Pete Pidgeon on Working With Levon Helm
Pete Pidgeon & Arcoda celebrate the release of their new album at the Larimer Lounge on Thursday, June 2.
Pete Pidgeon was just a toddler when he heard Garth Hudson’s organ solo on “Chest Fever,” from the Band’s 1968 debut, Music From Big Pink. He remembers being really frightened of the organ's huge sound when his parents first put the record on in their living room.
“In my opinion, it might be the biggest organ sound ever recorded,” Pidgeon says. “It’s just monstrous. It’s so overwhelming that it kind of freaked me out a little bit. But then [drummer] Levon [Helm] comes in with the drums right after the organ intro, and it’s just this huge, cracking snare — just bam! Bigger than a cannon. Like, I couldn’t have been more than two or three years old when I’m hearing this stuff. And I remember it now. I remember standing on the couch and thinking, ‘This is a monstrous sound of music.’”
Since then, the Band has been a huge influence on both Pidgeon’s life and his music, which began when he started playing guitar in fourth grade in Connecticut. While studying at State University of New York at New Paltz (not too far from Woodstock and West Saugerties, where three members of the Band shared the house dubbed “Big Pink” and wrote some of the songs for Music From Big Pink), he saw Helm play a show on campus in 2000.
Pigdeon, who recently started working on ...At First Sight, the debut album with his project Arcoda, walked up to Helm after the show and said, “Hey, man, I’ve been following you since I was little. I would love to have you on my record.” After about a year and a half of phone calls and e-mails, Pidgeon worked out an agreement with Helm’s manager, and two weeks later, Helm met Pidgeon at Wellspring Sound Studio in Acton, Massachusetts.
“He was a real gentleman,” Pidgeon says of Helm. “He was everything you’d think that Levon would be. One of those occasions where you meet your idol and he is cool as you thought he was. Just very respectful. Very business-like. Firm handshake. Look-you-in-the-eye kind of guy.”
Although Pidgeon and his band were “young dudes,” he says, Helm came in and treated them like they were as important as Muddy Waters or anybody else with whom he might have recorded. “He didn’t have an attitude, by any stretch, and treated us really, really well.”
Three of the four songs they cut that day ended up on ...At First Sight, which was released in 2003, plus a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You,” which Pidgeon says he put on the back burner. “At the time, I didn’t want to put a cover out on my first record because I was worried that the cover would get all the attention and it would be overshadowing my songwriting,” Pidgeon says.
Fifteen years after Pidgeon and Helm originally recorded “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You,” and fours years following the death of Helm, the song is finally being put out on Pidgeon & Arcoda’s new Americana-steeped album, All the Little Things, which he’ll celebrate with a release on June 2 at the Larimer Lounge.
Pidgeon used Helm’s drum part from the 2001 session and rebuilt the song from that foundation, as well as adding some horn arrangements inspired by Allen Toussaint, who wrote New Orleans-style parts for The Last Waltz and other live records for the Band.
For All the Little Things, which was recorded at Applehead Recording in Woodstock, Pidgeon also recruited bassist Catherine Popper, who’s worked with Jack White, Ryan Adams and Grace Potter; keyboardist Glenn Patscha, who’s toured with Marc Cohn and Roseann Cash; drummer Justin Guip, who Pigdeon says was Helm’s right-hand man, and many other guest musicians.
While still living on the East Coast, Pidgeon started writing songs for the album in 2010, many of them about Colorado and his travels to the state on various tours. Pidgeon, who eventually moved to Colorado in 2014, says there might have been some prophecy or premonition involved in writing songs like "The Ways We Change," “On the Road” and “But It Don’t Worry Me.”
Another influence on the album was a girl Pidgeon met while he was living in Park Slope, Brooklyn. She’d been doing a lot of traveling at the time and was working on an art project for which she was collecting a grain of sand from every state.
“That was sort of the influence behind the record: traveling and connecting with people on a one-on-one level,” he says. “Where, if you’re in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, you’re not there to go to the Black Hills or Mount Rushmore. It’s more that you’re there to meet the one dude who’s lived there forty years, sitting in the town bar. That kind of approach that she had where it was the most human approach to really get to know the people of the country on a one-on-one level rather than the broad scope. That was a real big influence on this record.”
After sequencing the fifteen songs on All the Little Things, Pidgeon says he started to see a theme on the album, which he says was very subconscious and not intentional. The album flows like a lifetime, starting with “I Stayed Home” (about his time in elementary school) and “On the Road” (about moving on, growing up and changing) through “The Wind and the Lover," which Pidgeon says is about starting to get jaded a little bit.
“You’re kind of hardened by life, but you’re still living it,” he adds, “still traveling and getting out there. It’s sort of a travel song. Getting on the road and living on the road life as opposed to trying to make the home life work.”
Later in the album, “Wasted Child” is steeped in things falling apart, while “Diamond Fall,” Pidgeon says, is “when it all just fucking comes to an end. The rebound of it is that you hit rock bottom but you didn’t totally die.” He says the song reflects the album’s opener, “I Stayed Home,” while the closer, “In the Evening” is a way of saying “It’s all good” and looking back at “all the crazy stuff that happened in the previous fourteen songs.”
Pete Pidgeon & Arcoda album release, featuring Jenn Hartswick and Natalie Cressman (of Trey Anastasio Band), with Lola Rising and Ghost Tapes, 9 p.m., Thursday, June 2, Larimer Lounge, $22/$25.