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Garth Hudson, principal architect of the unique sound of The Band, is 86 years old today
Photo by Paul LaRaia
Garth Hudson is 86 years old today.
Hudson is a Canadian multi-instrumentalist. As the organist, keyboardist and saxophonist for The Band, he was a principal architect of the group's unique sound.
Hudson has been called "the most brilliant organist in the rock world" by Time magazine and "the first true rock keyboard virtuoso" by Keyboard magazine.
A master of the Lowrey organ, Hudson's orchestral tone sense and style anticipated many of the sonic advances of the polyphonic synthesizer. His other primary instruments are piano, electronic keyboards, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone and accordion.
He has been a much-in-demand and respected session musician, performing with dozens of artists and earning the accolades of many including Elton John, who has cited him as an early influence. He also plays in a duo with his wife, Maud, and in 2002 joined his friend, Sneaky Pete Kleinow, in Burrito Deluxe, an offshoot of The Flying Burrito Brothers. He also has his own twelve-piece band, The Best!
Born in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, Hudson’s parents, Fred James Hudson and Olive Louella Pentland, were musicians. His mother played piano, accordion and sang. His father, a farm inspector who had fought as a fighter pilot in World War I, played drums, C melody saxophone, clarinet, flute and piano.
Hudson was born in Windsor and moved with his family to London, Ontario around 1940. Classically trained in piano, music theory, harmony and counterpoint, Hudson first played professionally with dance bands in 1949 at the age of twelve and wrote his first song at the age of 11.
He attended Broughdale Public School and Medway High School (Arva, Ontario) before studying music (primarily Bach's chorales and The Well-Tempered Clavier) at the University of Western Ontario for one year. Nevertheless, he grew increasingly frustrated with the rigidity of the classical repertoire.
In 1958, he joined a rock and roll band, the Capers. He was also reported to say that he gained some performance experience from playing at his uncle's funeral parlor.
In December, 1961, the 24-year-old Hudson joined The Hawks, the backing band for Ronnie Hawkins, which already consisted of 21-year-old Levon Helm on drums, 18-year-old Robbie Robertson on guitar, 18-year-old Rick Danko on bass and 18-year-old pianist Richard Manuel.
Fearing that his parents would think he was squandering his years of music education by playing in a rock and roll band, Hudson joined the band on the condition he be given the title "music consultant" and that his bandmates each pay him $10 a week for music lessons, allowing him to mollify his family's fears that his education had gone to waste.
Revealing a bit of the thinking behind his early fears, in film, The Last Waltz, Hudson told interviewer-director Martin Scorsese: "There is a view that jazz is 'evil' because it comes from evil people, but actually the greatest priests on 52nd Street and on the streets of New York City were the musicians. They were doing the greatest healing work. They knew how to punch through music that would cure and make people feel good."
Upon joining The Hawks, Hudson also took the opportunity to negotiate a new Lowrey organ as part of his package. This is significant as he was one of the few organ players within the rock & roll and rhythm and blues community to pointedly shun the Hammond organ.
The Lowrey organ offered a different mix of features and Hudson stayed with Lowrey right through Ronnie Hawkins/The Hawks, Bob Dylan and The Band, playing three different models: originally a Festival (FL) console which was replaced by a Lincolnwood TSO-25 during 1969. Later still, Hudson played a horseshoe console H25 model, as depicted in The Last Waltz.
Under the strict supervision of Hawkins, The Hawks became an accomplished band and split from Hawkins in 1963. They recorded two singles and toured almost continually, playing in bars and clubs, usually billed as Levon and the Hawks.
Hudson started work as a session musician in 1965, playing organ on an album by John Hammond, Jr. In 1965, they were introduced to Bob Dylan by manager Albert Grossman's assistant, Mary Martin.
In October, 1965, Dylan and the Hawks recorded the single, "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?,” and in January, 1966 they recorded material with Dylan for what would turn into the Blonde on Blonde album. Dylan recruited the band to accompany him on his controversial 1966 "electric" tour of the United States, Australia and Europe. An album of Dylan's 1966 performance with his band, the "Royal Albert Hall" Concert, was finally released in 1998.
Subsequent to Bob Dylan's motorcycle accident in July, 1966, the group settled in a pink house in West Saugerties, New York near Woodstock. Dylan was a frequent visitor and Garth recorded their collaborations, resulting in The Basement Tapes.
