Robbie Robertson

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For other people named Robbie Robertson, see Robbie Robertson (disambiguation).
Jaime Royal "Robbie" Robertson
RobbieRobertson2007.jpg
Robertson performing at the Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2007
Background information
Born (1943-07-05) July 5, 1943 (age 73)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Origin Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Genres Rock, Roots rock, Americana, Rhythm and Blues, Rockabilly
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter, producer, creative executive, actor
Instruments Guitar, vocals, piano, bass, harmonica, autoharp, melodica
Years active 1958–present
Labels Capitol, Geffen, Warner, Asylum, 429, Roulette, Atco, Apex, Ware
Associated acts The Band, Ronnie Hawkins & the Hawks, Bob Dylan, John Hammond Jr., Eric Clapton
Website robbie-robertson.com
Notable instruments
Fender Stratocaster
Fender Telecaster
Martin Signature Workhouse
Epiphone Howard Roberts

Jaime Royal "Robbie" Robertson, 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]

Origins and Early Career[edit]

Early life[edit]

Homes in the Cabbagetown district of Toronto, Ontario. Cabbagetown was the first of several Toronto neighborhoods where Robertson grew up.

Robertson, whose full name is Jaime Royal Robertson, was born on July 5, 1943. He was an only child. His mother was Rose Marie Chrysler, a full blooded Mohawk[1]:6 who was raised on the Six Nations Reserve southwest of Toronto, Ontario. Chrysler lived with an aunt in the Cabbagetown neighborhood of Toronto[6]:17 and worked at a jewelry plating factory. His biological father was Alexander David Klegerman, a Jewish professional gambler. Klegerman was killed in a hit-and-run accident as he was changing a tire on Queen Elizabeth Way, when Robertson was an infant.

Robertson's mother married James Patrick Robertson, a co-worker, who adopted her son. Robertson's parents continued to work at the jewelry plating factory where they met and lived in several homes in different Toronto neighborhoods while Robertson was a child.[7]:55 [8]:65 Robertson received his name "Robbie" from teachers and students at school, who started calling him "Robbie" in reference to his last name.[1]:6

During the summer, Robertson's mother would take her son to the Six Nations Reserve to acquaint him with her family. It was here that Robertson was mentored in playing guitar by other family members, in particular his older cousin Herb Myke, who entertained the family by playing country music songs by Hank Williams and other country stars. When Robertson was ten, his mother took him to a local guitar teacher who played Hawaiian style lap slide guitar. This guitar style did not set well with Robertson, and forced him to wait until summers to learn the standard guitar style from his family on the reserve. Robertson became a fan of rock n' roll and blues through the radio, listening to disc jockey George "Hound Dog" Lorenz play rock n' roll on WKBW in Buffalo, New York, and staying up at night to listen to disc jockey John R.'s all-night blues show on WLAC, a clear-channel station in Nashville, Tennessee.[7]:56 [8]:65–66

When Robertson was fourteen and fifteen, he worked two brief summer jobs in the traveling carnival circuit, the first being for a few days in a suburb of Toronto, and the second being a three-week job for the Canadian National Exhibition. In the latter he worked as an assistant at a freak show. These two experiences would impact Robertson's view of Americana, influencing The Band song "Life is a Carnival" and the movie Carny (1980), which he would later produce and appear in as lead actor.[9]

Robertson began playing in bands in 1957, working initially with Little Caesar and the Consuls before leaving to start his own band with his friend Pete "Thumper" Traynor, who would later found Traynor Amplifiers. Robertson's first band with Traynor was called Robbie and the Rhythm Chords, who became Robbie and the Robots after they saw the film Forbidden Planet and took a liking to the film's character Robby the Robot. Traynor customized Robert's guitar for The Robots, fitting it with antennae and wires to give it a space age look. After Robbie and The Robots, Robertson also played in the Traynor-led combo Thumper and the Trambones, whose name changed to The Suedes, at which time they hired pianist Scott Cushnie.[7]:56–57 [8]:66 [10]:15

With Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks[edit]

Robertson became a fan of the Arkansas-based rockabilly group Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks after attending their shows at the Toronto club Le Coq d'Or.[10]:40–41 Hawkins's band split its time between performing in the southern United States and performing in eastern Canada, having found a lucrative market in the Canadian club scene.[8]:70–71 Robertson's band, the Suedes, opened for Hawkins at Dixie Arena, and Hawkins guested on vocals with the group on a couple of songs in their set. In time, Hawkins took a liking to Robertson and brought him on as roadie and errand runner for the Hawks.[11] Hawkins flew Robertson to the Brill Building in New York City to help him choose songs for his album Mr. Dynamo (1959), and recorded two songs co-credited to Robertson, "Hey Baba Lou" and "Someone Like You".[1]:14–15 [8]:66–67 [10]:45–46

Ronnie Hawkins performing live in 2014. Hawkins hired Robertson as a member of his backup band The Hawks in 1960.

Hawkins hired Cushnie away from the Suedes, and took him on tour with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks in Arkansas. When The Hawks' then-current bass player was fired from the group for theft, Cushnie recommended that Hawkins hire Robertson to replace him on bass.[10]:49, 51–52 [12] Hawkins invited Robertson to come to Arkansas, the Hawks flew to the UK to perform on television there, and left Robertson in a nearby town to practice to see if he would make the cut. Upon returning, they were amazed at his progress and hired him to play bass. Cushnie left the band a few months after joining them,[12] and Robertson soon switched over from bass to playing lead guitar for The Hawks.[1]:20–22 [8]:68–70, 75

Future Band member Levon Helm was already a member of the Hawks and soon became close friends with Robertson.[8]:76 The Hawks continued to tour the United States and Canada, adding Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, and Garth Hudson to The Hawks lineup in 1961.[13] This lineup, which later became The Band, toured with Hawkins throughout 1962 and into 1963.[8]:95, 100 They also hired the saxophone player Jerry "Ish" Penfound and later Bruce Bruno, who were both with the group in their intermediary period as Levon and the Hawks.[14][15]

Hawkins was signed to Roulette Records in early 1959,[6]:20 and Robbie Robertson played on a number of Hawkins' Roulette Records recordings. Robertson played on an April 28, 1960 Roulette Records session that ended up as part of the Ronnie Hawkins album The Folk Ballads of Ronnie Hawkins (1960).[16] Ronnie Hawkins and The Hawks cut sessions for Roulette Records throughout 1961-1963, all of which Robertson appeared on. Many of these tracks were released on The Best of Ronnie Hawkins (Roulette SR 25255) and the Canadian-only Mojo Man (Roulette SR 25390); both albums were released in 1964. The sessions also yielded three singles: "Come Love" b/w "I Feel Good" (Roulette 4400 1961); "Who Do You Love" b/w "Bo Diddley" (Roulette 4483 1963); and "There's A Screw Loose" b/w "High Blood Pressure" (Roulette 4502 1963).[10]:420 [17]

Intermediary Period with Levon and The Hawks[edit]

The Hawks left Ronnie Hawkins at the beginning of 1964 to go on their own.[18] The members of The Hawks were losing interest in playing in the rockabilly style in favor of playing blues and soul music. They were also taking an increasingly more democratic approach to performing, which they developed as they performed shows in Hawkins' absence while he tended to issues with his family and home life.[8]:100–102 [10]:76

In early 1964, the band approached agent Harold Kudlets about representing them, which he agreed to do, booking them a years' worth of shows in the same circuits as they had been in before. Originally dubbed The Levon Helm Sextet, the band included all of the future members of The Band, plus Jerry "Ish" Penfound on saxophone and Bob Bruno on vocals.[8]:105–106 Bruno left in May 1964, and at that time the group changed their name to Levon and the Hawks. Penfound stayed with the group until 1965.[14] Kudlets kept the band busy performing throughout 1964 and into 1965, finally booking them into two lengthy summer engagements at the popular nightclub Tony Mart's in Somers Point, New Jersey in 1965,[7]:64–66, 68 where they played six nights a week alongside Conway Twitty and other acts.[19]

In early 1964, the band befriended blues artist John P. Hammond while he was performing in Toronto,[10]:84–85 and later in the year agreed to work on his album So Many Roads (released in 1965) at the same time that they were playing The Peppermint Lounge in New York City.[7]:65 Robertson played guitar throughout the album, and was billed "Jaime R. Robertson" in the album's credits. This was Levon and the Hawks' first studio appearance after leaving Ronnie Hawkins.[8]:110

