In a career that spanned five decades and countless gigs and studio sessions, Garth Hudson amassed a trove of recordings and music memorabilia spanning the golden era of rock ’n’ roll. Now, the onetime multi-instrumentalist for The Band is suing a Kingston landlord for allegedly selling off parts of the collection in what Hudson’s wife says is an unlawful attempt to collect back rent on a storage space.
“He pretty much has made false claims and stolen most of Garth’s archives and personal belongings through illegal activity,” said Hudson’s wife and sometime musical collaborator, Maud Hudson, of the dispute with landlord Mike Piazza. “We called the lawyer when we realized what was happening.”
Hudson, who currently lives in Stone Ridge, played keyboards and saxophone in The Band. After the group’s 1976 breakup, Hudson, a classically trained musician, continued to work as a session player and solo artist. He also continued to tour with former bandmates and fellow Woodstockers Rick Danko and Levon Helm.
In August 2004, the lawsuit claims, the couple entered into a lease agreement to rent a storage space at Cornell Street facility owned by Piazza for $567 per month. (The suit also names several corporate entities held by Piazza and Kingston’s JMW auction gallery). The storage unit held Hudson’s archive of music and memorabilia as well as some of the couple’s household items. The lawsuit alleges that when they rented the storage unit, the Hudsons explained to Piazza that the bulk of their income came from twice-a-year record company royalty payments. Thus, they would make their payments in irregular lump sums rather than monthly. The lawsuit claims that Piazza agreed to the arrangement. Piazza and his attorney Joe O’Connor did not return calls for comment on the case.
The suit claims that Piazza arbitrarily raised the rent — first to $800, then to $1,600 — without amending the lease, and twice moved the couples’ belongings to new space without their knowledge or approval. In one of the storage spaces, the suit alleges, items sustained water damage during a flood.
Despite what the couple called periodic complaints and threats of legal action over the back rent, the suit alleges that Piazza continued to accept periodic payments on the storage space until March 2012, when he demanded $14,000. When the couple offered to pay $11,000 of the bill, the suit claims, Piazza refused the payment and further upped the price to $50,000. The lawsuit claims that by that time, Piazza had already “looted” Hudson’s archive and begun selling items, including a pump organ, on the auction site eBay. Later that year, the couple claims an unnamed representative dealing with Piazza on their behalf saw memorabilia, including gold records, decorating the landlord’s office. According to the affidavit, the demand for $50,000, later allegedly raised even more to $75,000, was intended to prevent the Hudsons from reclaiming the property and discovering the alleged theft of valuable items. Maud Hudson said that Piazza had told them that he had already thrown out some items. The lawsuit claims that archive includes rare recordings, instruments, sheet music and photographs and other items dating back to The Band’s original incarnation as a backing ensemble for rocakbilly singer Ronnie Hawkins in the late 1950s. John Clark, an attorney for the couple, said many items in the archive were unique, personal and likely to command high prices among collectors of rock memorabilia.
“We know there is a very significant collectors market out there for anything related to The Band or Mr. Hudson,” said Clark. “Some of the items are one of a kind, they are literally invaluable.”
Last month, Piazza allegedly held a public sale of the couples’ household items. Meanwhile, the “Garth Hudson Archive,” consisting of recordings and music memorabilia, was consigned to the JMW auction gallery pending an April 6 auction. The lawsuit, filed on Feb. 28, sought to halt the auction, recover any remaining property and recover damages for missing items. On March 1, Acting State Supreme Court Justice Mary Work issued a temporary restraining order. The injunction forbids any sale of items from the archive and mandates that the archive be placed in a joint trust and made available for inspection and inventory by Hudson and his representatives. Clark said that he hoped to have a consent agreement in place soon which would extend the conditions of the injunction and allow the archive to remain in a neutral location until the litigation is complete.
While the legal wrangling continues, Maud Hudson — who added she now calls herself Sister Maud Hudson after Levon Helm called her that shortly before he died — said she and her husband want to recover anything that may have ended up on the market. They’ve offered to buy back anything purchased from the archive. She described her husband as a “musicologist and a historian” who at age 75 is eager to regain possession and properly tend to the archive.
“It was wrong that they were sold. Many things are from archives and are very important to his life’s work,” said Maud Hudson. “We would really like to put out an appeal.”
Hudson asked anyone with information on items from Hudson’s archives to contact them at [email protected].