Robbie Robertson

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For other people named Robbie Robertson, see Robbie Robertson (disambiguation).
Jaime Royal "Robbie" Robertson
Robertson performing at the Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2007
Background information
Birth name Jaime Royal Robertson[1]
Born (1943-07-05) July 5, 1943 (age 72)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Origin Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Genres Rock, country rock, rhythm and blues
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter, producer, creative executive, actor
Instruments Guitar, vocals, piano, bass, harmonica, autoharp, melodica
Years active 1958–present
Labels Capitol, Geffen, Warner, 429
Associated acts The Band, Ronnie Hawkins & the Hawks, Bob Dylan, John Hammond Jr., Eric Clapton
Notable instruments
Fender Stratocaster
Fender Telecaster
Martin Signature Workhouse
Epiphone Howard Roberts

Jaime Royal "Robbie" Robertson,[1][2] OC (born July 5, 1943),[1][2] is a Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist best known for his work as lead guitarist and primary songwriter for the Band.[3] As a songwriter, he is credited for "The Weight", "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", "Up on Cripple Creek", "Broken Arrow", "Somewhere down the Crazy River" and many others. He has been inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame[4] and was ranked 59th in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 greatest guitarists.[5]


Early life[edit]

Robertson was born Jaime Royal Robertson.[1] His mother, Rosemarie Myke Chrysler, was Mohawk, born and raised on the Six Nations Reservation.[6][7][8] His father was a Jewish[9] professional gambler.[1] Robertson has said that both traditions have influenced his religious outlook.[9] His father died in a hit-and-run accident when Robbie was a young child,[10] in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.[11] and his mother later married James Patrick Robertson, who adopted Robbie and whose surname Robbie took.[10] He had his earliest exposure to music at Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation, where he spent summers with his mother's family.

By 1958, Robertson was performing in various groups around Toronto, including Little Caesar and the Consuls, Robbie and the Robots, and Thumper and the Trambones. By 1959 he had met singer Ronnie Hawkins, who led a band called the Hawks. In 1960 Hawkins recorded two early Robertson songs, "Hey Boba Lu" and "Someone Like You" on his Mr. Dynamo LP. Robertson then took over lead guitar with the Hawks and toured often, before splitting from Hawkins in 1963. Robertson's skill on his instrument continued to increase, leading Howard Sounes to write, "By twenty-two, he was a guitar virtuoso."[12]

After Robertson left Hawkins, along with Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, and Garth Hudson, the quintet named themselves Levon and the Hawks,[13] but, after rejecting such tongue-in-cheek names as the Honkies and the Crackers, as well as the Canadian Squires—a name the record label gave them, which they immediately hated—they ultimately called themselves the Band.

The Band[edit]

Robertson performing with the Band

Bob Dylan hired the Hawks for his famed, controversial tour of 1965–1966, his first wide exposure as an electrified rock and roll performer rather than his earlier acoustic folk sound. Robertson's distinctive guitar sound was an important part of the music; Dylan praised him as "the only mathematical guitar genius I’ve ever run into who doesn’t offend my intestinal nervousness with his rearguard sound." Robertson was one of the guitarists on Dylan's 1966 album Blonde on Blonde.[14]

From their first albums, Music from Big Pink (1968) and The Band (1969), the Band was regarded as one of rock music's preeminent groups. Rolling Stone magazine praised the Band and gave its music extensive coverage. Robertson sang only a few songs with the Band, but he was the group's primary songwriter and was often seen as the de facto bandleader in the later years of the group. In songwriting credits, his name was given as "Jaime Robbie Robertson" prior to the release of Cahoots (1971), when he dropped the first name.

In 1976, at the urging of Robertson, the Band decided to cease touring;[15] they gave their final concert in November of that year. Martin Scorsese captured the event on film, released in 1978 as The Last Waltz. The concert featured the Band's friends and influences: Ronnie Hawkins, Muddy Waters, Paul Butterfield, Dr. John, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Neil Diamond, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, Ron Wood, and Ringo Starr, among others. Since Robertson was the only one in the group who had seriously wanted to stop touring, the Band resumed touring in 1983 with a succession of musicians filling his place.

