|Jaime Royal "Robbie" Robertson|
Robertson performing at the Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2007
July 5, 1943 |
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|
|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|
Martin Signature Workhouse
Epiphone Howard Roberts
As a musician, Robertson best known for his work as lead guitarist and primary songwriter for The Band, as well as for his successful career as a solo recording artist. Robertson played an integral part in singer/songwriter Bob Dylan’s transformation from a folk singer/guitarist into a rock performer as part of the backup band on Dylan's controversial 1966 world tour. Robertson's work with The Band and with Bob Dylan were instrumental in creating the Americana and folk rock genres respectively. Robertson has worked with numerous other well-known musicians over the course of his career, including Ronnie Hawkins, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Tiny Tim, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Neil Diamond, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Peter Gabriel, U2, Neil Diamond, Maria McKee, Trent Reznor, Dawes, and many others.
As a songwriter, Robertson is credited for writing "The Weight", "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", "Up on Cripple Creek", "Broken Arrow", "Somewhere Down the Crazy River", and many others. His songs have been recorded and performed by Rod Stewart, Joan Baez, The Grateful Dead, Aretha Franklin, The Staple Singers, and others. Robertson employs a storytelling style in his songwriting that draws from film, mythology, and American folklore. His songwriting style has been influential to other musicians, as well as to American lore as a whole.
As a soundtrack film composer and producer, Robertson is best known for his numerous collaborations with director Martin Scorsese. Robertson's working relationship with Scorsese commenced with their collaboration on the influential rockumentary film The Last Waltz (1978), and continued through numerous dramatic films such as Raging Bull (1980), The Color of Money (1986), and Casino (1996). Robertson has also worked on numerous other soundtracks for film and television, such as the film Phenomenon (1996) starring John Travolta, and The History Channel’s The Native Americans (1994) television series.
Robertson appeared as an actor in the 1980 film Carny, which he co-starred in alongside Jodie Foster and Gary Busey. As an author, Robertson has written two children's books, as well as his own autobiography. He served as creative executive director of Dreamworks Records in the early 2000s.
As a member of The Band, Robertson has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Robertson has been inducted to Canada's Walk of Fame, both with The Band and on his own. As a songwriter, Robertson has been inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Songwriters. As a guitarist, Robertson was ranked 59th in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 greatest guitarists.
- 1 Origins and Early Career
- 1.1 Early life
- 1.2 With Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks
- 1.3 With Levon and The Hawks
- 1.4 With Bob Dylan and the Hawks
- 1.5 With The Band
- 1.5.1 1967-1968 (Music From Big Pink)
- 1.5.2 1969 (The Band)
- 1.5.3 1970-1973 (Stage Fright through Moondog Matinee)
- 1.5.4 1974 Reunion with Bob Dylan (Planet Waves and Before the Flood)
- 1.5.5 1974-1975 (Shangri-La Studios, The Basement Tapes, and Northern Lights – Southern Cross)
- 1.5.6 1976 (Islands and The Last Waltz concert)
- 1.5.7 1977-1978 (The Last Waltz film and album)
- 1.6 Production and Session Work Outside of The Band 1970-1977
- 2 Film Career 1980-1986
- 3 Solo career
- 4 Later career
- 5 Honors and Awards
- 6 Levon Helm Controversy
- 7 Private life
- 8 Discography
- 9 Singles
- 10 Filmography
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 External links
Origins and Early Career
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 Mohawk:6 who was raised on the Six Nations Reserve southwest of Toronto, Ontario. In her early adult life, Chrysler lived with an aunt in Toronto:17 and worked at a jewelry plating factory. Robertson's 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.
Robertson's mother married James Patrick Robertson, a co-worker at the jewelry plating factory. Jaime Robertson received his name "Robbie" from teachers and students at school, who started calling him "Robbie" in reference to his last name.:6
As a child, Robertson's mother would take her son to the travel to the Six Nations Reserve to visit her family. It was here that Robertson was mentored in playing guitar by other family members, in particular his older cousin Herb Myke. Robertson became a fan of rock 'n' roll and R&B 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.:56:65–66
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 a lead actor.
