It was nudging previous the 15-minute mark of an allotted 20-minute interview, my first with The Band’s Robbie Robertson, who was selling his then-new memoir, Testimony, and Robertson had barely paused after some temporary hellos and my first query in regards to the intricately detailed childhood reminiscences of listening to the tales of the Peacemaker, an elder on the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve, in Canada, recounted within the guide. Provided that he was a born storyteller and, in any case, Robbie Robertson, I didn’t need to interrupt. In addition to, I used to be transfixed. Robertson set the scene, recounted the gamers, recalled being wide-eyed as a baby seeing the elder as bigger than life.
However the clock was ticking, in any case. I attempted in useless to get the dialog again on monitor. Robertson was having none of it. He continued on, effectively previous the 20-minute mark, when, lastly, he paused.
“I turned conscious that I had a present, too,” Robertson mentioned, winding up his story. “I had a particular present, and at a while I’d discover a method to make use of it.”
Gingerly, I reminded Robertson that our allotted time had lengthy since handed, however that I actually hadn’t gotten what I wanted to assist inform the story of how his memoir got here to cross. “No drawback,” he mentioned, obligingly. “Let’s get began.”
A number of hours and a change of batteries in my creaky, outdated recorder later, we wrapped.
“I can’t wait to do that once more,” Robertson mentioned, and, in contrast to so many interviewees, he appeared to truly imply it. I couldn’t both.
Over the following few years, I interviewed Robertson quite a few instances — about his days backing Bob Dylan with The Hawks (later, after all, The Band) and recording with Dylan within the basement of Massive Pink, The Band’s homebase in West Saugerties, New York; about making The Band’s debut album, the genre-defying Music From Massive Pink, in addition to their magnificent sophomore effort, often known as the “Brown Album,” and the later, however equally charming Stage Fright, in addition to his 2019 Band documentary As soon as Had been Brothers. We bumped into one another socially, planning to go to Tulsa’s Bob Dylan Heart, with him telling me about his newest solo recordings, the standing of the second quantity of his memoir and his latest venture together with his longtime pal and collaborator, the director Martin Scorsese.
Every time, he was heat and all the time joyful to share a tremendous anecdote that I — a lifelong fan of each his work with The Band and his glorious solo albums — had by no means heard earlier than. Most have been on the document; some weren’t. All of them deserved to be heard, and I felt fortunate to be on the receiving finish every time.
And so, it was heartbreaking to be taught yesterday that Robertson had died at 80. His longtime supervisor Jared Levine shared the unhappy information with the world.
“Robbie was surrounded by his household on the time of his demise, together with his spouse, Janet, his ex-wife, Dominique, her companion Nicholas, and his youngsters Alexandra, Sebastian, Delphine, and Delphine’s companion Kenny,” Levine mentioned in an announcement. Fittingly, Levine added that, “In lieu of flowers, the household has requested that donations be made to the Six Nations of the Grand River to help the constructing of their new cultural middle.”
“My coronary heart breaks for the household of Robbie Robertson, and I feel it’s secure to say that with out his affect the music we love and the music we make could be very totally different from what it’s,” wrote musician Jason Isbell on Twitter.
Of all of the tributes, that one struck me because the truest, as a result of Robbie Robertson and his bandmates in The Band made music that defied each style and common developments. In reality, whereas The Band’s music was made within the Sixties and Seventies, it might have simply as simply been conceived within the 1860s and ’70s — or sooner or later, for that matter.
“I wished to write down music that felt prefer it might’ve been written 50 years in the past, tomorrow, yesterday — that had this lost-in-time high quality,” Robertson mentioned within the 1996 PBS documentary Shakespeares within the Alley.
Born in Toronto on July 5, 1943, Robertson joined his first band, Little Caesar and the Consuls, at just13 years outdated, earlier than leaving to kind Robbie and the Rhythm Chords, and later becoming a member of the native Toronto group the Suedes, which introduced him to the eye of rockabilly wildman Ronnie Hawkins. Removed from sufficiently old to drink within the raucous golf equipment that Hawkins and his band, The Hawks, performed, Robertson nonetheless joined up and minimize his proverbial tooth with the group, which included drummer Levon Helm and, finally, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson, earlier than main a mutiny in 1964.
