PLATTSBURGH — Though Aaron Louis Hurwitz lives in Woodstock, he performs there, maybe, twice a year.
As Professor Louie & The Cromatix, he gigs some 150 shows around the world annually. In January, he was inducted into The Blues Hall of Fame. In May, The Cromatix were inducted into The International Blues Hall of Fame.
Last year, Hurwitz (vocals, keys and accordion), Miss Marie (vocals, percussion and piano), Gary Burke (drums), Frank Campbell (bass and vocals) and Josh Colow (guitar) were inducted into the Southern Canadian Blues Hall of Fame. Their latest release, “Wings On Fire,” is dedicated to their musical mentors, Levon Helm and Rick Danko of The Band.
Hurwitz, a Peekskill native, originally formed the Woodstock quintet while working with The Band. At the time, he chose studio engineering over driving cabs or installing roofs in New York City. He owes the fateful hookup with the Rock and Roll Hall of famers to Artie Traum of Happy & Artie Traum, a ‘60s folk duo.
“They moved to Woodstock, always an arts community,” said Hurwitz, who performs at 7:30 pm. Friday, Sept. 7, during the Battle of Plattsburgh Commemoration. “They moved there in the middle ‘60s, before my time. They started to bring people up like Bob Dylan and Albert Grossman. I started engineering in the recording studio.”
The music scene was disco fevered. Hurwitz succumbed a little. He was hot because of his keys, techno and artistic savvy to meld the increasing use of synthesizers in music of the day. He learned how to engineer in recording studios and became very efficient.
“A lot of music engineers are great engineers when it comes to rock ‘n’ roll and folk; they weren’t as in tune with disco. At one stage of the game, Artie starts hiring engineers and took them to other studios. Every studio had their own engineer,” Hurwitz said.
A freelance engineer was a foreign concept, but Hurwitz became one. He engineered and played keyboards on Livingston Taylor’s record. Next, Traum got a call from Garth Hudson from The Band, who was looking for the best engineer around Woodstock.
“He was living in California at the time. The Band wasn’t together too much at the time. He wanted to do a solo project with a bunch of musicians from India. Lucky for me, Artie recommended my name. I got the job,” Hurwitz said.
Hudson also recruited bandmate, Helm, and Badal Roy, a percussionist who was with Miles Davis at the time.
“It was a good session. Then what happened is Levon, thank God for him, said ‘We should reform The Band.’ I was there at the exact moment. Levon asked me to become part of The Band organization. They had such a backlog. I got in the studio every day and worked for them,” Hurwitz said.
Hurwitz relocated from New York City to Woodstock.
“I thought it was an opportunity of a lifetime that wouldn’t necessarily come again, and I was right. From that time ‘83, ‘84, I was with The Band organization those 16 or 17 years. We did an amazing body of work and played thousands of shows. I was more the guy recording, playing in the studios, and duo and trio shows. They had their set lineup. I never played as a band member,” Hurwitz said.
He recorded between 300 and 400 songs with The Band and another couple hundred songs of their individual projects.
“Not all made it on records, Some were on TV shows, movies and some never came out. We were in the studio all the time and on the road all the time,” he said.
PLAYED WITH GREATS
When Hurwitz relocated to Woodstock, he started gigging with a great Woodstock band named The Crows. He enlisted the group to demo-up songs for The Band.
“The Crows started hanging out at Levon’s studio (The Barn). We met to work songs out with The Band or The Crows. Right around the same time, there all these bands with “crow”: Counting Crows, Black Crowes. We were playing shows,” Hurwitz said.
The original The Crows configuration dissolved, but Hurwitz wanted to keep the word in the band’s moniker. Cromatix is an amalgamation of crow and the chromatic scale, a 12-pitch musical scale.
When Helm disappeared to make a movie, Danko & The Cromatix toured. If Danko went off to Norway, Helm & The Cromatix toured and Hudson & The Cromatix, and so on.
“The band got great by playing with all these great people,” Hurwitz said.
During the Battle of Plattsburgh Commemoration, Professor Louie & The Cromatix joins their Americana jams with the big-brass sound of the U.S. Navy Band Northeast.
“In Plattsburgh, what we’re
going to do is play with a small section of the Navy Band,” Hurwitz said. “I was talking to the sound company today to make this work. To make sure the audience enjoys it as much as we do. Technology, in terms of live shows or records, it’s constantly changing. It’s amazing.”
Email Robin Caudell:
email@example.comIF YOU GO ▶WHO: Professor Louie & The Crowmatix with special guests the U.S. Navy Band Northeast. ▶WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 7. ▶WHERE: City Hall Stage, downtown Plattsburgh.