Aaron “Professor Louie” Hurwitz has musical credentials that include multi-instrumentalist, producer and bandleader of Grammy-nominated American roots ensemble The Crowmatix, but he is often noted for his collaboration and friendship with one of the most influential groups to make music in North America — The Band.
Professor Louie & The Crowmatix will perform the songs of The Band and more during an evening of music that begins at 9 p.m. today at the River Street Jazz Cafe in Plains Township. Pittston native Mike “MiZ” Mizwinski will open for The Crowmatix, who will be joined by a horn section that includes local players Nick Driscoll and Danny Coyle.
The Crowmatix, since their beginnings as the studio backing band for Louie’s productions for The Band, have become an institution in their own right, carrying on the legacy of the Woodstock sound — an audioscape that originated with The Band’s New York sessions — with their soulful blend of blues, gospel, jazz and roots rock.
The ensemble is comprised of Louie, who sings and plays keys and accordion; vocalist, writer and instrumentalist Miss Marie; drummer Gary Burke, who writes horn arrangements and has a long history of performing with Bob Dylan; guitarist John Platania, who wrote and performed with Van Morrison for over 30 years; and bassist Frank Campbell, who was Band drummer Levon Helm’s musical director for the Woodstock All-Stars.
“Without them, I’m dead in the water,” Louie said, referring to his bandmates. “The people in The Crowmatix are incredibly strong musicians. They understand how the music business works and how a band works, and they’re real team players.”
A major player in his own right, Louie has performed or recorded with Graham Parker, Commander Cody, Guy Davis, Buckwheat Zydeco, New Riders of the Purple Sage and more.
The Crowmatix have released 13 well-received studio records that feature both original music and original arrangements of songs by other artists. In 2017, the group released “Crowin’ the Blues,” a blues-based album made in appreciation of the genre.
“Something we touch upon all the time is that we’re all standing on the shoulders of Big Bill Broonzy and Muddy Waters, and the same with the bluegrass people,” Louie said. “The people in the band and the people we hung out with as musicians were all well-versed in different styles of music. We’re not trying to imitate or recreate any one particular sound.”
And The Crowmatix put their own signature on their 2018 volume, “The Lost Band Tracks,” recording songs that originated during Louie’s 16 years working with The Band. In the ’90s, Louie produced the The Band’s comeback albums “Jericho,” “High on the Hog” and “Jubilation.”
“I’d been with the band since 1985,” Louie said. “There were all kinds of projects going on, including a new CD of new material. Starting around ‘87 or ‘88, we tried to get record deals … but no labels were interested because The Band had lost two prolific songwriters in Robbie Robertson and Richard Manuel.”
When a record deal was reached, the group brought in songwriters, including Jules Shear who wrote with original member Rick Danko, then-keyboard player Stan Szelest, and then-guitarist Jim Weider. But, Louie said, publishing disputes prevented most of Shear’s songs from making it onto The Band’s records at the time.
“Those songs have sat dormant since 1991,” Louie said. “In my opinion, they happen to be great songs. To record them with Professor Louie & The Crowmatix would bring it full circle of how it all started. Jules’ management got clearance from the Band world, and I spoke with Jules and made sure it was OK with him.”
Tonight, Louie said, The Crowmatix will perform classic Band songs, Band songs from the repertoire to which he contributed — like “Blind Willie McTell” and “Atlantic City” — Crowmatix originals, and blues and country songs that were influential to the outfit.
“We’re going to give people a whole, round show,” Louie said.
After years of acting as one of the stewards of The Band’s music and the Woodstock sound, Louie said he’s pleased to see it resonate with so many people.
“At one point, after Rick Danko passed, I was the only one playing that catalog,” he said. “Levon got sick and wanted to stay home and play the blues. Rick said, let’s go out and play Band songs. When Rick passed, we just kept playing them. All of a sudden, the catalog has been somewhat rediscovered. The catalog is tremendous, and there are hidden gems we do that no one plays.”
Louie said he’s also glad to offer a platform to an NEPA-rooted musician.
“Mike (MiZ) should do his own thing for a half hour, whatever he wants to do,” Louie said. “So many people helped me along the way, whether it was New Riders or the Dead or Buckwheat Zydeco. They said, ‘Go out and play your own music.’ Mike should do whatever he wants, and if he can stay around — I never like to put people on the spot — but if he’d like to stay around, he’s more than welcome to join us on a couple songs.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or on Twitter @TimesLeaderMatt.