Levon and the Hawks cut a single "Uh Uh Uh" b/w "Leave Me Alone" under the name The Canadian Squires in March 1965. Both songs were written by Robertson. The single was recorded in New York[7]:66 and released on Apex Records in the United States and on Ware Records in Canada.[20]:95 As Levon and The Hawks, the band cut an afternoon session for Atco Records later in 1965,[10]:81 which yielded two singles, "The Stones That I Throw" b/w "He Don't Love You" (Atco 6383) and "Go, Go, Liza Jane" b/w "He Don't Love You" (Atco 6625).[10]:420 Robertson also wrote all three of the tracks on Levon and the Hawks' Atco singles.[20]:95 [21][22]

With Bob Dylan and the Hawks[edit]

1965-1966 World Tour[edit]

Toward the end of Levon and the Hawks' second engagement at Tony Mart's in New Jersey, in August 1965, Robertson received a call from Grosscourt Management, the company owned by artist manager Albert Grossman, requesting his services backing Bob Dylan for a set of upcoming concerts.[20]:21 [23] The band had been recommended to Grossman and to Dylan by Mary Martin, Grossman's assistant secretary, who was originally from Toronto and was a friend of the band.[7]:68–69 [24] Dylan was also aware of the group through his friend John P. Hammond,[7]:69 whose blues/rock hybrid album So Many Roads members of the Hawks had performed on.

Dylan first performed with a rock band at a controversial performance at the Newport Folk Festival on July 28, 1965, which was met with a mixed but largely hostile response. Dylan was intent on continuing to perform in the rock music style regardless,[10]:91–93 and manager Albert Grossman lined up a world tour that was intended to take him through the following year.[8]:132

Robertson agreed to meet with Dylan. Initially, Dylan intended to just hire Robertson as the guitarist for his backup group. Robertson refused the offer, but did agree to play two shows with Dylan, one at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Forest Hills, Queens on August 28, and one at The Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles on September 3. Robertson was not fond of the drummer Dylan was using at the time, and suggested that they use Levon Helm instead.[25]:5

Robertson and Helm performed in Dylan's backup band along with Harvey Brooks and Al Kooper for both shows. The first at Forest Hills received a predominantly hostile response, but the second in Los Angeles was received favorably.[7]:70 Dylan was happy with the results and wanted to keep this lineup of the group together, so Grossman's company connected with Levon and the Hawks' road manager to request Robertson's and Helm's services for the rest of the tour. The band met with Grossman, who agreed to hire the full band, and Dylan flew up to Toronto and rehearsed with them September 15–17 as Levon and the Hawks finished an engagement at Friar's Tavern that they were contracted for.[10]:96–99

Bob Dylan and the Hawks were scheduled to tour the United States throughout October–December 1965,[26]:8–9 with each show consisting of two sets: an acoustic show just featuring Dylan on guitar and harmonica, and an electric set featuring Dylan backed by the Hawks. The shows in California and the Southern United States were received favorably overall, but the shows in the Northeastern United States were largely met with a hostile reaction from fans who knew Dylan as a prominent figure in the American folk music revival, perceiving his move into rock music as a betrayal of the movement's ideals and musical standards. Levon Helm left the group after their November 28 performance in Washington, DC. Session drummer Bobby Gregg replaced Helm for the December dates, and Sandy Kirnikoff was brought in to replace Gregg in January 1966.[10]:105, 109

Robertson was initially unhappy with the band's sound, but felt that the band were onto something and was happy with the progress as the tour went on.[24] "When we were playing, and people were booing, when we'd finish, we'd go back to the hotel, and listen to a tape of ourselves...it sounded quite good, very powerful and dynamic, the songs sounded strong, and the arrangements were really starting to become tight and good. There was a spontaneous quality to them. We got very proud of what we were doing."[25]:6 Dylan and Robertson would often play guitar together during down time on the tour.[23]

Bob Dylan and the Hawks played more dates in the continental United States in February–March 1966 of the 1966 world tour, and then played Hawaii, Australia, Europe, The United Kingdom, and Ireland from April 9-May 27. Drummer Sandy Kirkinoff left after the Pacific Northwest dates in March,[7]:74 and Mickey Jones replaced him, staying with the group for the remainder of the tour. The Australian and European legs of the tour received a particularly harsh response from disgruntled folk fans, and the May 17 Manchester Free Trade Hall show, best known for an angry audience member audibly yelling "Judas!" at Dylan, became a frequently-bootlegged live show from the tour;[27]:73–76 it was eventually released officially as The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert.[28]:4 The European leg of the tour was filmed by documentary filmmaker D. A. Pennebaker, and the footage was edited into the documentary Eat the Document, which was completed in 1968 and premiered at the New York Academy Of Music in 1971.[28] Robertson can be seen throughout the film.

On 30 November 1965, Dylan cut a studio session with members of The Hawks,[29] which yielded the non-LP single "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?"[30] Dylan attempted to record sessions with members of The Hawks in late January and early February 1966 for the upcoming Blonde on Blonde album; Robertson appears in all of these sessions. Dylan then completed the album in Nashville in mid-February, employing Robertson for one of these sessions, which took place on 14 February.[31] Robertson is credited as appearing on the Blonde on Blonde album as "Jaime Robertson".[32]

The "Basement Tapes" Period[edit]

The "Big Pink" house in 2006. "Big Pink" was the house where Bob Dylan and The Band's Basement Tapes were recorded, and the music from The Band album Music From Big Pink was written.

On July 29, 1966, Dylan allegedly sustained an injured neck from a motorcycle accident (although there is debate as to the nature of the accident or even whether the accident actually happened), and retreated to a quiet domestic life with his new wife and child in upstate New York.[33]:216–219 The members of The Hawks were living at the Hotel Chelsea in New York City at the time,[33]:220 and were kept on a weekly retainer by Dylan's management.[24]

In February 1967, Dylan invited the members of the band to come up to Woodstock, New York, where his home was located, initially with the idea of having them help him work on the film that would become Eat the Document.[24] Robertson had met a French-Canadian girl on the Paris stop of Dylan's 1966 world tour,[34] and the two moved into a house on Dylan manager Albert Grossman's estate in the Woodstock area.[10]:135 The remaining three members of the Hawks rented a house near West Saugerties, New York that would later be dubbed "Big Pink" because of its painted pink exterior.[33]:220–221

Just after the members of The Hawks had rented the "Big Pink" house, Robertson met with a friend with knowledge of acoustics and recording equipment to have him examine the basement/garage of the "Big Pink" house to see if it would be conducive for a simple recording set up that they had planned out so the Hawks could start making home recordings. Although the friend advised against it, the band set up the makeshift studio anyway. According to Robertson, sometime after the alleged accident, Dylan came by the "Big Pink" house, loved their makeshift recording setup, and informed the band that he needed to create songs for his publishing company to shop to other artists to record.[35] Dylan and the members of The Hawks ended up working together at the "Big Pink" house every day to rehearse and generate ideas for new songs, many of which they recorded in "Big Pink"'s makeshift studio.[10]:137 The recordings were made between the late spring and autumn of 1967.[36] Previous Hawks member Levon Helm returned to the group in August 1967.[20]:27

In time, word about these sessions began to circulate, and in 1968, Rolling Stone magazine co-founder Jann Wenner brought attention to these tracks in an article entitled "Dylan's Basement Tape Should Be Released".[36][37] In 1969, a bootleg album with a plain white cover compiled by two incognito music industry insiders featured a collection of seven tracks from these sessions. The album, which became known as The Great White Wonder, began to appear in independent record stores and receive radio airplay. This album became a runaway success[27]:42–46 and helped to launch the bootleg recording industry.[38] In 1975, Robertson would produce an official compilation entitled The Basement Tapes which included a selection of tracks from the sessions. An exhaustive collection of all 138 extant recordings was released in 2014 as The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes Complete.[36]

In 1968, The Hawks backed Tiny Tim in four performances that appeared in the psychedelic counter culture film You Are What You Eat. Two songs, "Be My Baby" and "I Got You Babe" (the latter a duet with Eleanor Baruchian of 60's girl group The Cake), also appear in the film's soundtrack album; another two, "Sonny Boy" and "Memphis, Tennessee" appear only in the film itself.[39] Robertson is listed in the movie's end credits as "Robie Robertson".[40]

With The Band[edit]

See also: The Band

1967-1968 (Music From Big Pink)[edit]

Robbie Robertson performing live with The Band.

