The story goes that Garth Hudson's parents didn’t want him to join a rock group. Trained in music theory, he found an excuse to join The Band (then Ronnie Hawkins’s backing ensemble The Hawks) by charging his fellow musicians $10 a week for music lessons.

True or not, this story helped cement Hudson’s reputation as the glue of The Band. Unlike guitarist Robbie Robertson, he was not a showman, but as a multi-instrumentalist, he was responsible for much of the sonic texture that allowed the group to stand out from other guitar-based rock bands of the '60s and '70s.

The eldest of the three surviving Band members, 73-year-old Hudson has maintained an active career as a producer and session musician, and his list of artist collaborations is nothing short of astounding. This November, he will release Garth Hudson Presents A Canadian Celebration of The Band, an album that re-imagines classic Band tracks with an all-star Canadian lineup, including Neil Young, Bruce Cockburn, Great Big Sea, The Sadies, and many more, with a portion of proceeds benefitting The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

We sat down with Hudson to talk about how this compilation came to be.

How did the plan for this album begin?

The idea was conceived with my wife, Maude. We decided we should go somewhere to do all these songs again. I had been thinking about matching song to singer ... oh, since the mid-'80s, after the first Last Waltz. There are a few songs that I had thought of passing on to various people ... Tony Bennett. People that are not rock ‘n’ roll, essentially. We decided to bring (this idea) to Canada, where I was born and educated. Born in Windsor, though I don’t remember very much of that.

I was also born in Windsor, and I have very little memory of it.

I remember I had become interested in my dad’s B.B. gun, so he threw it away [laughs]. Then we moved to London, Ontario. And I went to high school there. So maybe that’s where it all began ... matching song to singer.

So you had this plan for a while. What put it into motion recently?

It began to crystalize about two years ago. There was considerable searching, through the internet. Maude does that. We also had met, by that time, some excellent players and groups. We took the advice of friends, and thanks to the internet, we got it together.

I might add, as a footnote, that in doing this we had come up with many more artists, and a few more songs than were recorded on this CD. We didn’t put all the top three Band songs among young groups, which I guess would be “The Weight”, “Up on Cripple Creek ... and “The Shape I’m In”, which we did actually include. That song has a universal theme, and we found out young bands were doing it all over the world. We just couldn’t avoid it, and The Sadies (who perform the new recording) are so good. They are a bright-eyed bunch.

Did you instruct these artists on how you wanted the songs to sound coming from them, or was the final result really in their hands?

Well, I hoped they would come in with something different. Something that would match their capabilities, their style, and not necessarily copy the licks — meaning the instrumental fills — of the original songs. They came to the studio bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, knowing the material. So we did get some done in first takes. Some right off the floor, meaning the recording is done needing no overdubs. But, hot tip, there has to be additional work sometimes, from popular musicians to symphony orchestras.

Considering how much recording and production technology has improved since you began your career, is it harder to find as many technically proficient professional young artists as there used to be?

I think professional players in my time were gravitating toward Hollywood. But in terms of this CD, the artists were coming in the folk tradition: they listen and learn from original recordings.

The folk tradition would mean the songs are adapted more than they are covered note-for-note. Was that the case here?

The only change, in terms of the words, was in “Acadian Driftwood”, the artist Peter Katz had been brought up in Montreal, so he sang some verses in French. And the spoken-word introduction at the beginning of “Move to Japan.” Spoken by ...[long pause]. Is this going on the radio?

No, I’ll be writing it out.

You’re a writer! My God, if only I had known that.

Are they any collaborations you couldn’t make happen...

I should finish my other point. I didn’t finish telling about the folk tradition. Though I did mention probably enough about it. With “Move to Japan”, it was ... The Trews. It was the drummer (Sean Dalton). He did a spoken-word introduction. I should tell you this story, and I’ll try to make it brief.

This song, “Move to Japan”, was assigned to The Trews. Dalton came into the control room and started “introducing” the tune. He is funny. We did many takes, 11 introductions. We have him doing one in his (Newfoundland) tongue, like how they talk — “ise the by tha builds a boat!” We had to edit — two or three (introductions) had the odd curse word in there.

What was the most memorable collaboration, for you?

I remember working with Chantal Kreviazuk. How magnificent she was! She performed the song “Tears of Rage”, and the vocals and piano were done together. The piano work is magnificent. There were no overdubs. Indescribable. It was of inestimable value. There were other events that were, perhaps, on a different level — playing “Clothes Line Saga” with The Cowboy Junkies — but that was a high-point.

GarthHudsonAlbumGraphic.JPGGarth Hudson Presents A Canadian Celebration of The Band is available now from Sony Music Canada.

Full tracklist (Hudson plays keyboards on all songs):

1.    "Forbidden Fruit" – Danny Brooks & The Rockin’ Revelators
2.    "Out Of The Blue" – Mary Margret O’Hara
3.    "Acadian Driftwood" – Peter Katz & The Curious
4.    "This Wheel’s On Fire" – Neil Young and The Sadies
5.    "Ain’t Got No Home" – Suzie McNeil
6.    "Clothes Line Saga" - Cowboy Junkies
7.    "You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere" - Kevin Hearn & Thin Buckle
8.    "Sleeping" - Bruce Cockburn & Blue Rodeo
9.    "Yazoo Street Scandal" - The Road Hammers
10.  "The Moon Struck One" – Raine Maida
11.  "The Shape I’m In" - The Sadies
12.  "Tears Of Rage" – Chantal Kreviazuk
13.  "I Loved You Too Much" – Hawskley Workman
14.  "Knockin’ Lost John" - Great Big Sea
15.  "King Harvest" - Blue Rodeo
16.  "Move To Japan" – The Trews
17.  "Genetic Method (Anew)" – Garth Hudson
18.  "Chest Fever" – Ian Thornley & Bruce Cockburn

7 Comments | Add a Comment
It's a top notch album all round. Also, I may be sensitive or something but Peter Katz's version of Acadian Driftwind was emotionally staggering, tear-inducing. Especially with the bilingual lyrics.
Garth should be concentrating on "Bacon fat" instead of all these covers!I respect him and what he does, but im a realist. Levon, Garth , and even Robbie might not have much time left on earth. Levon is a cancer survivor and they all lived pretty hard early on in their life
I wonder why Garth spends soo much time on other Band projects when he is supposed to be working on the "bacon fat" CD/DVD!
Any new Band project that does not include the meglomaniac (guess who?) is alreeeet in my book. Garth was always at the core of The Band's sound and texture, so it will be very interesting to hear the sounds that these artists produce. No one would want note by note recreations of The Band records, anyway. Good luck!
Can't wait to get this lp
THE MASTER. Nothing more to add.
Thanks for interviewing Mr. Hudson! A Canadian tribute to The Band sounds like a good project anyway, but even better with Garth behind it and Neil Young on it! Looking forward to hearing it...
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