Garth Hudson turns 84 on August 2nd. The Band keyboardist has always maintained a very low public profile, and he received very few songwriting credits on Band albums, but his piano, organ, sax, trumpet accordion and clavinet were crucial components of the group’s signature sound. They would have been an unimaginably different group without him.
He was also the wise elder of the group, and the one that shied away from drugs and alcohol, which is probably why Bob Dylan trusted him to man the reel-to-reel recorder in the basement of Big Pink when he recorded The Basement Tapes in 1966 and 1967. He was also the guardian of the master tapes for decades, though he eventually sold them to Canadian music archivist/producer Jan Haust. When the Dylan camp finally decided to release the complete tapes in 2014, they cut a deal with Haust to make it happen.
Around that time, Rolling Stone took Hudson back to West Saugerties, New York to visit Big Pink for the first time since the late Sixties. A video team tagged along to document the historic trip, and you can see the incredible results right here, including his return to the legendary basement where everything happened.
“We’d be around, cleaning up, and doing whatever we did,” Hudson says of a typical day back in the Basement Tapes era. “And then Bob would come in and we’d sit for a while and talk about serious stuff, local characters and local wise men, and pretty ladies. And the typewriter would be there and Bob would tap on it for a while, and then somebody would go downstairs and check on the equipment. Then finally everybody would go down the pink stairs.”
Hudson rarely plays in public these days, but he did participate in a handful of 2017 all-star shows commemorating the 50th anniversary of The Last Waltz. He’s also on good terms with Robbie Robertson. They appeared together in 2014 when the Band was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame. Sadly, it was the closest thing possible to a Band reunion these days since they are the only two left.