# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Robbie Robertson - 1943-2023

  by Nick Dent-Robinson

published: 30 / 8 / 2023

Robbie Robertson - 1943-2023

Robbie Robertson, who died aged 80 on 9 August after a long illness, was lead guitarist and principal songwriter with The Band, the hugely infuential quintet who backed Bob Dylan during his controversial early “electric” concerts. Later Robertson went on to produce soundtracks for many major feature films including several directed by Martin Scorsese. He was one of the music icons of the 1970s and 1980s and a very fine guitarist widely acknowledged to be of similar ability to the likes of Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Keith Richards or Carlos Santana. The Band were pioneers of the roots-music genre later known as 'Americana' which melded elements of country, rock, folk, soul, blues and gospel. Four of The Band were Canadian – Robertson plus Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson. Levon Helm, the fifth member, was from Arkansas in the USA. Robbie Robertson was born on 5 July 1943 in Toronto. His mother was from the indigenous Mohawk tribe and Robbie claimed her family's music influenced his song-making in later years. As a young teenager, late-night radio in Toronto fostered Robbie's fervour for rock and roll and rhythm and blues and, after an older cousin taught him to play guitar, his talent as an instrumentalist was quickly apparent. By the age of 16 he had been hired – initially as a bass guitarist – by rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins, originally from Arkansas, for his Ontario-based backing group, The Hawks. Levon Helm was The Hawks' drummer and, over time, the others who were later to become members of The Band also joined The Hawks. Soon Robertson was contributing fluid, bluesy lead guitar – and, after Ronnie Hawkins was offered a solo recording contract in 1964, The Hawks split away from him. Initially they performed as Levon And The Hawks and the band quickly gained a great reputation in Canada. Early in 1966 Bob Dylan invited them to be his backing group for his forthcoming “electric” tour of the US, Australia and Europe. This proved tough. Because night after night Dylan's purist folk fans jeered them all, feeling a huge sense of betrayal that Dylan had “sold out” and “gone electric”. Some of the worst dates were in the UK where hundreds of former fans booed and yelled abuse night after night. But, as Robbie Robertson later reflected, this traumatic experience really helped the backing musicians to “bond in adversity” - and they soon started to be known simply as “The Band”. After the horrors of this touring experience, The Band took time out at a country farmstead near Woodstock in New York State. They worked hard on creating new songs and produced a range of American roots-style albums mixing folk, blues and rock music. By 1970 they had produced their masterpiece 'Stage Fright' album – but there was growing unease beween the five musicians. Robbie Robertson blamed Helm, Danko and Manuel for becoming addicted to heroin and losing all sense of camaraderie and motivation. Helm and Danko believed Robertson had become too authoritarian, taking over most of the songwriting, insisting on meeting deadlines and becoming increasingly frustrated by their “mellowness”. Despite these conflicts, at Robertson's urging, The Band went back on the road with Dylan in 1974 and supported him on his first Number One album, 'Planet Waves'. However, by 1976, the differences between band members had become so intense - especially between Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson – that Robertson announced there would be no more tours. Instead, a final live extravaganza, 'The Last Waltz', was arranged for the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco for Thanksgiving Day in November, 1976. Amongst those joining The Band for this farewell concert were Bob Dylan, Ronnie Hawkins, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Van Morrison, Dr John, Muddy Waters, Neil Diamond (whose best-selling album, “Beautiful Noise” was produced by Robbie Robertson), Emmylou Harris, Ronnie Wood, Paul Butterfield and Canadians Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. Martin Scorsese was commissioned to film the concert. A documentary and an album of the show were released in April 1978. Both have been widely acclaimed subsequently – and Scorsese's film has won several awards. It is still acknowledged to be one of the best documentaries ever made of a live concert. Robbie Robertson was so impressed by Martin Scorsese's work making the film of 'The Last Waltz' that he went on to develop a long-term working relationship with him. He co-produced the soundtrack for 'Carny', a fim about a travelling carnival in which he also acted and he composed and sourced music for Scrosese's hit films, 'Raging Bull' (1980), 'The King of Comedy' (1983), 'The Color of Money' (1986) for which he wrote his first full score, 'Gangs of New York' (2002), 'The Departed' (2006) and this year's 'Killers of the Flower Moon'. Robertson involved Hudson and Manuel in writing and playing on some soundtracks but in 1986 Manuel – who had continued to struggle with alcohol and drug abuse – hanged himself. Danko died in 1999 and Helm in 2012. From 1986, Robbie Robertson also undertook solo performances and released an eponymous album. The lead single from it, 'Somewhere Down The Crazy River' highlighted his gift for storytelling and had a video directed by Scorsese. Another track from the album, 'Broken Arrow' was covered by Rod Stewart and reached Number Two in the US singles charts. Five further albums followed and Robertson co-wrote three books, undertook production work for Tom Petty and became creative director for Dream Works Records. In 2008 Robertson and Hudson accepted a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of The Band at a ceremony in Los Angeles. In 1968 Robbie Robertson had married Dominique Bourgeois, a Canadian journalist – and they had two daughters and a son before eventually divorcing. Just months before his death, he married his girlfriend of five years, the Canadian chef and entrepreneur Janet Zuccarini. She and Dominique survive him with his children.

Band Links:-

Play in YouTube:-

Have a Listen:-

Picture Gallery:-
Robbie Robertson - 1943-2023

Post A Comment

your name
ie London, UK
Check box to submit


Nick Dent-Robinson reflects on the career of Band frontman, film composer and solo artist Robbie Robertson who died aged 80 on the 9th August.


Interview (2021)
Robbie Robertson - Interview
Reissued to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, 'Stage Fright' was the third studio album by legendary Americana outfit The Band. Presented in a new mix with revised running order and accompanying Royal Albert Hall show, Nick Dent-Robinson chats to guitarist/vocalist Robbie Robertson about the disc

most viewed articles

most viewed reviews

Pennyblackmusic Regular Contributors