By 1968, the group recorded its debut album, Music from Big Pink. The album was recorded in Los Angeles (at Capitol) and New York (at A&R Studios). Capitol originally announced that the group would be called "The Crackers," but when Music From Big Pink was released they were officially named The Band.
The album includes Hudson's organ showcase, "Chest Fever," a song that in The Band's live shows would be vastly expanded by a solo organ introduction entitled "The Genetic Method," an improvisational work that would be played differently each performance.
Garth is also adept at the accordion which he played on some of the group's folk recordings like "Rockin Chair" from "The Band," the traditional "Ain't No More Cane" from "The Basement Tapes," Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece" and Bobby Charles' "Down South in New Orleans" during The Last Waltz.
His saxophone solo work can be heard on such songs as "Tears of Rage" (from Big Pink) and "Unfaithful Servant" (from The Band). Garth is credited for playing all of the brass and woodwinds of the studio version of "Ophelia" on the 1975 album, Northern Lights - Southern Cross.
This album, the first to be recorded in The Band's Shangri-La recording studio in Malibu, California, also saw Garth adding synthesizers to his arsenal of instruments. The Band released one more album after The Last Waltz — Islands — and then dissolved. By then, Hudson had married his singer/actress wife, Maud.
He had his own property, Big Oak Basin Dude Ranch, in Malibu. It was destroyed by wildfires in 1978 after extensive renovations that included an impressive studio. Hudson was active during this period as a session musician, performing on movie soundtracks and albums by many other artists, including Emmylou Harris, Van Morrison (Wavelength) and Leonard Cohen (Recent Songs).
He composed music for Our Lady Queen of the Angels, a multimedia show created for the Los Angeles bicentennial in 1980. The Band reformed in 1983, with all the original members except Robbie Robertson.
Richard Manuel lived at Hudson's ranch in 1978. He died in 1986. Supplemented by a rotating roster of additional musicians, The Band continued to tour. It released three albums in the 1990s. Hudson continues as a much-in-demand session player.
Here, Hudson performs “Chest Fever” with the Band at London’s Wembley Stadium.
Photo by Mark Anstendig
James Baldwin was born 99 years ago today.
A novelist, essayist, playwright, poet and social critic, Baldwin's essays, such as the collection, Notes of a Native Son (1955), explore palpable yet unspoken intricacies and tensions of racial, sexual and class distinctions in Western societies.
Some Baldwin essays are book-length, including The Fire Next Time (1963), No Name in the Street (1972) and The Devil Finds Work (1976). His novels and plays fictionalize fundamental personal questions and dilemmas amid complex social and psychological pressures thwarting the equitable integration of not only blacks yet also of male homosexuals.
Baldwin depicts the individual homosexual’s quest for acceptance in his second novel, Giovanni's Room, in 1956. It was written well before the equality of homosexuals was widely espoused in America. Baldwin's best-known novel is his first, Go Tell It On The Mountain, in 1953.
When Baldwin was an infant, his mother, Emma Berdis Jones, divorced his father because of drug abuse and moved to Harlem where she married a preacher, David Baldwin. The family was very poor. James spent much time caring for his several younger brothers and sisters.
At age ten, he was beaten by a gang of police officers. His adoptive father, whom James in essays called simply his father, appears to have treated James — versus James's siblings — with singular harshness. His stepfather died of tuberculosis in summer of 1943 soon before James turned 19.
The day of the funeral was James's 19th birthday, his father's last child was born, and Harlem rioted. The portrait is the opening his essay, "Notes of a Native Son.” The quest to answer or explain familial and social repudiation — and attain a sense of self — became a motif in Baldwin's writing.
James attended the prestigious, mostly Jewish DeWitt Clinton High School, in Bedford Park, Bronx, where, along with Richard Avedon, he worked on the school magazine. Baldwin was its literary editor.
After high school, Baldwin studied at The New School, finding an intellectual community.
At age 14, Baldwin joined the Pentecostal Church and became a Pentecostal preacher. The difficulties of life, as well as his abusive stepfather, who was a preacher, delivered him to the church. During a euphoric prayer meeting, Baldwin converted, and soon became junior minister at the Fireside Pentecostal Assembly. He drew larger crowds than his father did.
At 17, Baldwin came to view Christianity as falsely premised, however, and later regarded his time in the pulpit as a remedy to his personal crises. Still, his church experience significantly shaped his worldview and writing. For him, "being in the pulpit was like being in the theatre; I was behind the scenes and knew how the illusion was worked."
Baldwin once visited Elijah Muhammad, founder of the Nation of Islam, who inquired about Baldwin's religious beliefs.