In his 1993 autobiography, This Wheel's on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band, Helm blamed Robertson for the Band's breakup. Helm made several accusations against Robertson, such as conspiring with record companies to steal songwriting credits from other members of the Band,[16] arranging the group's breakup as a part of a private agenda, and conspiring with Last Waltz director Martin Scorsese (a personal friend of Robertson's) to make Robertson appear to be the leader and most important member of the group. Robertson disputes that he was the sole decider of the Band's breakup, saying it was nobody's plan and everybody's decision.[17]

Early solo career[edit]

Robertson produced Neil Diamond's albums Beautiful Noise in 1976 and Love at the Greek (live) in 1977.[2]

Between 1979 and 1980 Robertson co-starred with Gary Busey and Jodie Foster in Carny. He also co-wrote, produced, and composed source music for the film. For Scorsese's Raging Bull, Robertson created background music and produced source music.[2]

For another Scorsese film, The King of Comedy (released in 1983), Robertson served as music producer and also contributed with his first post-Band solo recording, "Between Trains." Additionally, he produced and played guitar on Van Morrison's song "Wonderful Remark".[2] Robertson signed via A&R executive Gary Gersh for his debut solo album on Geffen Records. Robertson recorded with producer (and fellow Canadian) Daniel Lanois.[2] He also scored Scorsese's The Color of Money (1986), working with Gil Evans and Willie Dixon, and co-wrote "It's in the Way That You Use It" with Eric Clapton.[2]

Robertson was enlisted as creative consultant for Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll (1987), Taylor Hackford's film saluting Chuck Berry, wherein he interviewed Chuck Berry and played guitar while Berry recited some poetry.

Solo albums[edit]

From 1987 onwards, Robertson has released five solo albums. The first was self-titled followed by Storyville, Music for the Native Americans and Contact from the Underworld of Redboy. In 1990, he contributed to Japanese musician Ryuichi Sakamoto's album Beauty. Robertson's song "Broken Arrow", from the Robbie Robertson album, was covered by Rod Stewart on his album Vagabond Heart and became a hit single. "Broken Arrow" was also a part of the Grateful Dead's rotation of live songs in 1993–95 (sung by bassist Phil Lesh) and later was performed by Phil Lesh and Friends. The song "Somewhere down the Crazy River" became Robertson's biggest solo hit.

In 1994, Robertson returned to his roots, forming a Native American group the Red Road Ensemble for Music for the Native Americans, a collection of songs that accompanied a television documentary series.

How To Become Clairvoyant was released on April 5, 2011, and is the fifth solo release from Robertson. It features Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Trent Reznor, Tom Morello, Robert Randolph, Rocco Deluca, Angela McCluskey, and Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes. Pino Palladino and Ian Thomas are the rhythm section. Robbie performed "He Don't Live Here No More" on CBS's Late Show with David Letterman and ABC's The View in support of the album, with the band Dawes and solo artist Jonathan Wilson. The album was also released in a deluxe edition containing five bonus tracks (four demos and the exclusive track "Houdini", named after the magician Harry Houdini).

Later career[edit]

Robertson during a March 2011 radio interview

In 1995, in Rome, Robertson headlined an annual Labour Day concert festival with supporting acts Andrea Bocelli, Elvis Costello, and Radiohead. In 1996, as executive soundtrack producer, Robertson heard a demo of Change the World and sent it to Clapton as a suggestion for the soundtrack of Phenomenon, starring John Travolta. Babyface produced the track. Change the World won 1997 Grammy awards for Song of the Year and Record of the Year.

In 2000, David Geffen and Mo Ostin convinced Robertson to join DreamWorks Records as creative executive. Robertson, who persuaded Nelly Furtado to sign with the company, is actively involved with film projects and developing new artist talent, including signings of A.i., Boomkat, eastmountainsouth, and Dana Glover.

On February 9, 2002, Robertson performed "Stomp Dance (Unity)" as part of the opening ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah. Robertson served as music supervisor on the Martin Scorsese film Gangs Of New York.

In 2004, Robertson contributed the song "Shine Your Light" to the Ladder 49 soundtrack.

In 2005, Robertson was executive producer of the definitive box set for the Band, entitled A Musical History.

In 2006, Robertson recorded with Jerry Lee Lewis and Samuel Bidleman on Last Man Standing on the track "Twilight", a Robertson composition. That same year, he received the Governor General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, Canada's highest honour in the performing arts.[18] He also produced the soundtrack of the Scorsese film The Departed.