Robertson began playing in bands in 1957 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 Robertson's guitar for The Robots, fitting it with antennae and wires to give it a space age look. After Robbie and The Robots, Robertson played with Little Caesar and the Consuls, and with the Traynor-led combo The Suedes, which featured Scott Cushnie on piano.:56–57:66:15
With Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks
Robertson became a fan of the Arkansas-based rockabilly group Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks after Robertson's band, The Suedes, opened for Hawkins at Dixie Arena. Hawkins took a liking to Robertson and would have him run errands for the Hawks. Hawkins recorded two songs co-credited to Robertson, "Hey Baba Lou" and "Someone Like You", for his album Mr. Dynamo (1959), and brought Robertson to the Brill Building in New York City to help him choose songs for the rest of the album. :14–15:66–67:45–46
Hawkins hired pianist Scott Cushnie away from The Suedes, and took him on tour with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks in Arkansas. When The Hawks' bass player left the group, Cushnie recommended that Hawkins hire Robertson to replace him on bass.:49, 51–52 Hawkins invited Robertson to come to Arkansas, and then flew to the UK to perform on television there, leaving Robertson in Arkansas with The Hawks. Meanwhile, Robertson spent his living allowance on records and practiced intensively each day. Upon returning, Hawkins was amazed at Robertson's progress and hired him to play bass. Cushnie left the band a few months after joining them, and Robertson soon switched over from bass to playing lead guitar for The Hawks.:20–22:68–70, 75
Levon Helm was already a member of the Hawks and soon became close friends with Robertson.: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. This lineup, which later became The Band, toured with Hawkins throughout 1962 and into 1963.:95, 100 They also hired the saxophone player Jerry Penfound and later Bruce Bruno, who were both with the group in their intermediary period as Levon and the Hawks.
Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks cut sessions for Roulette Records throughout 1961-1963, all of which Robertson appeared on. The sessions included 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).:420
With Levon and The Hawks
The Hawks left Ronnie Hawkins at the beginning of 1964 to go on their own. The members of The Hawks were losing interest in playing in the rockabilly style in favor of playing blues and soul music.
In early 1964, the group 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 with Ronnie Hawkins. Originally dubbed The Levon Helm Sextet, the band included all of the future members of The Band, plus Jerry Penfound on saxophone and Bob Bruno on vocals.: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. 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,:64–66, 68 where they played six nights a week alongside Conway Twitty and other acts.
The members of Levon and the Hawks befriended blues artist John P. Hammond while he was performing in Toronto in 1964.:84–85 Later in the year, the group agreed to work on Hammond's album So Many Roads (released in 1965) at the same time that they were playing The Peppermint Lounge in New York City.:65 Robertson played guitar throughout the album, and was billed "Jaime R. Robertson" in the album's credits.: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:66 and released on Apex Records in the United States and on Ware Records in Canada.:95 As Levon and The Hawks, the band cut an afternoon session for Atco Records later in 1965,: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).:420 Robertson also wrote all three of the tracks on Levon and the Hawks' Atco singles.:95
With Bob Dylan and the Hawks
1965-1966 World Tour
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 Albert Grossman Management requesting a meeting with Bob Dylan.:21 The band had been recommended to Grossman and to Dylan by Mary Martin, an employee of Grossman's, who was originally from Toronto and was a friend of the band.:68–69 Dylan was also aware of the group through his friend John P. Hammond,:69 whose album So Many Roads members of the Hawks had performed on.
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 suggested they use Levon Helm on drums for the shows.: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 slightly more favorably.:70 Dylan flew up to Toronto and rehearsed with Levon and the Hawks September 15–17, as Levon and the Hawks finished an engagement there, and hired the full band for his upcoming tour.:96–99
Bob Dylan and the Hawks toured the United States throughout October–December 1965,: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 tours 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. 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 Konikoff was brought in to replace Gregg in January 1966.:105, 109
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 Konikoff left after the Pacific Northwest dates in March,: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;:73–76 it was eventually released officially as The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert.: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.
On November 30 1965, Dylan cut a studio session with members of The Hawks, which yielded the non-LP single "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?" Dylan completed the Blonde on Blonde album in Nashville in mid-February 1966, employing Robertson for one of these sessions, which took place on 14 February.
The "Basement Tapes" Period
On July 29, 1966, Dylan sustained an injured neck from a motorcycle accident, and retreated to a quiet domestic life with his new wife and child in upstate New York.:216–219 Some of the members of The Hawks were living at the Chelsea Hotel in New York City at the time,:220 and were kept on a weekly retainer by Dylan's management.
