From the outside, the small studio, LRS Studio, looks like nothing more than a tumbledown cottage with its faded yellow siding. As you walk through the door, however, the first thing that catches your eye is the grand piano that sits proudly in a soundproof room to the right. Enter the kitchen to the left, and you find every wall dripping with old photographs, magazine clippings, and concert posters. The common thread among them is apparent Professor Louie & The Crowmatix.
The first time my bandmate and I went to the studio to begin work on our album, we watched patiently as Louie dug through some old boxes on a shelf in the corner.
Here, try this one, he said revealing an old silver microphone. This is the one that Richard Manuel used on Country Boy.
A shiver ran up my spine as he set up the mic in front of me. Manuel's ghost stood beside me in the studio. He gave a drunken smile before following the professor back into the sound room.
Moments like this are the reason I moved to the Hudson Valley five years ago. While I may have been forty years too late, the musical lure of Woodstock seduced me. Big Pink, the infamous house where Bob Dylan and The Band created some of the greatest music the world would ever know, remained perched on a mountain overlooking the small town where my heroes once (and some still) wandered. Now I was in the process of recording an album under the trained ear of Aaron Louie Hurwitz, a man that works tirelessly to preserve that sound.
Given the nickname Professor Louie by Rick Danko, Hurwitz has been a member of The Band family since the early eighties. He co-produced, engineered, and performed on their last three albums, and toured for several years with both The Band collectively and with Danko.
While his work in the studio is renowned, with additional credits that include Graham Parker, Commander Cody, and the New Riders Of The Purple Sage, it ís only a side note to Louie's presence as a bandleader. He originally assembled The Crowmatix to produce viable song options for The Band as they searched for new material to record. After the passing of Danko in 1999, Louie focused his attention on the group of musicians he had assembled.
I never had a desire to be a front man, he explains. It was mostly out of necessity. While it may not have been his initial calling, years behind the scenes provided the skills needed for a dynamic presence on stage.
While The Crowmatix still pay homage to their roots by performing faultless versions of songs by The Band, they have established a sound of their own in the past ten years that puts them at the top of their game. They are Americana in its truest form, seamlessly blending blues, folk, rock and New Orleans jazz.
On June 5, 2012, the group released Wings On Fire, their eighth studio album on the Woodstock Records label. A follow-up to the 2010 Grammy nominated Whispering Pines, the new album continues to set the standard while showcasing the talents of each member; Professor Louie (vocals, piano, Hammond organ, accordion), Miss Marie (vocals, percussion, piano, whistles), Gary Burke (drums), Frank Campbell (bass, backing vocals), and Josh Colow (guitar, backing vocals). Vito Petroccitto is also featured on guitar, as well as with long time collaborators Michael Falzarano and John Platania.
The album opens with the swinging honky-tonk piano of Down at the County, the first single and one of my personal favorites. It continues to soar with the foot tapping Uncommon Love and the groovy Open Hand, Open Heart. Louie gets the opportunity to take the lead vocals on Book Faded Brown, a song he first produced for The Band. It ís a beautifully stripped down rendition and a fitting tribute to Levon Helm and Rick Danko, their musical mentors for whom the album is dedicated.
Other highlights include The Crowmatix take on George Jones Color of the Blues, the original Time Moves On, and the mostly instrumental shuffle of the title track, Wings on Fire.
The classic Band/Van Morrison collaboration, 4% Pantomime concludes the 13 song collection. Recorded in honor of the professor's musical background and John Platania's long stand with Van, it ís a solid interpretation with Louie, Miss Marie, and bassist Frank Campbell all contributing to the vocals.
With approximately 150 shows annually throughout the world, The Crowmatix continue to excel in their live performances. Whether a small charity event or a sold out theater, the band never fails to deliver more than just a set of music. They throw a party.
As times continue to change and heroes of this musical community move on from this world, Aaron Professor Louie Hurwitz is doing more than his share to keep The Spirit of Old Woodstock alive and well. Whether he is releasing his own new material, helping to sustain classic acts like the New Riders, teaching students from Maryland to Siberia, or simply supporting unrenowned artists such as myself, Louie sets forth to remind us that it ís all about the music. Thanks to that tumbledown yellow cottage, wandering troubadours will continue to find the harmonious spirit they search for in the Hudson Valley.
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