"I left the church 20 years ago and haven't joined anything since," Baldwin answered.
"And what are you now?," Elijah asked.
"I? Now? Nothing. I'm a writer. I like doing things alone," Baldwin responded.
Baldwin died in 1987 at age 63.
His influence on other writers was profound. Toni Morrison edited the Library of America’s two-volume editions of Baldwin's fiction and essays, and a recent collection of critical essays links these two writers.
One of Baldwin's richest short stories, "Sonny's Blues," appears in many anthologies of short fiction used in introductory college literature classes.
In 1987, Kevin Brown, a photo-journalist from Baltimore, founded the National James Baldwin Literary Society. The group organizes free public events celebrating Baldwin's life and legacy.
John Cohen in Washington Square Park in 2009
Photo by Frank Beacham
John Cohen was born 91 years ago today.
Cohen was a founding member of the New Lost City Ramblers as well as a musicologist, photographer and filmmaker.
Some of his best known images documented the Abstract Expressionist scene centered on New York's Cedar Bar; gallery happenings by early performance artists; young Bob Dylan's arrival in New York; Beat Generation writers during the filming of Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie's film “Pull My Daisy;” and the "old time" musicians of Appalachia. (The title of Cohen's 1962 film, High Lonesome Sound, became synonymous with that music.)
Cohen was one of the most important "discoverers" of traditional musicians and singers, finding and recording Dillard Chandler, Roscoe Holcomb and many banjo players, most notably on the album High Atmosphere.
Beyond the United States, Cohen traveled extensively to Peru, driven by a fascination for the weaving and lifestyle of the native Andean population. His field recording of a Peruvian wedding song is included on the Voyager Golden Record, attached to the Voyager spacecraft.
Cohen married Penny Seeger (1943 - 1993), the youngest member of the musical Seeger family, which includes half-brother Pete Seeger. They had two children, Sonya and Rufus, and grandchildren Dio and Gabel.
From 1972 - 1997 Cohen was a Professor of Visual Arts at SUNY Purchase College where he taught photography and drawing. The Grateful Dead song "Uncle John's Band," on Workingman's Dead, according to what Cohen called "a true rumor," was supposed to have been written about Cohen and his band.
The Library of Congress acquired John Cohen's archive, which included his films, photographs, music recordings and other historic ephemera in 2011. The artist's work can also be found in the permanent collections in many museums.
Cohen died on Sept,. 19, 2019.
On August 2, 1962 — 61 years ago — Robert Allen Zimmerman, then 21, legally changed his name to Bob Dylan.
Zimmerman’s decision to change his name wasn’t the first time that he had performed under a different alias. He first gained a notable reputation while going by the name of Elston Gunn as well as variations on his birth name such as Robert Allen. However, it was on Bob Dylan that he would eventually settle.
The pseudonym allowed him the mask of anonymity. It allowed him to change into a brand new character that he created.
“The Elston Gunn name thing was only temporary,” Dylan wrote in Chronicles. “What I was going to do as soon as I left home was just called myself Robert Allen. As far as I was concerned, that was who I was – that’s what my parents named me. It sounded like the name of a Scottish king, and I liked it. There was little of my identity that wasn’t in it.”
Before the name Dylan, he tinkered with different variations, including Bob Dillon, which originated in 1959 when Zimmerman was only 18-years-old.
“The first time I was asked my name in the Twin Cities,” he noted in Chronicles, “I instinctively and automatically, without thinking, simply said: ‘Bob Dylan.’ Now, I had to get used to people calling me Bob.”
Contrary to frequent rumor, Dylan’s name did not come from the late Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Dylan has repeatedly denied this link. “I didn’t change my name in honor of Dylan Thomas, that’s just a story,” he told Jules Siegel in 1966 before brutally adding. “I’ve done more for Dylan Thomas than he’s ever done for me.”
Thomas did, in fact, have a part to play in the creation of the name but as Dylan wrote himself in Chronicles it was more of a subconscious influence that came from him reading a lot of his work when he created the moniker, rather than a tribute.
“I had suspected that the musician changed the spelling of Allen to Allyn,” Dylan wrote in Chronicles. “I could see why. It looked more exotic, more inscrutable. I was going to do this too. Instead of Robert Allen, it would be Robert Allyn. Then, sometime later, unexpectedly, I’d seen some poems by Dylan Thomas,” he added.
Soon after Dylan changed his name, he signed a management agreement with Albert Grossman. The rest is music history.