In February 1967, Dylan invited the members of the Hawks to come up to Woodstock, New York to work on music. Robertson had met a French-Canadian girl on the Paris stop of Dylan's 1966 world tour, and the two moved into a house in the Woodstock area.: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 pink exterior.:220–221
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 basement studio.:137 The recordings were made between the late spring and autumn of 1967. Previous Hawks member Levon Helm returned to the group in August 1967.: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". 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:42–46 and helped to launch the bootleg recording industry. 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.
With The Band
1967-1968 (Music From Big Pink)
In late 1967, Dylan left to record his next album, John Wesley Harding (1967). After recording the basic tracks, Dylan asked Robertson and 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.:147–148 Dylan worked with the members of the Hawks once again when they appeared as his backup band at two Woody Guthrie memorial concerts at Carnegie Hall in New York City in January 1968.:29 Three of these performances were later released by Columbia Records on the LP A Tribute to Woody Guthrie, Vol. 1 (1972).
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.: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. The resulting album, Music From Big Pink, was released in August 1968.
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". Robertson sang lead vocal 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.:158
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.:20 Although "The Weight" reached #21 on the British radio charts, 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.:168–173:32
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.:38 The resulting mystery surrounding the group made them a fascination with the underground press. Music from Big Pink received excellent reviews, and the album became a favorite of many famous musicians of the period.
In early 1969, The Band 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 "Big Pink" previously. The band began recording every day in the pool house studio, working on a tight schedule to complete the album.:176–178 An additional three tracks were recorded at The Hit Factory in New York in April 1969.
The Band began performing regularly in spring 1969, with their first live dates as The Band being at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. Their most notable performances that year were at the 1969 Woodstock Festival and the UK Isle of Wight Festival with Bob Dylan in August.:201–245
The Band's album The Band was released in September 1969, and became a critical and commercial success. The album received almost universal critical praise, peaked at #9 on the US pop charts, and stayed in the Top 40 for 24 weeks.:25 The Band works as a loose concept album of Americana themes, and was instrumental in the creation of the Americana Music genre. It was preserved into the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry in 2009.
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. 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.:192–193
Several other tracks from The Band received significant radio airplay, and would become staples in the group's concert appearances. "Up on Cripple Creek" peaked at #25 in late 1969 in the United States, and would be their only Top 30 hit there. "Rag Mama Rag" reached #16 in the UK in April 1970, the highest chart position of any single by the group in that country. "Whispering Pines", co-written by Richard Manuel, was released as a single in France in 1970, and would become the title of a 2009 book about Canadian contributions to the Americana music genre by Jason Schneider.
1970-1973 (Stage Fright through Moondog Matinee)
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.:235–236 Robertson brought in Todd Rundgren to engineer the album. The album was recorded in two weeks' time. These sessions became their third album, Stage Fright, which would become The Band's highest charting album, peaking at #5 on September 5 and staying in the Billboard Top 40 for 14 weeks.:25
The Band's next album, Cahoots, was recorded at Albert Grossman's newly built Bearsville Studios and was released in October 1971 The album received mixed reviews, and peaked at #24 on the Billboard charts,:54–58 only remaining in the Billboard Top 40 for five weeks.: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 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. 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. It would be the only track from Cahoots the group would keep in their set list through to The Last Waltz concert and film.:54–55
The Band continued to tour throughout 1970 and 1971. 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, was released in 1972 as the double album Rock Of Ages. Rock of Ages peaked at #6, and remained in the Top 40 for 14 weeks.:25 After the Academy of Music shows, The Band again retreated from performing live. They returned to the stage on July 28, 1973, to play the 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. With over 600,000 people in attendance, 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.
In October 1973, The Band released an album of cover songs entitled Moondog Matinee,:69 which peaked at #28 on the Billboard charts.: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.
1974 Reunion with Bob Dylan (Planet Waves and Before the Flood)
In February 1973,:2 Bob Dylan relocated from Woodstock, New York to Malibu, California. Coincidentally, Robertson also moved to Malibu in the summer of 1973, and by October of the year the rest of the members of The Band had followed suit, moving into properties near Zuma Beach.
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.
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.:298:284–286:70
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 West Los Angeles, California, from November 2 to November 14 of 1973. Planet Waves was released on February 9, 1974. The album was #1 on the Billboard album charts for four weeks, and spent 12 weeks total in the Billboard Top 40.:25 Planet Waves was Bob Dylan's first #1 album, and the first and only time Bob Dylan and The Band recorded a studio album together.: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. 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. 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. 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.: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.