In late 1967, Dylan had to break away from the members of the Hawks to record his next album, John Wesley Harding (1967). After recording the basic tracks, Dylan contacted Robertson and Hawks member Garth Hudson about playing on the album to fill out the sound. However, when Robertson heard the tracks, he liked the starkness of the sound and recommended that Dylan leave the songs as they were.[10]:147–148 A dispute between Albert Grossman and Dylan led to Dylan severing ties with Grossman.[10]:161 Dylan worked with the members of the Hawks once again when they appeared as his backup band at a series of two Woody Guthrie memorial concerts at Carnegie Hall in New York City on January 1968.[20]:29 Three of these performances were later released by Columbia Records on the LP A Tribute to Woody Guthrie, Vol. 1 (1972).[41]

The members of the Hawks remained under contract to Grossman.[42] Over the course of the "Basement Tapes" period, the group had found a voice of their own, and Grossman went to Los Angeles to shop the band to a major label, securing a contract with Capitol Records.[20]:22, 28 The group went to New York to begin recording songs with producer John Simon. Capitol was happy with the results of the sessions, and brought the group to Los Angeles to finish the album.[42] The resulting album, Music From Big Pink, named after their house,[43] was released in August 1968.[44]

At the time, the members of The Hawks were not using any particular name, but were known informally to Dylan and to those who knew them as "the band".[1]:30 The group insisted that they be called "The Crackers" when they signed their contract with Capitol,[10]:144 and had at one point considered using the name "The Honkies" as well.[42] But when Music From Big Pink came out, it was released with no name listed on the album cover, but with their informal name of "The Band" listed on the album's spine.[10]:162

Robertson wrote four of the songs on Music From Big Pink, including "The Weight", "Chest Fever", "Caledonia Mission," and "To Kingdom Come". Robertson is listed in the songwriting credits as "J.R. Robertson".[45] Robertson sang lead vocals on the track "To Kingdom Come"; he would not sing on another Band song released to the public until "Knockin' Lost John" on 1977's Islands.[10]:158 [42]

Two of Robertson's compositions for the album, "The Weight" and "Chest Fever", would become important touchstones in the group's career. "The Weight" was influenced by the films of director Luis Buñuel, in particular Nazarín (1959) and Viridiana (1961), and reflects the recurring theme in Buñuel's films about the impossibility of sainthood. The song portrays an individual who attempts to take a saintly pilgrimage, and becomes mired down with requests from other people to do favors for them along the way. The mention of "Nazareth" at the beginning of the song refers to Nazareth, Pennsylvania, where the C. F. Martin & Company guitar manufacturer is located; it was inspired by Robertson seeing the word "Nazareth" in the hole of his Martin guitar.[1]:20 Robertson worked to create an American mythology within the song, but also made references to numerous individuals The Band had met over the years, incorporating them into a larger American mythos. Although "The Weight" reached #21 on the British radio charts,[46] it did not fare as well on the American charts, initially stalling at #63. However, the song gained traction due to more successful covers by Jackie DeShannon (US #55, 1968), Aretha Franklin (US #19, 1969), and The Supremes with The Temptations (US #46, 1969), as well as to the song's inclusion in the movie Easy Rider (1969), which became a runaway success. "The Weight" has since become The Band's best known song. It has been covered by numerous artists, appeared in dozens of films and documentaries, and has become a staple in American rock music and American folk culture in general.[10]:168–173 [20]:32 [47][48]

"Chest Fever", according to Robertson, was written as an attempt to counteract the mythology and lyrical depth of "The Weight", with the former's stronger emphasis on a "vibe" and a groove.[20]:32–33 The lyrics are abstract and somewhat nonsensical, and were originally intended as dummy words created to fill space. Robertson intended to rewrite them later, but eventually decided to keep them intact. Although Robertson claimed initially that he himself didn't know what the song was about, he later explained the lyrics to be "a hard love song, [where] people are telling [a man] about this girl and it effects him physically. These things they're telling him move him incredibly, and he's really a victim of that." The opening organ solo of "Chest Fever" would become a showpiece for keyboardist Garth Hudson's organ playing in The Band's concerts, and would vary every time the group would play the song.[49]

When Music from Big Pink was released, The Band initially avoided media attention, and discouraged Capitol Records from any outright promotional efforts. They also did not immediately pursue touring to support the album, and declined to be interviewed for a year.[20]:38 The resulting mystery surrounding the group made them a fascination with the underground press,[42] and they received further word-of-mouth promotion due in part to Bob Dylan's rumored involvement.[43] Music from Big Pink received excellent reviews, and the album became a favorite of many famous musicians of the period.

1969 (The Band)[edit]

The Band in 1969. Robertson is second from the right.

In early 1969, Robertson and Music From Big Pink producer John Simon flew to Hawaii to plan the sessions for their second album. Initial attempts to record in the studio were unsuccessful, so the group rented a home owned by Sammy Davis Jr. in Hollywood Hills, and converted the pool house behind it into a studio to recreate the "clubhouse" atmosphere that they had enjoyed at the "Big Pink" home previously. The band began recording every day in the pool house studio, working on a tight schedule to complete the album.[10]:176–178 An additional three tracks were recorded at The Hit Factory in New York in April 1969.[43]

On this second album, songwriting duties fell to Robertson, who would write or co-write every song on the album. Robertson did not sing on the album, opting instead to stand back and act as an informal musical director within the group.[10]:178 Robertson also did most of the audio engineering on the album.[20]:41

Outside of the studio, Robertson began to work as spokesman for the group, handling many of the group's interviews.[10]:175, 180 The Band began performing regularly in spring 1969, with their first live dates as The Band being at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco.[50] Their most notable performances that year were at the 1969 Woodstock Festival and the UK Isle of Wight Festival with Bob Dylan in August.[10]:201–245

The Band's album The Band was released on September 1969, and became a critical and commercial success, receiving almost universal critical praise and coming in at #9 on the US pop charts and staying in the Top 40 for 24 weeks.[51]:25 The Band works as a loose concept album of Americana themes,[52] and was instrumental in the creation of the Americana Music genre.[43] It was preserved into the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry in 2009.[53]

The song with the strongest cultural impact on The Band album was "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down". The song tells a fictional story of a Confederate citizen's experiences at the end of the American Civil War, and features actual historical events worked into the song to create a larger American mythos, as well as the appearance of a family story passed from one generation to the next. Robertson wrote the song in honor of bandmate Levon Helm's Southern heritage. Helm guided Robertson in the historical and cultural contexts that would give the song a greater authenticity, even taking Robertson to the library to research the history of the period.[8]:188 Although The Band's original version was not released as a single, a cover version by Joan Baez went to #3 on the charts in 1971 and helped to popularize the song. With its empathy for the American South's side of the story, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" helped bring compassion to the Southern United States in the post-Civil Rights era, and has since become an anthem of the South.[10]:192–193 [54][55][56] The song has been included in lists such as "Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time" (#249)[57] and Rolling Stone's "25 Best Songs About the South" (#25).[58]

Several other tracks from The Band received significant radio airplay, and would become staples in the group's concert appearances. The track "Up on Cripple Creek" peaked at #25 in late 1969 in the United States, and would be their only Top 30 hit there.[59] "Rag Mama Rag" reached #16 in the UK in April 1970, the highest chart position of any single by the group in that country.[46] "Whispering Pines", co-written by Richard Manuel, was released as a single in France in 1970,[60] and would become the title of a 2009 book about Canadian contributions to the Americana music genre by Jason Schneider.[7] Across the Great Divide, although not released as a single, was used as the title for a 1993 box set of the group's music released by Capitol Records,[6] as well as for a biography about the group by Barney Hoskins released the same year.[10]

On November 2, 1969, The Band appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, one of only two television appearances they would make.[20]:45

1970-1973 (Stage Fright through Moondog Matinee)[edit]

On January 12, 1970, The Band was featured on the cover of Time magazine.[61] This was the very first time a North American rock band would be featured on the cover of the magazine.[62]

The Band rented The Woodstock Playhouse in Woodstock, New York with the intent of recording a new live album there, but the city council voted against it, so they recorded on location, but without an audience. Robertson handled most of the songwriting duties as before.[10]:235–236 The album was recorded on a mobile unit purchased by their management,[20]:48 and Robertson brought in Todd Rundgren to engineer the album. The album was recorded in two weeks' time.[63] These sessions became their third album, Stage Fright, which would become The Band's highest charting album under their own name, peaking at #5 on September 5 and staying in the Billboard Top 40 for 14 weeks.[51]:25

Robertson performing live with The Band in 1971.