James Jamerson, bassist who laid the foundation of the Motown sound, died of pneumonia on this day in 1983 — 40 years ago.
Jamerson, a native of Edisto Island, South Carolina, performed on 30 #1 hits on more than 70 #1 R&B recordings. His hit making exceeded that of any person or group in music history.
There was a time in music history when you could hear a record for the very first time and have a pretty good chance of guessing where it was recorded.
Record labels like Stax, Chess, Atlantic and Philadelphia International made the distinctive sounds of Memphis, Chicago, Muscle Shoals and Philadelphia internationally famous in the 1960s and early 1970s.
But for every fan of that era's music who can pick out a record made in those cities, there are probably more who can pick out one that was made in Detroit — home of Motown Records and "The Sound of Young America."
When you think of Motown in the 1960s, you tend to think of performers like the Temptations and Marvin Gaye or legendary songwriters like Smokey Robinson and Holland/Dozier/Holland.
But unless you've seen the 2002 documentary, Standing In The Shadows of Motown, you probably don't think of the great bassist, James Jamerson.
Along with men like drummer Benny Benjamin, pianist Earl Van Dyke, guitarist Richard White and percussionist Jack Ashford, Jamerson was a member of the Funk Brothers — a rotating cast of unsung, uncredited and non-royalty earning studio musicians drawn from the cream of Detroit's jazz scene who laid the foundation of the Motown sound.
It was the Funk Brothers, working in a studio they called the Snake Pit in the basement of Motown's Hitsville U.S.A. headquarters, who arranged, orchestrated and performed nearly every instrumental track of nearly every classic Motown record.
It was James Jamerson's unconventionally melodic bass lines that made many of those records great. "My Girl" by the Miracles, "You Keep Me Hangin' On" by the Supremes, "What's Going On?" by Marvin Gaye, "Dancing In The Street" by Martha and the Vandellas — these are among the dozens of Motown hits to which Jamerson made a critical contribution.
Unlike many of his fellow Funk Brothers, Jamerson moved west with Motown Records when it pulled up stakes and left Detroit for Los Angeles in 1972. His relationship with Motown ended shortly thereafter, however, and 10 years later, when the company celebrated its anniversary with the Motown 25 concert and broadcast, Jamerson was a paying member of the audience sitting in the back rows rather than an honored guest performing onstage.
After a long struggle with alcoholism, Jamerson died on August 2, 1983, at the age of 42.
Here’s a video clip on James Jamerson.
Thanks History.com and others.
Myrna Loy was born 118 years ago today.
A film, television and stage actress, Loy was trained as a dancer. She devoted herself fully to an acting career following a few minor roles in silent films. Originally typecast in exotic roles as a vamp or a woman of Asian descent, Loy’s career prospects improved greatly following her portrayal of Nora Charles in The Thin Man (1934).
Born Myrna Adele Williams in Helena, Montana, Loy’s first name was derived from a whistle stop near Broken Bow, Nebraska, whose name her father liked. Her father was also a banker and real estate developer and the youngest man ever elected to the Montana state legislature. Her mother studied music at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago.
During the winter of 1912, Loy's mother nearly died from pneumonia, and her father sent his wife and daughter to La Jolla, California. Loy's mother saw great potential in Southern California, and during one of her husband's visits she encouraged him to purchase real estate there. Among the properties he bought was land he later sold at a considerable profit to Charlie Chaplin so the filmmaker could construct his studio.
Although Loy's mother tried to persuade her husband to move to California permanently, he preferred ranch life and the three eventually returned to Montana. Soon afterward, Loy's mother needed a hysterectomy and insisted Los Angeles was a safer place to have it done, so she, Loy and Loy's brother, David, moved to Ocean Park, where Loy began to take dancing lessons.
After the family returned to Montana, Loy continued her dancing lessons, and at the age of 12, Myrna Williams made her stage debut performing a dance she had choreographed based on The Blue Bird from the Rose Dream Operetta at Helena's Marlow Theater.
In 1921, Loy posed for Venice High School sculpture teacher, Harry Fielding Winebrenner, for the central figure "Inspiration" in his allegorical sculpture group Fountain of Education. Completed in 1922, the sculpture group was erected in front of the campus outdoor pool in May, 1923 where it stood for decades.
Loy's slender figure with her uplifted face and one arm extending skyward presented a "vision of purity, grace, youthful vigor and aspiration" that was singled out in a Los Angeles Times story that included a photo of the "Inspiration" figure along with the model's name — the first time her name appeared in a newspaper.