The final three shows of the tour at The Forum in Inglewood, California were recorded and assembled into the double album Before the Flood. 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.:26
1974-1975 (Shangri-La Studios, The Basement Tapes, and Northern Lights – Southern Cross)
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. 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.:308–310
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, 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.: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. The studio was completed by the end of 1974.:311
The album release of The Basement Tapes, credited to "Bob Dylan & The Band", 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.:298:311–313:26
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.: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.:298–299:77–79
Northern Lights – Southern Cross was released on November 1, 1975, and although it received generally positive reviews, the album was not a strong seller,:300 stalling at #26 on the Billboard charts and remaining in the Top 40 for five weeks.:26
1976 (Islands and The Last Waltz concert)
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. 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.
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.:300–301:324–5 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.: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. 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.
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.:73–74
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.
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. Scorsese brought in all-star cameramen such as Michael Chapman, László Kovács and Vilmos Zsigmond to film the show. John Simon, producer on The Band's first two albums, was brought on to coordinate rehearsals and work as musical director. 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.: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. 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".: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".:336–8:82
The Last Waltz concert event took place on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1976. Approximately five thousand people were in attendance. 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".:351 The show ended at 2:15 am, with Robertson stating, "Thank you, goodnight and goodbye."
1977-1978 (The Last Waltz film and album)
After The Last Waltz concert event was finished, director Martin Scorsese had 400 reels of raw footage to work with, 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.
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".:352–3:85, 87:73–74
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. The film's final budget was $1.5 million.:354–5:73–74
The Last Waltz album was released by Warner Brothers Records on April 7, 1978, as a 3-LP set. 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. The album peaked at #16 on the Billboard charts, and remained in the Top 40 for 8 weeks.:26
The Last Waltz film was released to theaters on April 26, 1978. 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.: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).
Production and Session Work Outside of The Band 1970-1977
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. The album features Robertson playing guitar throughout the album, and co-credits the track "Snow" to Robertson as well. 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).
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)". Robertson also contributed a guitar solo on the track "Snookeroo" on Starr's fourth album, Goodnight Vienna (1974).
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 1974:212 and was certified Double Platinum in the United States by the Recording Industry Association of America in December 1997. In 1974, Robertson also played guitar on Carly Simon's version of "Mockingbird", which featured Simon singing with her then-husband James Taylor. "Mockingbird" reached #5 on the Billboard singles charts:279 and was certified Gold in the United States. The track was released on Simon's album Hotcakes, which went to #3 on the Billboard charts.: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 Street (1977), was recorded at Shangri-La Studios and produced by The Band producer John Simon. Robertson played guitar on Big Bright Street, but was not involved in the production of the album.:321–322
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.:326 Robertson played guitar and keyboards on No Reason to Cry.
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.:321–322:89
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, and also played guitar on the Earl King-penned "Sing, Sing, Sing" on the album Levon Helm & the RCO All-Stars.:273
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.: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".
Film Career 1980-1986
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. 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.
Carny opened to theaters on June 13, 1980, to mixed response. The film initially suffered from poor box office returns: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. As of 2016, the film holds a 3.2/5 audience rating in Rotten Tomatoes and a 6.5/10 rating in the Internet Movie Database. 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".
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.
Early collaborations with Martin Scorsese 1980-1986 (Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, The Color of Money)
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. 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. Robertson credits his work in Raging Bull for sparking his interest in the work of sourcing and underscoring music for movies.
A loose biographical film about professional boxer Jake LaMotta, Raging Bull was set in the period of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. 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,:83 or the music was leaking from the windows of homes in the neighborhood. 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.
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.
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. 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. The album includes two sets of liner notes, one written by Robertson and one written by Scorese.
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". 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.: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.
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. Robertson worked on the film's soundtrack while his producer Daniel Lanois was away working with U2. In addition to sourcing music for the film, Robertson also composed the film's score; it was the first time Robertson had ever written a dramatic underscore for a film.
Robertson brought in Canadian jazz composer Gil Evans to assist with the arrangements on The Color of Money, 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 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.
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. "It's in the Way That You Use It" reached #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Songs chart in January 1987. The song was also released on Clapton's 1987 album August.