Robertson moved to Montreal in August 1970 and began splitting his time between Woodstock and Montreal. Robertson was suffering from a lack of inspiration to write, and found it difficult to get the group working as a unit as it had before. The other members of the group, Garth Hudson, in particular, also felt that Robertson's songwriting was getting too complex and difficult. They were able to complete their next album, Cahoots, at Albert Grossman's newly built Bearsville Studios and release it in October 1971, but it fared worse than the previous albums, receiving mixed reviews and peaking at #24 on the Billboard charts,[20]:54–58 only remaining in the Billboard Top 40 for five weeks.[51]:25

Cahoots is notable for its cover of Bob Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece", as well as for featuring the concert favorite "Life Is a Carnival". The inclusion of "When I Paint My Masterpiece" came about when Bob Dylan stopped by Robertson's home during the period the band was recording Cahoots. Robertson played Dylan some tracks from the upcoming album, and asked if he might have any songs to contribute that would be appropriate, which led to Dylan playing an unfinished version of "When I Paint My Masterpiece" for him. Inspired by Robertson's enthusiasm, Dylan completed the song soon afterward, and The Band recorded it for the album. "Life Is a Carnival" features horn parts written by producer and arranger Allen Toussaint. Robertson contacted Toussaint about creating horn arrangements for the song that would have an organic, improvised feel to them, so Toussaint created an arrangement that sounded like the horns were playing off of the guitar and other instruments, even though the basic tracks were recorded separately months earlier. It would be the only track from Cahoots the group would keep in their set list through to The Last Waltz concert and film.[20]:54–55

The Band continued to tour throughout 1970 and 1971.[50] A live album recorded at a series of shows at the Academy of Music in New York City between December 28 and December 31, 1971,[50] was released in 1972 as the double album Rock Of Ages.[64] Rock of Ages peaked at #6, and remained in the Top 40 for 14 weeks.[51]:25 After the Academy of Music shows, The Band again retreated from performing live. They returned to the stage on July 28, 1973,[50] to play the sold-out festival Summer Jam at Watkins Glen alongside The Allman Brothers Band and The Grateful Dead. A recording of The Band's performance was released by Capitol Records as the album Live at Watkins Glen in 1995.[65] With over 600,000 people in attendance,[66] the festival set a record for "Pop Festival Attendance" in the Guinness Book of World Records. The record was first published in the 1976 edition of the book.[67]

In October 1973, The Band released an album of cover songs entitled Moondog Matinee,[20]:69 [64] which peaked at #28 on the Billboard charts.[51]:25 Around the time of the recording of Moondog Matinee, Robertson began working on an ambitious project entitled Works that was never finished or released. One lyric from the Works project, "Lay a flower in the snow," was used in Robertson's song "Fallen Angel", which appeared on his 1987 self-titled solo album.[64]

1974 Reunion with Bob Dylan (Planet Waves and Before the Flood)[edit]

In February 1973,[68]:2 Bob Dylan relocated from Woodstock, New York to a mansion near Point Dume in Malibu, California.[69] Soon after, Dylan invited Robertson to Malibu to discuss the possibility of a Bob Dylan/The Band reunion tour. Robertson was becoming disenchanted with what Woodstock was becoming in the wake of the Woodstock Festival and its popularity as a counter-culture destination, and was fascinated with the idea of living by the sea. Robertson relocated to a residence formerly owned by Carole King in the summer of 1973, and by October 1973 the rest of the members of The Band had followed suit, moving into properties near Zuma Beach.

Bob Dylan and The Band performing at the Chicago Stadium in Chicago, Illinois, on the 1974 reunion tour. Robertson is second from the left.

David Geffen had signed Dylan to Asylum Records, and worked with promoter Bill Graham on the concept that would become the Bob Dylan and the Band 1974 Tour. It would be the first tour Dylan had been on in 7 1/2 years. Graham initially devised the idea for a 12 to 13 week tour, but finally decided on 29 markets and 40 tour slots where he thought the concerts would do well. Dylan said yes to every one of the forty proposed tour slots, and he, Geffen, Graham, and The Band began preparations for the tour.

Meanwhile, Bill Graham took out a full page advertisement for the Bob Dylan and The Band tour in the New York Times. The response was one of the largest in entertainment history up to that point, with between 5 and 6 million requests for tickets mailed in for 650,000 seats. Graham's office ended up selling tickets off on a lottery basis, and Dylan and The Band netted $2 million from the deal.[7]:298 [10]:284–286 [20]:70

Amongst the rehearsals and preparations, The Band went into the studio with Bob Dylan to record a new album for Asylum Records that would become the Bob Dylan album Planet Waves (1974). Sessions took place at Village Recorder in Santa Monica, California, on November 2, 5, 6, 8, and 14 of 1973.[70] Planet Waves was released on February 9, 1974, and was #1 on the Billboard Top Forty for four weeks, spending 12 weeks total in the top 40.[51]:25 It was Bob Dylan's first #1 album,[71] and the first and only time Bob Dylan and The Band recorded a studio album together.[10]:287

The 1974 tour began at the Chicago Stadium in Chicago, Illinois, on January 3, 1974, and ended at The Forum in Inglewood, California on February 14.[72] The shows began with more songs from the new Planet Waves album and with covers that Dylan and the Band liked, but as the tour went on, they moved toward playing older and more familiar material, only keeping "Forever Young" from the Planet Waves album in the setlist.[73] According to the tour's sound engineer Rob Fraboni, the first show in Chicago was somewhat haphazard in its layout, so Fraboni suggested a layout where, "The Band should open the show, then Bob should do a set with The Band. Then, intermission, next Bob alone for 3 songs. Then, The Band should come out and join him and they should play together another set and the show is over." The group tried this layout the next evening, it worked well, and they continued to use this template through the remainder of the tour.[74] Dylan and The Band played a number of tracks from the controversial 1965-1966 World Tour, this time to wildly enthusiastic response from the audience where there had been mixed reaction and boos a mere nine years previously.[10]:291 The audience response to the tour was overwhelmingly positive, with Fraboni calling it an "outpouring of love" the likes of which he had never seen before.[74]

The final three shows of the tour at The Forum in Inglewood, California were recorded and assembled into the double album Before the Flood.[72] Credited to "Bob Dylan/The Band", Before the Flood was released by Asylum Records on July 20, 1974. The album debuted at #3 on the Billboard charts, and spent ten weeks in the Top Forty.[51]:26

1974-1975 (Shangri-La Studios, The Basement Tapes, and Northern Lights – Southern Cross)[edit]

Following the 1974 reunion tour with Bob Dylan, David Geffen put The Band on the road with the recently reunited Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. The tour commenced in July and continued through September of that year, playing shows throughout the United States and Canada.[50] On September 4, both artists played Wembley Stadium in London, England, appearing with Jesse Colin Young and Joni Mitchell with Tom Scott and the L.A. Express.[10]:308–310 [75]

The Entrance to Shangri-La Studios in 2016. The Band had the ranch house on the Shangri-La property converted into a recording studio in 1974.

After moving to Malibu in 1973, Robertson and The Band had discovered a ranch in Malibu near Zuma Beach dubbed "Shangri-La", and decided to lease the property. The main house on the property had originally been built by Lost Horizon (1937) actress Margo Albert,[76] and the ranch had been the filming and stabling site for the Mister Ed television show in the 1960s. In the interim, the house had served as a high-class bordello. Dylan and the Band rehearsed for the 1974 tour on this location in August 1973.[68]:3 In the latter half of 1974, The Band brought in their tour engineer Rob Fabroni to build a recording studio to their specifications in the ranch house.[77] The studio was completed by the end of 1974.[10]:311

The album release of The Basement Tapes, credited to "Bob Dylan & The Band",[78] was the first album production that took place in the new studio. The album, produced by Robertson, featured a selection of tapes from the original 1967 Basement Tapes sessions with Dylan, as well as demos for tracks eventually recorded for Music From Big Pink album. Robertson cleaned up the tracks and added guitar and drum overdubs. The album was released in July 1975, and went to #7 on the Billboard charts, spending nine weeks in the Top Forty.[7]:298 [10]:311–313 [51]:26

Shangri-La Studios proved to be a return to a clubhouse atmosphere that The Band had enjoyed previously at Big Pink, and in the spring of 1975, the group began work on Northern Lights – Southern Cross, their first release of original material in four years. The album differed from previous projects in that the members of the group worked on their parts separately and at their own leisure. The tracks were more layered than previously, and the vocals were overdubbed instead of being recorded live with all the instruments playing, as had been the case previously. The tracks ran longer than previously as well, with eight tracks approximately six minutes each making the final track list. One song, "Twilight", was held from the album and released as a b-side.

