hudson and visited with him as recently as Sunday, Feb. 27th with other close friends said the posts were “well meaning,” but needed to be taken down.
“Garth is an incredibly private person, and the last thing he wants is that kind of attention, and he doesn’t want to be flooded with cards and letters…” says Gilbert.
It appears the campaign started with a post on Facebook on January 27th by an individual concerned about Garth Hudson who had visited him recently. That individual, James Noon Sr., did not give out Garth’s direct address, but his own address for people to send cards and letters to, that he could subsequently take and deliver to Garth. Saving Country Music has confirmed that James Noon Sr. is no longer accepting those cards and letters, even though a screenshot of his request continues to be shared.
That initial post then led to another unattributed screenshot of another Facebook comment that gives Garth Hudson’s current location and address, which others then transcribed directly—including some members of the media and high profile music personalities—sharing this private information without Garth’s permission, or the permission of his representatives. As well meaning as it all might have been initially, the writing of letters to Garth Hudson, and the sharing of his personal address is being discouraged henceforth.
Saving Country Music is not able to independently confirm the current conditions in which Garth Hudson is living in, and at one point he may have communicated he did feel abandoned or forgotten to somebody, which is not uncommon for elder individuals. But according to multiple sources, Garth Hudson is currently being well cared for, and receives regular visitation.
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Born in Windsor, Canada, both of Garth Hudson’s parents were musicians as well, and he was classically trained from an early age on multiple instruments. Young Garth played organ at the local church and at his uncle’s funeral parlor, and by the age of 12 he was performing professionally. After attending the University of Western Ontario, Hudson joined a band called The Silhouettes, which morphed into a band called Paul London and the Kapers.
It was at a Kapers show in 1961 that Ronnie Hawkins and Levon Helm approached Garth Hudson to join The Hawks band backing up the rockabilly legend, but Hudson refused. Considering himself too good to join a rag tag rock n’ roll band and worried what his parents would think, Hudson held out for six months as Ronnie and Levon continued to nag him, until he finally agreed to become a Hawk under a few conditions: they had to buy him a Lowrey Organ as opposed to the standard Hammond models that were mostly used at the time, and they had to pay him $10 extra a week to give the rest of the band members weekly music lessons.
Of course from there what became known as The Band reconfigured the future of music in North America, backing Bob Dylan in the Blonde on Blonde era, including the notorious “electric” tour in 1966 when Dylan eschewed his acoustic folk past, and into 1968 when The Band recorded their first album Music From Big Pink.
Garth Hudson remained a full time member of the group all the way through to their final concert, memorialized on Thanksgiving Day, 1976 at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco by Martin Scorsese in the film The Last Waltz. Later iterations of the band sans Robbie Robertson also included Hudson in the lineup.
Garth Hudson later had a solo career, though it started off somewhat unfortunately as he released his first solo album called The Sea to The North on September 11th, 2001. He later created a reboot of the Flying Burrito Brothers with pedal steel player “Sneaky Pete” Kleinow called Burrito Deluxe, and worked as an in-demand session musician for many years. In 2010 Hudson helped assemble a tribute to The Band compiled solely of Canadian artists with Neil Young, Bruce Cockburn, The Cowboy Junkies, The Sadies, and more participating.
A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Juno’s Canadian Hall of Fame, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner in 2008, it’s hard to argue that Garth Hudson has been forgotten. But with so much else going on, and the isolation bred over the last couple of years, that sure is how many of us can feel at times.
Many consider The Band the first Americana group. The way they integrated country, folk, and rock influences together make them a primary influence on just about all the performers that came after, with Garth Hudson unquestionably being the integral multi instrumentalist of the legendary lineup.
Forgotten? Maybe in the fickle mindset of the busy masses. But for folks in-the-know, they know the memory of Garth Hudson will never be erased. And even if sending him letters is being discouraged, sharing his legacy, and the memories he’s made for fans never should be.