Geffen Records Period
Robbie Robertson (1987)
After a lengthy sabbatical, Robertson announced via a 1983 article in Billboard magazine that he was returning and available to work on projects. Film producer Art Linson encouraged Robertson to focus on creating a solo record when the two vacationed together in Rome that same year. 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.
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.
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.
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". The Band members Garth Hudson and Rick Danko also appear on the album.
Lanois broke away from the album's production to continue working with U2 in August 1986, while Robertson worked with director Martin Scorsese on creating and composing the score for The Color of Money. 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. 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.
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,: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.
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. Engineer Bob Clearmountain was brought in to remix the album just before its release.
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.
Released on October 26, 1987, Robbie Robertson peaked at #35 on the Billboard 200, remaining in the Top 40 for 3 weeks.: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). The album was nominated for a Grammy Award for "Best Rock / Vocal Album". Robbie Robertson was certified gold in the United States in 1991.
Robbie Robertson received overwhelming critical acclaim at the time of its release. 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, and in February 1988, the album was listed in Stereo Review magazine's "Best Recordings of The Month" feature. In 1989, the album was listed as #77 in Rolling Stone's "100 Best Albums of the Eighties."
Rod Stewart recorded a version of "Broken Arrow" in 1991 for his album Vagabond Heart. Stewart's version of the song was released as a single, and reached #20 on the Billboard 100 chart in the US and #2 on the Billboard Top Canadian Hit Singles chart in Canada. "Broken Arrow" was also performed live by the Grateful Dead from 1993 to 1995 with Phil Lesh on vocals. 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.
Storyville was released on September 30, 1991. The album reached #69 on the Billboard 200 chart. Storyville received numerous positive reviews, with Rolling Stone giving it 4 1/2 stars out of 5, the Los Angeles Times awarding it 3 stars out of 4, and Newsweek praising the album in an article that paired it with Van Morrison's then-current release Enlightenment (1990). 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. The album was nominated for Grammy awards in the categories "Best Rock Vocal Performance (solo)" and "Best Engineer".
Production and session work 1984-1992
In 1984, Robertson co-produced the track "The Best of Everything" with Tom Petty for the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album Southern Accents. 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. Southern Accents was released on March 26, 1985, and was certified platinum in the United States on September 20 of that year. The album reached #7 on the Billboard charts and spent 18 weeks in the top 40.:239
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. Robertson appears in film, interviewing Chuck Berry, and then playing guitar while Berry recites some poetry.
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, 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.
In 1990, Robertson appeared as a guest on the Ryuichi Sakamoto album Beauty, playing guitar on the song "Romance". 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, and also performed on "Opening Drone" on the video edition.
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".
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. Robertson also played guitar on the track.
Later Solo Albums
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).
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 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.
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
In 1989, The Band was inducted into the Canadian Juno Hall of Fame.
In 1994, The Band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 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.
In 2008, Robertson and The Band received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Levon Helm Controversy
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, 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.
- Robbie Robertson (1987)
- Storyville (1991)
- Music for the Native Americans (1994)
- Contact from the Underworld of Redboy (1998)
- How to Become Clairvoyant (2011)
- What About Now (1991) [#4 CAN]
- Go Back to Your Woods (1992) [#9 CAN]
- Shake This Town (1992) [#20 CAN]
- 1978 The Last Waltz (performer/producer)
- 1980 Carny (actor/writer/producer/composer)
- 1980 Raging Bull (music producer)
- 1983 The King of Comedy (music producer)
- 1986 The Color of Money (songs and score)
- 1994 Jimmy Hollywood (songs and score)
- 1995 Casino (music consultant)
- 1995 The Crossing Guard (actor – Roger)
- 1996 Phenomenon (executive soundtrack producer)
- 1996 Dakota Exile (narrator)
- 1999 Forces of Nature (creative music consultant)
- 1999 Wolves (narrator)
- 1999 Any Given Sunday (songs and score)
- 2001 The Life and Times of Robbie Robertson
- 2002 Gangs of New York (executive music producer)
- 2002 Skins (writer)
- 2003 Festival Express (performer)
- 2004 Jenifa (executive producer)
- 2004 Ladder 49 (original song "Shine Your Light")
- 2006 The Departed (music producer)
- 2007 Eric Clapton: Crossroads Guitar Festival 2007 (performer)
- 2008 Mardik: From Baghdad to Hollywood (actor)
- 2009 Shutter Island (music supervisor)
- 2013 The Wolf of Wall Street (music supervisor)
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