Robertson wrote all of the songs and acted as musical director as before; Robertson also devised the title of the album.[10]:320 The best known and most remembered track on the album is "Acadian Driftwood", the first song with specifically Canadian subject material that the group had written and recorded. Robertson was inspired to write "Acadian Driftwood" after seeing the documentary L'Acadie, l'Acadie (1971) on Canadian television while living in Montreal. The song chronicles the story of the French settlers who were driven out of the former French colony of Acadia between 1755 and 1764 by the British during the French and Indian War. The track follows in the steps of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Own" in telling the story through the eyes of the losers in an historical conflict. Bluegrass fiddler Byron Berline played violin on the track, performing an Acadian style fiddle part for the song in an altered cross tuning.[7]:298–299 [20]:77–79

Northern Lights – Southern Cross was released on November 1, 1975, and although it received generally positive reviews, the album was not a strong seller,[7]:300 stalling at #26 on the Billboard charts and remaining in the Top 40 for five weeks.[51]:26 [79]

1976 (Islands and The Last Waltz concert)[edit]

The Band was scheduled to tour in the spring of 1976 when member Richard Manuel was involved in an automobile accident, causing the tour to be delayed. The band began touring again in June 1976, performing throughout the summer.[50] The members of The Band were splintering off to work on other projects, with Levon Helm building a studio in Woodstock and Rick Danko having been contracted to Arista Records as a solo artist.[80]

While on the summer tour, member Richard Manuel was involved in a boating accident that severely injured his neck and caused ten dates of the 25-date tour to be cancelled. The members of The Band had already been engaging in drug abuse and dangerous behavior, and Robertson was tiring of playing babysitter to the other members of the group.[7]:300–301 [10]:324–5 It was during this time period that Robertson introduced the concept that The Band would cease to operate as a touring act. According to Robertson, the group's mutual agreement was that they would stage one final "grand finale" show, part ways to work on their various projects, and then regroup, operating as a studio-only group from that point forward.[20]:82 [81][82]

Concert promoter Bill Graham agreed to book The Band at The Winterland Ballroom on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1976. The show was intended as a gala event, with ticket prices of $25 per person. The event would include a Thanksgiving dinner served to the guests, and would feature The Band performing with numerous musical guests who had been involved with the group over the years, with an after party following.[80] Sales of the tickets to the concert were slow until Graham leaked the guest list to the San Francisco Chronicle. The onstage guest list included Ronnie Hawkins, Muddy Waters, Paul Butterfield, Dr. John, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Neil Diamond, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Ronnie Wood, Ringo Starr, and others.[83]

Robertson wanted to document the event on film with 16mm cameras, initially with the idea of doing basic documentation of the concert. However, he was unhappy with the quality of the music films he had seen up to that point, and decided to reach out to a film director to bring the footage together in a more meaningful way. The Band's former road manager, Jonathan Taplin, had produced the Martin Scorsese-directed film Mean Streets (1973), and approached Scorsese to see if he would be interested in shooting the concert. Scorsese had just finished shooting the film New York, New York, and agreed to shoot the concert, suggesting instead that it should be shot in 35mm with synchronized sound and seven cameras.[84][85][86]:73–74

Bob Dylan and The Band with other celebrity guests performing "I Shall Be Released" at The Last Waltz concert, 25 November 1976. Robertson is the situated toward the right of the photo between Dylan and The Band drummer Levon Helm.

The Winterland concert, dubbed by the band as The Last Waltz, was scheduled to be four hours in length, and Robertson developed a 200-page script for the show, listing out in columns who was singing what part, the lyrics of the songs, and what instruments were being featured. He also included two blank columns, one for cameras and one for lighting, for Scorsese to fill in. Scorsese filled in the camera and lighting work in these two sections three weeks before the concert, resulting in the concert being fully scripted.[85]

The Band spent $150,000 of their own money to have the show filmed by Scorsese and a film crew of 45, and concert promoter Bill Graham allegedly spent $75,000 of his own money in addition to the $125,000 taken in from ticket sales to supplement the show with a staff of 518, and amenities such as a 38-piece orchestra, seven large chandeliers, and the set of the San Francisco Opera's production of La traviata, which was erected onstage behind the group.[81] Scorsese brought in all-star cameramen such as Michael Chapman, László Kovács and Vilmos Zsigmond to film the show.[84][85] John Simon, producer on The Band's first two albums, was brought on to coordinate rehearsals and work as musical director.[87] Boris Leven was brought in as art director. Jonathan Taplin assumed the role of executive producer, and Robertson worked as producer of the concert production.[10]:336

In October 1976, The Band released a non-LP single that featured a cover the Hoagy Carmichael/Stuart Gorrell standard "Georgia on My Mind" in support of then-presidential candidate Jimmy Carter.[80] On October 30, 1976, The Band appeared on Saturday Night Live, their second of two television appearances in their original chronology. The entirety of the evening's Saturday Night Live show was dedicated to skits that were in support of Jimmy Carter, as Election Day would take place in the coming week. The group performed "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", "Stage Fright", and "Life is a Carnival" early in the show, and closed the show with "Georgia On My Mind".[20]:82

Rehearsals for The Last Waltz concert began in early November. Warner Bros. Records president Mo Ostin offered to finance the production of The Last Waltz film in exchange for the rights to release music from The Last Waltz as an album. However, the group were contractually obligated to supply Capitol Records with one more album before they could be released to work with Warner Bros. So in between rehearsing, The Band assembled the studio album Islands for Capitol. The tracks on the album consisted largely of song ideas that The Band had been working on at Shangri-La Studios on their own time. Robertson wrote or co-wrote eight of the ten tracks. One of the songs, "Knockin' Lost John", features Robertson on vocals, and was the first The Band song Robertson had sung on since "To Kingdom Come" from Music From Big Pink. "Christmas Must Be Tonight" was inspired by the birth of Robertson's son Sebastian in July 1975. "Georgia On My Mind" was included on the album, and was one of two cover songs on the album, the other being Homer Banks' "Ain't That a Lot of Love".[10]:336–8 [20]:82 [88]

The Last Waltz concert event took place on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1976. Approximately five thousand people were in attendance.[89] The event began at 5 pm, beginning with the audience members being served a full traditional Thanksgiving meal at candlelit tables, with a vegetarian table serving an alternate menu as an option. The Berkeley Promenade Orchestra played waltz music for dancing afterwards. The tables were cleared and moved at 8 pm. At 9 pm, Robertson, acting as emcee of the evening, introduced The Band, who played songs for an hour, beginning with "Up On Cripple Creek". At 10:09 pm, Robinson introduced Ronnie Hawkins, the first onstage guest, with a succession of guest stars appearing with the group until just after 12 am. The group took a 30-minute break, during which several Bay Area poets performed readings of their poems. After the break, The Band returned to the stage, performing, amongst other songs, a new composition entitled "The Last Waltz Suite" that Robertson had just completed less than 48 hours prior. Bob Dylan was brought in at the end of this second set, performing several songs, and finally being joined with the other guest stars for a finale performance of "I Shall Be Released". This was then followed with two lengthy all-star jam sessions, after which The Band returned to the stage to perform one more song, their rendition of "Baby Don't You Do It".[10]:351 The show ended at 2:15 am, with Robertson stating, "Thank you, goodnight and goodbye."[81]

1977-1978 (The Last Waltz film and album)[edit]

After The Last Waltz concert event was finished, director Martin Scorsese had 400 reels of raw footage to work with,[89] and began working the editing of The Last Waltz film around the editing of New York, New York, which he had finished shooting the previous year. The film was then sold to United Artists. In the meantime, Robertson continued to brainstorm more ideas for the film. Country singer Emmylou Harris and gospel vocal group The Staple Singers were invited to The Last Waltz concert as onstage guests but were not able to attend, so Robertson conceptualized filming The Band on a sound stage with both artists as guests. United Artists agreed to finance this sound stage filming.

