Garth Hudson and Jim Weider: The Band, Levon and A New Form of Literature
Photo by Sarah Snow
Weider remained with The Band until the group’s dissolution following the untimely passing of founding bassist Rick Danko in December of 1999. But their paths didn’t stray far from one another in the years that followed. In 2009, Weider rejoined Helm as a member of The Levon Helm Band, performing as the guitarist at the famed Midnight Rambles at Levon Helm’s Studio, affectionately known as “The Barn.”
“The Midnight rambles are just an experience if you’ve never been there,” says Weider. “It’s all about the music and all the musicians there are top notch. Everybody plays as a unit. Levon really liked that as a band—he wanted everyone to play as a band, as a unit supporting each other. People will shine and go out, and go in and out.”
It’s clear that this is something that Weider has brought to his own Project Percolator, which features some of the most talented players on the scene including Rodney Holmes (Santana, Brecker Bros) on drums, Jason Crosby (Robert Randolph Band) on keys/violin, Steve Lucas on bass and Avi Bortnickon (Jim Scofield Band) on guitar. “It doesn’t get any better than these guys,” boasts Weider.
As the conversation turns toward Helm’s tragic passing in May of this year, both players become noticeably emotional as they recall memories of their fallen friend, and, in many cases, mentor.
“Levon was the craftiest, foxiest drummer in the Southeast,” recalls Hudson. “All the pictures you see of him, he’s smiling—most of the time. If you go through Levon’s book, the square one, he’s smiling a lot. In fact, he’s smiling most of the way through. Incredible. The moustache had something to do with it. He was a good spirit who had a voice that’s instantly identifiable. Really, nobody sounds like him.“
Right up until the end, Helm hosted regular Midnight Rambles at The Barn. These musical showcases presented an opportunity for the drummer to collaborate with many of his new and old musical peers, and, not surisingly, it’s where both Hudson and Weider last performed with Helm.
“It was a Midnight Ramble with Los Lobos,” says Weider about his last show with Helm. “[Levon] played great. We hung out with Los Lobos and we had a laugh and talked. It was just great.”
“I played with Levon a month before that, or two months before you played with him, Jimmy,” adds Hudson. “Jimmy Vivino was performing songs that they don’t regularly do, ya know, or let’s say not as well known…So Levon sat in and played the last four songs of the night. We went back and we were talking about how you keep the attention of thirty hot shot keyboardists and how you keep them from cheating on exams. I remember Howard [Johnson] came up to Levon and said ‘you sure look swell’ or ‘you sure sound strong tonight,’ and Levon smiled. That wasn’t too long ago. That would be now, four months ago, five months ago. He looked terrific.”
Moving forward, Weider plans to work on a new album with his Project Percolator. Hudson, on the other hand, continues to perform as a special guest at concerts and festivals around the globe, and is also working on a new project of sorts.
“I’m always writing,” says Hudson before going on to explain what that really means. “I’d say, to make it brief, writing a manual—logistics, priorities, things of value, how to, and why. The reasons for that is the benefits of our desire to collect and make a deliberate effort to collect short samples, which can be done easily on cassette. And then we get into the discussion about what is friendly to the composer, collector, apprehender…So we’re saying, ‘go for it, grab it, and add it to your collection, however you do it.’ If you have only a memory and you can’t write, remember where you found it. Write down the radio station if they didn’t announce who it was, and look for fragments, so you’re apprehending beauty.”
While it’s unclear exactly what Hudson is describing, it’s apparent that he is committed to the project. Once again, he tries to further explain the process.
“It’s an underlying methodology. One of the exercises I have exercises four part voice leading, string arranging, anything to do with the music industry. Composition means you’re parsing, you’re, you know, names of words. It’s what we would call a study for songwriting and those who believe that someday they might have to speak in front of an audience. So we’ll call it literature.”