A few months later, Loy's "Inspiration" figure was temporarily removed from the sculpture group and transported aboard the battleship Nevada for a Memorial Day pageant in which "Miss Myrna Williams" participated. Fountain of Education can be seen in the opening scenes of the 1978 film, Grease.
After decades of exposure to the elements and vandalism, the original cement statue was removed from display in 2002, and replaced in 2010 by a bronze duplicate paid for through an alumni-led fundraising campaign.
Loy left school at the age of 18 to help with the family's finances. She obtained work at Grauman's Egyptian Theatre, where she performed in elaborate musical sequences that were related to and served as prologues for the feature film.
During this period, she saw Eleonora Duse in the play, Thy Will Be Done, and the simple acting techniques she employed made such an impact on Loy that she tried to emulate them throughout her career.
Henry Waxman, a portrait photographer, had taken several pictures of Loy, and they were noticed by Rudolph Valentino when the actor went to Waxman's studio for a sitting. He was looking for a leading lady for Cobra, the first independent project he and his wife, Natacha Rambova, were producing.
She tested for the role, which went to Gertrude Olmstead instead, but soon after she was hired as an extra for Pretty Ladies (1925), in which she and fellow newcomer Joan Crawford were among a bevy of chorus girls dangling from an elaborate chandelier.
Rambova recommended Loy for a small, but showy role, opposite Nita Naldi in What Price Beauty? (1925). Although the film remained unreleased for three years, stills of Loy in her exotic makeup and costume appeared in a fan magazine and led to a contract with Warner Bros., where her surname was changed to Loy.
Loy's silent film roles were mainly those of vamps or femme fatales. She frequently portrayed characters of Asian or Eurasian background in films such as Across the Pacific (1926), A Girl in Every Port (1928), The Crimson City (1928), The Black Watch (1929) and The Desert Song (1929), which she later recalled "kind of solidified my exotic non-American image."
It took years for her to overcome this stereotype, and as late as 1932 she was cast as a villainous Eurasian half-breed in Thirteen Women (1932). She also played a sadistic Chinese princess in The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), opposite Boris Karloff.
Prior to that, she appeared in small roles in The Jazz Singer and a number of early lavish Technicolor musicals, including The Show of Shows, The Bride of the Regiment and Under a Texas Moon. As a result, she became associated with musical roles, and when they began to lose favor with the public, her career went into a slump.
In 1934, Loy appeared in Manhattan Melodrama with Clark Gable and William Powell. When gangster John Dillinger was shot to death after leaving a screening of the film at the Biograph Theater in Chicago, the film received widespread publicity, with some newspapers reporting that Loy had been Dillinger's favorite actress.
After appearing with Ramón Novarro in The Barbarian (1933), Loy was cast as Nora Charles in the 1934 film, The Thin Man. Director W. S. Van Dyke chose Loy after he detected a wit and sense of humor that her previous films had not revealed.
At a Hollywood party, he pushed her into a swimming pool to test her reaction, and felt that her aplomb in handling the situation was exactly what he envisioned for Nora.
Louis B. Mayer at first refused to allow Loy to play the part because he felt she was a dramatic actress, but Van Dyke insisted. Mayer finally relented on the condition that filming be completed within three weeks, as Loy was committed to start filming, Stamboul Quest.
The Thin Man became one of the year's biggest hits, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Film. Loy received excellent reviews and was acclaimed for her comedic skills. She and her costar, William Powell, proved to be a popular screen couple and appeared in 14 films together — one of the most prolific pairings in Hollywood history.
Loy later referred to The Thin Man as the film "that finally made me... after more than 80 films." She became one of Hollywood's busiest and highest paid actresses, and in 1937 and 1938, she was listed in the annual "Quigley Poll of the Top Ten Money Making Stars."
Loy died on December 14, 1993 in New York City at age 88.
A building at Sony Pictures Studios, formerly MGM Studios, in Culver City is named in her honor. A cast of her handprint and her signature are in the sidewalk in front of Theater 80, on St. Mark's Place in New York City.
In 1991, the Myrna Loy Center for the Performing and Media Arts opened in downtown Helena, Montana, the capital of Montana, not far from Loy's hometown. Located in the historic Lewis and Clark County Jail, it sponsors live performances and alternative films for under-served audiences.
Here, Loy performs in a scene from “The Thin Man” in 1934.
Blue Plate Special in a Train Cafe
Illustration by Jeff Lee Johnson
Image for “Fantasy Flight Games”