On March 15, 1977, Capitol Records released The Band's album Islands (1977).[90] The album peaked at #64, with a ten-week run on the charts.[20]:82

In late April 1977, Scorsese filmed The Band, Emmylou Harris, and The Staple Singers on an MGM soundstage, with 250 people in attendance. Emmylou Harris performed on a new song, "Evangeline", and The Staples Singers performed on a new recording of "The Weight," which they themselves had recorded a version of in 1968. Also recorded as a new version of "The Last Waltz Suite".[10]:352–3 [20]:85, 87 [86]:73–74

Robertson's next idea was to intersperse the concert footage with interviews of The Band that told their story. United Artists agreed to finance the filming of these interviews with the group, and Scorsese himself was enlisted to conduct the interviews. In the summer of 1977, Scorsese went to Shangri-La Studios to shoot interview footage of the group.

Over the remainder of the year, Robertson and Scorsese worked nights assembling the film. Early in 1978, Robertson moved into an office on the MGM lot next to executive producer Jonathan Taplin to work on post production of the film.[91] The film's final budget was $1.5 million.[10]:354–5 [84][86]:73–74

The Last Waltz album was released by Warner Brothers Records on April 7, 1978, as a 3-LP set.[92] The first five sides feature live performances from the concert, and the last side contains studio recordings from the April 1977 MGM sound stage sessions.[93] The album peaked at #16 on the Billboard charts, and remained in the Top 40 for 8 weeks.[51]:26

The Last Waltz film was released to theaters on April 26, 1978.[94] The film fared well with both rock and film critics initially, and Robertson and Scorsese made numerous appearances throughout America and Europe to promote the film.[10]:361 Over time, The Last Waltz has become lauded by many as an important and pioneering rockumentary, in particular because it was the first film about rock music to be shot in 35mm. Its influence has been felt on subsequent rock music films such as Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense (1984) and U2's Rattle and Hum. (1988).[95]

Production and Session Work Outside of The Band 1970-1977[edit]

Singer/songwriter Jesse Winchester performing in 2011. Robertson discovered Winchester and produced his self-titled debut album in 1970.

When Robertson was living in Montreal in 1970, a friend told him about American singer/guitarist Jesse Winchester, who was living in Canada at the time to escape the draft. Robertson met Winchester in the basement of a monastery in Ottawa and loved what he heard. He then helped Winchester secure a management and label deal with The Band's manager Albert Grossman. Robertson produced Winchester's debut album, Jesse Winchester, which was released in 1970 on Ampex Records.[96] The album features Robertson playing guitar throughout the album, and co-credits the track "Snow" to Robertson as well.[97] A track from the album, "Payday", was later covered by Elvis Costello, and the entire album was reissued on CD as Disc Two of the 2-CD set Anthology / Jesse Winchester (1999).[98]

Robertson played guitar on ex-Beatle Ringo Starr's third solo album Ringo (1973), performing with four-fifths of The Band on the track "Sunshine Life For Me (Sail Away Raymond)".[99][100] Robertson also contributed a guitar solo on the track "Snookeroo" on Starr's fourth album, Goodnight Vienna (1974).[101]

Robertson played guitar for Joni Mitchell on the track "Raised on Robbery", which was released on her album Court and Spark. Court and Spark reached #2 in the Billboard Charts in February 1974[51]:212 and was certified Double Platinum in the United States by the Recording Industry Association of America in December 1997.[102] In 1974, Robertson also played guitar on Carly Simon's version of "Mockingbird",[103] which featured Simon singing with her then-husband James Taylor. "Mockingbird" reached #5 on the Billboard singles charts [51]:279 and was certified Gold in the United States.[104] The track was released on Simon's album Hotcakes, which went to #3 on the Billboard charts.[51]:279

In 1975, Robertson produced singer/guitarist Hirth Martinez' debut album Hirth From Earth. Martinez was a lifelong Los Angeles resident of Mexican and Basque descent who grew up in East Los Angeles. When Robertson met Martinez, the latter was supporting a wife and child by performing at The Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California. Bob Dylan had heard Martinez, and recommended him to Robertson. Robertson identified strongly with Martinez' music, helped him to secure a recording contract with Warner Bros. Records, and agreed to produce Martinez' debut album. Martinez lived in a bungalow in Hollywood filled with cassettes of songs he had recorded, and together Robertson and Martinez went through approximately 300 of these recordings to select the tracks that would end up on the album. Hirth From Earth featured Robertson on guitars throughout, and credited him for the cover concept as well. The album initially received a mixed response, with positive responses coming from The Los Angeles Times and Rolling Stone magazine, as well as from musicians such as Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Paul Simon, and Frank Zappa. Martinez' follow-up album, Big Bright Star (1977), was recorded at Shangri-La Studios and produced by The Band producer John Simon. Robertson played guitar on Big Bright Star, but was not involved in the production of the album.[10]:321–322 [105][106][107]

In 1975, Eric Clapton recorded the album No Reason to Cry at The Band's Shangri-La Studios with help from members of The Band, as well as from celebrity guests such as Bob Dylan and Billy Preston. The album brought the members of The Band together in one place for the first time in a year, and paved for way for the group to record Northern Lights – Southern Cross together.[10]:326 Robertson played guitar and keyboards on No Reason to Cry.[108]

In the mid-1970s, Robertson connected with singer Neil Diamond. The two found out that they were neighbors in Malibu, and became friends. Robertson loved Diamond's early material, and perceived Diamond to be the missing link between Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. Robertson was also fascinated with Diamond's tenure working at the Brill Building, and the two agreed to begin collaborating on a concept album about the life and struggles of a Tin Pan Alley songwriter. The resulting album, entitled Beautiful Noise, was recorded at Shangri-La Studios in early 1976. It reached #6 on the Billboard charts and remained in the Top 40 for sixteen weeks. Robertson produced the album, co-wrote the track "Dry Your Eyes" with Diamond, and played guitar on "Dry Your Eyes", "Lady-Oh", and "Jungletime". Robertson also produced Diamond's live double album Love at the Greek (1977), which was recorded in 1976 at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. Love at the Greek reached #8 on the Billboard charts and remained in the Top 40 for nine weeks.[10]:321–322 [51]:89 [109]

In 1977, Robertson contributed to two album projects from The Band alumni. Robertson played guitar on "Java Blues" on Rick Danko's self-titled debut album,[110] and also played guitar on the Earl King-penned "Sing, Sing, Sing" on the album Levon Helm & the RCO All-Stars.[8]:273 [111]

Also in 1977, Robertson contributed to the second self-titled album by singer/songwriter Libby Titus, who was the former girlfriend of ex-Band member Levon Helm.[8]:213, 279–280 Robertson produced the track "The Night You Took Me To Barbados In My Dreams" (co-written by Titus and Hirth Martinez), and produced and played guitar on the Cole Porter standard "Miss Otis Regrets".[112]

Film Career 1980-1986[edit]

Carny (1980) film and soundtrack[edit]

After the release of The Last Waltz, MGM/UA, who released the film, viewed Robertson as a potential film actor, and provided Robertson with an office on the MGM lot, where he would read film screenplays for possible acting roles.[34][91] During this time, Martin Scorsese's agent, Harry Ulfand, contacted Robertson about the idea of producing a dramatic film about traveling carnivals, which Robertson was drawn to because of his childhood experiences working in carnivals. The screenplay for the film, which would eventually become Carny (1980), was submitted by documentary filmmaker Robert Kaylor. Robertson liked the screenplay and agreed to produce it, but felt that it needed work. While working on the screenplay, Kaylor had videotaped various aspects of traveling carnivals for research purposes. Robertson was attracted to the footage of "carnival bozos," which were clowns perched in a caged dunk tank. The clowns would insult passersby to cajole them into buying balls to throw at a target that, if hit, would dunk them. The film's script was rewritten to be a buddy film about a carnival bozo who was best friends with a carnival "patch man," who would work behind the scenes to keep order. Kaylor was hired to direct the film.