On July 28, 2007, at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival in Bridgeview, Illinois, Robertson made a rare live appearance. Also in 2007, Robertson accepted an invitation to participate in Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino (Vanguard). With the group Galactic, Robertson contributed his version of Domino's "Goin' to the River".

Honors and awards[edit]

In 1989, the Band was inducted into the Canadian Juno Hall of Fame.[19]

In 1994, the Band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[19] Robertson joined Garth Hudson, Rick Danko and inductor Eric Clapton onstage to perform "The Weight" when the Band was inducted.

In 1997, Robertson received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Songwriters.

At the 2003 commencement ceremonies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Robertson delivered an address to the graduating class and was awarded an honorary degree by the university.

Robbie Robertson's star on Canada's Walk of Fame

In 2003, Robertson was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame.[20]

In 2008, Robertson and the Band received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.[19]

In 2010, Robertson provided music supervision for another Scorsese film, Shutter Island.

On May 27, 2011, Robertson was made an Officer of the Order of Canada by Governor General David Johnston.[21][22]

In 2014, the Band was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame.[19]

Private life[edit]

In 1967, Robertson married Dominique Bourgeois, a Canadian journalist. They later divorced.[9] Together they have three children: daughters Alexandra and Delphine and son Sebastian.

Martin Scorsese was hired to direct The Last Waltz on the basis of his use of music in Mean Streets. Robertson and Scorsese were housemates during the editing of The Last Waltz and became friends. Robertson went on to compose the musical score for Scorsese's 1980 film Raging Bull, and since then the two have been frequent collaborators. Robertson worked on Scorsese's movies The King of Comedy, The Color of Money, Casino, The Departed, and Gangs of New York, and he provided music supervision for Shutter Island, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Silence (in preproduction as of 2015).



  • What About Now (1991) [#4 CAN]
  • Go Back to Your Woods (1992) [#9 CAN]
  • Shake This Town (1992) [#20 CAN]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Robertson, Sebastian (2014). Rock and Roll Highway: The Robbie Robertson Story. New York: Henry Holt and Co. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-8050-9473-2. Retrieved 31 December 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Robbie Robertson Biography". 
  3. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "The Band: Robbie Robertson". The Band. Retrieved October 3, 2009. 
  4. ^ Oliveira, Michael (February 8, 2011). "Robbie Robertson to be inducted into songwriters hall of fame". Toronto Star. Archived from the original on February 8, 2011. 
  5. ^ "The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time". Rolling Stone. November 23, 2011. Retrieved December 30, 2015. 
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b c "At 67, Robbie Robertson has nothing left to prove". Globe and Mail (Toronto). August 23, 2012. 
  10. ^ a b Schneider, Jason (2009). Whispering Pines: The Northern Roots of American Music from Hank Snow to the Band. ECW Press; digitally presented at Google Books. Retrieved 2012-12-24. 
  11. ^ Nygaard King, Betty. "Robertson, Robbie". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved December 2, 2007. 
  12. ^ Sounes, Howard. Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan Doubleday. 2001. p. 189. ISBN 0-552-99929-6
  13. ^[dead link]
  14. ^ Trager, Oliver (2004). Keys to the Rain. Billboard Books. pp. 470–471. ISBN 0-8230-7974-0. 
  15. ^ Selvin, Joel (2002-04-04). "The day the music lived / Rereleased 'Last Waltz' documents amazing night in 1976 when rock's royalty bid farewell to the Band". SFGate. Retrieved 2014-03-11. 
  16. ^ Jefferson, Margo (1993-12-29). "Books of The Times; A Member of the Band Recalls Its Glory Days". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-03-11. 
  17. ^ "Robbie Robertson On The Break-Up Of The Band". YouTube. 2011-04-01. Retrieved 2014-03-11. 
  18. ^ "Robbie Robertson". Governor General's Performing Arts Awards Foundation. Retrieved December 20, 2009. 
  19. ^ a b c d "The Band". Canada's Walk of Fame. Retrieved 27 August 2015. 
  20. ^ "Robbie Robertson". Archived from the original on May 17, 2008. Retrieved December 13, 2008. 
  21. ^ "Michael J. Fox among 43 invested in Order of Canada". Globe and Mail (Toronto). May 27, 2011. 
  22. ^ "Governor General notice: Robbie Robertson, O.C.". The Governor General of Canada. Retrieved 2012-12-24. 

External links[edit]