The Kingston landlord at the center of legal showdown over Garth Hudson’s music memorabilia archive says he’s been unfairly portrayed as a greedy opportunist out to take advantage of a local legend. In fact, Mike Piazza says, Hudson and his wife, “Sister” Maud Hudson, have ignored his attempts, going back several years, to settle the dispute over money owed the storage facility holding the couple’s personal belongings and Garth Hudson’s archive.
“He’s a rock guy who thinks he can do whatever he wants, he hasn’t paid his bills in years,” said Piazza, a property developer who specializes in converting vacant industrial spaces into live/work housing for artists. “Just because you’re semi-famous doesn’t give you the right to drop your belongings somewhere and I have to take care of them for the rest of my life.”
Earlier this month, Piazza was hit with a lawsuit by the couple which claims that he improperly “looted” and sold off valuable items collected by Hudson, former keyboardist for The Band, over the course of his 50-year career as a musician. The lawsuit was filed after Piazza sold off many of the couple’s personal effects in a February auction and sent Garth Hudson’s trove of memorabilia and recordings to a local auction house to be sold in April. A temporary restraining order imposed earlier this month has put the auction on hold until litigation is complete.
In a sworn affidavit, Garth and Maud Hudson claimed that when they signed the lease agreement for the storage space back in 2004, Piazza said that he had no problem taking irregular payments for the property, since the couple’s primary source of income was biannual record company royalty payments. They claim that Piazza then arbitrarily raised the rent over the years from an initial $567 per month to $1,600 while moving their possessions among three different storage units without their knowledge or consent. They also claim that Piazza demanded $75,000 to return the contents of the storage space.
But Piazza said that he has documents that clearly demonstrate that Hudsons made no effort to stay current with their bills which eventually reached $59,000. Piazza said the couple’s belongings were moved only after he was unable to contact them when new offers came in for the space. He added that he calculated the rent hikes based on what tenants paid for the space taken up by the Hudson trove, which he said was about 1,700 square feet. Piazza disputes the Hudsons’ claim that the archive is chock-full of priceless memorabilia from rock’s golden age. In fact, he said, the vast majority of the storage space was taken up by old magazines and junk mail.