Although Robertson was initially only intended to be the producer of Carny, he ended up becoming third lead actor in the film, playing the role of Patch, the patch man. Robertson chose actor Gary Busey to play the role of Frankie, the carnival bozo and Patch's best friend. Jodie Foster was selected to play the role of Donna, a small town girl who runs away to join the carnival and threatens to come between the two friends. The film cast numerous real life carnies alongside professional film actors, which created a difficult atmosphere that was fraught with delays and reshoots.[9][113]

Carny opened to theaters on June 13, 1980,[114] to mixed response.[115] The film initially suffered from poor box office returns[10]:369 and a bad reputation within the industry. Both contemporary and current reviews criticize the film's lack of storyline coherence, but praise the authentic carnival atmospheres and the performances of its lead actors.[114][116][117] As of 2016, the film holds a 3.2/5 audience rating in Rotten Tomatoes[118] and a 6.5/10 rating in the Internet Movie Database.[119] Robertson has consistently stood by the film, taking pride in the portrayals captured in the film, and referring to the production as "a [great] life experience".[9][113]

Also in 1980, Warner Brothers released a soundtrack album for Carny, which is co-credited to Robertson and composer Alex North, who wrote the orchestral score for the film. Side One is entitled "Midway Music," and features songs written, arranged, and/or commissioned by Robertson for the film. Robertson plays guitar on four of the tracks, and sings lead vocals on one track, "The Fat Man", which also features Robertson's co-star Gary Busey on drums. The soundtrack was rereleased on compact disc by Real Gone Music in 2015.[9]

Early collaborations with Martin Scorsese 1980-1986 (Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, The Color of Money)[edit]

"He's a frustrated musician, and I guess I was a frustrated filmmaker. So it was a perfect connect."

Robbie Robertson on his working relationship with Martin Scorsese[120]

After the production of Carny was completed, Robertson flew to New York to assist Martin Scorsese in developing the soundtrack for the film Raging Bull (1980), which Scorsese was directing.[9] Previously, during the editing of The Last Waltz, Robertson had moved into director Martin Scorsese's home. In their off time, Scorsese would show Robertson movies that he liked, and Robertson would share music with Scorsese that he liked. Robertson's and Scorsese's mutual love for movies and music would be the beginning of a long-running working relationship where Robertson would find and/or create music to underscore Scorsese's films. Raging Bull was the first of these collaborations.[121] Robertson credits his work in Raging Bull for sparking his interest in the work of sourcing and underscoring music for movies.[120][122]

A loose biographical film about professional boxer Jake LaMotta, Raging Bull was set in the period of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.[123] Robertson collaborated with Scorsese on selecting popular songs from the period to underscore the on-screen action as though the radio were playing in the background,[86]:83 or the music was leaking from the windows of homes in the neighborhood.[121] Robertson supplied three newly recorded instrumental jazz tracks for incidental music, which he also produced and arranged. These three tracks feature Robertson playing guitar, along with performances from The Band alumni Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel, jazz bassist Larry Klein, and trumpet player Dale Turner of the rock band Oingo Boingo. One of the tracks, "Webster Hall", is co-written by Robertson and Garth Hudson.[124]

Robertson also worked with Scorsese on selecting the film's opening theme music, choosing the intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana by Italian opera composer Pietro Mascagni because of its impact. Robertson tried out numerous recorded versions of the piece to find the version which would evoke the strongest emotions in the viewer, finally selecting a lesser-known rendition by the Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna that had to be cleaned up and pitch corrected for the film.[120]

Robertson developed an accompanying soundtrack album for Raging Bull that contained tracks that were used in the film, but the soundtrack was rejected initially due to the difficulty of obtaining copyright clearances for many of the tracks.[121] The soundtrack was finally released by Capitol Records in 2005 as a 37 track, 2-CD set. The soundtrack contains Robertson's three instrumental jazz recordings, as well as the big band, traditional pop, and classical music tracks used throughout the film.[124] The album includes two sets of liner notes, one written by Robertson and one written by Scorese.[121]

Robertson worked with Scorsese again on his next film, The King of Comedy (1983), and is credited in the film's opening credits for "Music Production".[125] Robertson contributed one original song, "Between Trains," to the film's soundtrack. The song was written for "Cowboy" Dan Johnson, an assistant of Scorsese's who had recently passed away.[10]:379 Robertson produced the track, sings lead vocals, and plays guitar and keyboards; The Band alumni Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel appear on the track was well. Robertson also produced the television theme music for the lead character, played by Jerry Lewis, and produced and played guitar on a track performed by Van Morrison entitled "Wonderful Remark" that appears in the end credits. A soundtrack album for the film was released by Warner Bros. in 1983.[126]

In June 1986, Scorsese began requesting Robertson's input on ideas for the soundtrack of The Color of Money. Robertson had begun production of his self-titled solo album, and initially tried to reject working on the film's score, but over time Scorsese cajoled Robertson into working with him.[127] Robertson worked on the film's soundtrack while his producer Daniel Lanois was away working with U2.[128] In addition to sourcing music for the film, Robertson also composed the film's score;[129] it was the first time Robertson had ever written a dramatic underscore for a film.[128]

Robertson brought in Canadian jazz composer Gil Evans to assist with the arrangements on The Color of Money,[130] including on the pieces "Main Title" and "Modern Blues". Both tracks were composed by Robertson. Robertson also produced a song for the film with blues player Willie Dixon[131] entitled "Don't Tell Me Nothin'"; Dixon's track was co-written with Robertson. The Color of Money's soundtrack album was released by MCA Records.[132]

The best known song on The Color of Money soundtrack is Eric Clapton's "It's in the Way That You Use It". The song began as an incomplete track that Clapton had submitted for inclusion in the film. Robertson supplied part of the lyrics to the song on the fly during the recording sessions with Gil Evans in New York, and then finished the rest of the lyrics while working with U2 on the recordings for his solo album.[127] "It's in the Way That You Use It" reached #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Songs chart in January 1987.[133] The song was also released on Clapton's 1987 album August.[134]

Solo career[edit]

Geffen Records Period[edit]

Robbie Robertson (1987)[edit]

After a lengthy sabbatical, Robertson announced via a 1983 article in Billboard magazine that he was returning and available to work on projects.[115] Film producer Art Linson encouraged Robertson to focus on creating a solo record when the two vacationed together in Rome that same year.[34] Robertson then began conceptualizing the idea, starting with creating a setting called "The Shadowland" where the songs in the album would take place. Robertson imagined The Shadowland to be a mythical place "that moves around according to [the] clouds that cover [it]", and imagined himself to be a wanderer who would narrate the events that would take place in this mythical locale.[128]

Robertson was signed to EMI Records by then head of A&R and longtime The Band fan Gary Gersh. Preliminary discussions and preproduction for Robertson's first solo album began in autumn 1984. Gersh then moved to Geffen Records, and convinced the label to buy out Robertson's contract with EMI.[127]

The first producer Robertson considered for production of the album was fellow Canadian Daniel Lanois. After meeting up with several more potential producers, Robertson decided to work with Lanois because of their shared interest in experimentation. After Lanois finished a stage of the production work with U2 on what would become their album The Joshua Tree, Robertson let Lanois know that he was ready to begin work on the album. The two began production and recording in July 1986.[127][128]

Robertson kept an office on the property of the recording studio The Village Recorder in West Los Angeles, California, where he would work out ideas for the album. Much of the album was recorded there. Robertson's basic backing band included guitar player Bill Dillon, a friend of Lanois' who had also played for Ronnie Hawkins, as well as bass player Tony Levin, and Parisian drummer Manu Katché. Robertson brought in drummer Terry Bozzio after Katché had to return to Paris. Robertson also brought in The BoDeans to provide group vocals for some of the tracks on the album, most notably on "Showdown At Big Sky".[127][128] The Band members Garth Hudson and Rick Danko also appear on the album.[135]

Lanois broke away from the album's production to continue working with U2 in August 1986,[136] while Robertson worked with director Martin Scorsese on creating and composing the score for The Color of Money.[34][127] While Lanois was working with U2, he invited Robertson to come out to Ireland to work in the home studio where U2 were recording. Robertson flew to Ireland in late August 1986, arriving in the aftermath of Hurricane Charley.[136] Robertson had just finished work on The Color of Money, and arrived with nothing prepared except for a Gil Evans horn chart left over from The Color of Money and a recording he had made of a guitar riff accompanied by a tom tom drum. Robertson fleshed out some lyrical ideas inspired by the hurricane and the turbulent flight over, while Lanois worked with the members of U2 on extracting a musical concept from the guitar riff Robertson had presented to them. Robertson and U2 lead singer Bono then improvised a set of lyrics in the studio while the band's instrumentalists played behind them, creating a 22-minute track that was edited into the song "Sweet Fire of Love". Lanois then used the Gill Evans horn arrangements as the basis of another track entitled "Testimony", which also featured the members of U2.[127][128]

Robertson then flew to Bath, England to work with Peter Gabriel in his home studio. Robertson had been devising a track entitled "Fallen Angel" about a soul passing into the next dimension. Robertson attributed the direction he was taking to the recent passing of fellow Band alumnus Richard Manuel, who had committed suicide in a hotel room in Florida in March 1986,[10]:384 and dedicated the song to him. Robertson loved the "ghosty, angelic sound" Gabriel achieved when stacking his vocals, and requested that Gabriel record background vocals for the song, which he agreed to. Gabriel also provided keyboards on "Fallen Angel", as well as keyboards and drum programming on "Broken Arrow", a song which was inspired by Robertson's Native American heritage.[128][135]

Robertson also recorded at Bearsville Studios near Woodstock, New York, which was founded by his former manager Albert Grossman. At Bearsville Studios, Robertson worked on a version of "What About Now" that was withheld from the final release of the album, as well the track "American Roulette," which was inspired by a screenplay he had written. Robertson utilized Lone Justice lead singer Maria McKee as backing vocalist for these two tracks.[127] Engineer Bob Clearmountain was brought in to remix the album just before its release.[34]

On "Somewhere Down The Crazy River", Robertson took an unusual turn in telling a story over the music and then singing a chorus in between the sections of the story. Robertson attributes the development of this approach to an incident in the studio where he was telling stories of his earlier experiences visiting New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta while the song played in the background. Robertson felt that the straight storytelling paired with the song had a "mesmerizing, haunting quality to it", and then developed the track around telling a story instead of singing during the verses. BoDeans member Sammy BoDean created a faux female voice that was used on the song's chorus.[128]

Released on October 26, 1987,[137] Robbie Robertson peaked at #35 on the Billboard 200, remaining in the Top 40 for 3 weeks.[51]:260 Robbie Robertson produced several hits on the Billboard Mainstream Rock charts, with "Showdown At Big Sky" coming in the highest (#2) and "Sweet Fire Of Love" the second highest (#7).[138] The album was nominated for a Grammy Award for "Best Rock / Vocal Album".[139] Robbie Robertson was certified gold in the United States in 1991.[140]

Robbie Robertson received overwhelming critical acclaim at the time of its release.[140] The album was listed in the Top Ten Albums Of The Year by several of the critics in Billboard magazine's 1987 "The Critics' Choice" end of the year feature,[141] and in February 1988, the album was listed in Stereo Review magazine's "Best Recordings of The Month" feature.[142] In 1989, the album was listed as #77 in Rolling Stone's "100 Best Albums of the Eighties."[143]

Rod Stewart recorded a version of "Broken Arrow" in 1991 for his album Vagabond Heart.[144] Stewart's version of the song was released as a single, and reached #20 on the Billboard 100 chart in the US[145] and #2 on the Billboard Top Canadian Hit Singles chart in Canada.[146] "Broken Arrow" was also performed live by the Grateful Dead from 1993 to 1995 with Phil Lesh on vocals.[147] Grateful Dead spinoff groups The Dead, Phil Lesh and Friends, and The Other Ones have also performed the song, each time with Lesh on vocals.[148]

Storyville (1991)[edit]

Storyville was released on September 30, 1991.[149] The album reached #69 on the Billboard 200 chart.[150] Storyville received numerous positive reviews, with Rolling Stone giving it 4 1/2 stars out of 5,[151] the Los Angeles Times awarding it 3 stars out of 4,[152] and Newsweek praising the album in an article that paired it with Van Morrison's then-current release Enlightenment (1990).[153] Two tracks from the album, "What About Now" and "Go Back To Your Woods", charted on the Billboard Mainstream Rock charts at #15 and #32 respectively.[138] The album was nominated for Grammy awards in the categories "Best Rock Vocal Performance (solo)" and "Best Engineer".[139]

Production and session work 1984-1992[edit]

In 1984, Robertson co-produced the track "The Best of Everything" with Tom Petty for the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album Southern Accents.[154] Robertson volunteered to work on the horn arrangements for the track, creating a brass parts reminiscent of the Allen Toussaint horn arrangements on The Band's Rock of Ages, and bringing in Band alumni Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson as guests.[155][156] Southern Accents was released on March 26, 1985, and was certified platinum in the United States on September 20 of that year.[157] The album reached #7 on the Billboard charts and spent 18 weeks in the top 40.[51]:239

In 1986, Robertson appeared as a guest on the album Reconciled by The Call, playing guitar on the track "The Morning". The album peaked at #82 in he US charts.[158]

Also in 1986, Robertson was brought on as creative consultant for Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll (1987), a feature film saluting Chuck Berry. The producers wanted Robertson to perform with Berry in a series of concerts that were shot for the film, but Robertson was unable to commit due to his work on his upcoming album. Robertson recommended Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards to replace him in the film, and also recommended Taylor Hackford as director.[159] Robertson appears in film, interviewing Chuck Berry, and then playing guitar while Berry recites some poetry.[160]

In 1988, Robertson collaborated as a songwriter with Lone Justice lead singer Maria McKee. Robertson had utilized McKee as a vocalist on the album Robbie Robertson,[127] and as an actress on the Martin Scorsese-directed music video for "Somewhere Down the Crazy River". McKee was having trouble completing lyrics for a few of the songs intended for the next Lone Justice album, and requested Robertson's assistance, which he provided. One of the songs, "Nobody's Child", was released on McKee's self-titled debut album in 1989.[161][162]

In 1989, Robertson recorded and produced a new version of The Band's "Christmas Must Be Tonight" for the Scrooged soundtrack. Robertson is listed as the performer of the track.[163]

In 1990, Robertson appeared as a guest on the Ryuichi Sakamoto album Beauty, playing guitar on the song "Romance".[164] Robertson also contributed to the world music video and album production One World One Voice. Robertson provided narration on "Chief Seattle Speaks," the opening track of the audio edition of the production,[165] and also performed on "Opening Drone" on the video edition.[166]

In 1992, Robertson appeared on an all-star tribute album to Charles Mingus entitled Weird Nightmare: Meditations on Mingus. The album was produced by Hal Willner and was released by Columbia Records. Robertson recites a selection from Mingus' autobiography on the track "Canon Part 2".[167]

Also in 1992, Robertson produced the song "Love in Time" for Roy Orbison's posthumous album King of Hearts. "Love In Time" was a basic demo Orbison had recorded that was believed to be lost, but had just recently been rediscovered. Robertson set about augmenting Orbison's basic vocal track with new arrangements and instrumentation, with the intent of making it sound like the arrangements were there from the beginning instead of later additions.[168] Robertson also played guitar on the track.[169]

Later Solo Albums[edit]

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. Robertson followed this with Contact from the Underworld of Redboy (1998).

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

Robertson worked on Martin Scorsese's movies 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).

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.

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.

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.[170]

In 1994, The Band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[170] 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.[171]

In 2006, Robinson received the Governor General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, Canada's highest honour in the performing arts.[172]

In 2008, Robertson and The Band received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.[170]

On May 27, 2011, Robertson was made an Officer of the Order of Canada by Governor General David Johnston.[173][174]

In 2014, The Band was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame.[170]

Levon Helm Controversy[edit]

In his 1993 autobiography, This Wheel's on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band, The Band member Levon Helm blamed Robertson for the group's breakup. Helm made several accusations against Robertson, such as conspiring with record companies to steal songwriting credits from other members of the Band,[175] arranging the group's breakup as a part of a private agenda, and conspiring with Last Waltz director Martin Scorsese 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.[159]

Private life[edit]

In 1967, Robertson married Dominique Bourgeois, a Canadian journalist. They later divorced.[176] Together they have three children: daughters Alexandra and Delphine, and son Sebastian.

Discography[edit]

Singles[edit]

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

Filmography[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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