The following yr, Robertson joined Bob Dylan’s newly electrical backing band, and introduced alongside Helm — and finally the remainder of the Hawks — for excursions of the U.S., U.Okay., Europe and Australia, the place they have been each revered and reviled.
“What we have been doing, no one, no one had fairly executed that earlier than,” Robertson advised me in 2016. “It was a distinct strategy to the music. It had a dynamic factor to it, and an explosive factor to it, and a raging factor to it. It had a violent high quality alongside the best way to looking for the wonder.”
By 1966, each Dylan and the members of the Hawks have been burned out, and settled close to Woodstock, then a burgeoning creative neighborhood about 100 miles north of New York Metropolis, as a retreat. It was there that they arrange a makeshift recording studio within the basement of the salmon-colored home the Hawks shared, the place Dylan would usually go to to make the uncooked recordings — finally often known as the “Basement Tapes” — that got here to be revered first by the rock cognoscenti, and later Dylan followers all over the world.
“We received launched, we received united with Ronnie Hawkins after which with Bob Dylan,” Robertson advised me in 2019. “That was a detour from the mission, however it doesn’t get way more attention-grabbing so far as detours go. However after the detour, we received right down to enterprise, to doing and inventing and discovering who we actually have been musically.”
“Once we discovered Massive Pink, we discovered a clubhouse, a workshop, a sanctuary,” Robertson continued on in that very same interview. “That was the place the brotherhood blossomed.”
The Band launched their debut album, Music From Massive Pink, in 1968. It included the instant-classic “The Weight” and songs principally penned by Robertson. It was a watershed in common music and have become the pivot away from psychedelic rock, creating what’s now often known as Americana within the course of.
“The restrictions of a basement, the place these songs initially got here to life, can work in your favor, in a method that you just’re doing one thing that the atmosphere offers, so there was worth in that,” Robertson recalled to me of the bizarre circumstances beneath which The Band discovered their collective sound. “What we found was that the communication within the music was one thing that went deeper inside us than it ever had been earlier than. As a result of if you add every part collectively, every factor performs an element in what you’re creating. So, the truth that we have been remoted up within the mountains, and away from the remainder of the world, helped us discover our personal sound.”
Because it turned out, The Band didn’t sound fairly like another band, earlier than or since.
“There are individuals who will work their lives away in useless and never contact it,” Al Kooper, the person well-known for the propulsive organ on Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone,” wrote in his five-star overview of the album in Rolling Stone. “These are fiery elements and (the) outcomes may be anticipated to be explosive.”
George Harrison, who had visited Dylan and The Band in Woodstock simply previous to The Beatles’ January 1969 classes chronicled in Peter Jackson’s latest documentary Get Again, was impressed by exactly that timeless high quality and returned to London extolling the virtues of The Band’s free, soulful sound and idiosyncratic, collective harmonies. Fittingly, you’ll be able to hear The Band’s affect, particularly that distinctive concord mix, pop up all through the movie. Eric Clapton has mentioned many instances he wished to give up Cream and be part of The Band, however that they turned him down.
“Earlier than Music From Massive Pink, most bands would get collectively and say, ‘Let’s take off our shirts and get a document deal,’” Robertson advised me in 2019. “We weren’t minimize from that material in any respect. This was not a pop enterprise. This was not a rock-star ambition. This solely needed to do with all of the music that we had gathered, and we had inside us, and discovering the way to let it out in a common method.”
Robertson would contribute to 6 extra Band albums earlier than leaving the group for good in 1978, after The Final Waltz, the movie and document of the Thanksgiving 1976 all-star valedictory by The Band.
“When onerous medication stepped in, it received actually darkish,” Robertson advised me in 2021. “For me, getting the blokes collectively was harder than it had been up to now. I didn’t like that.”
The Final Waltz was additionally the primary of many collaborations with Scorsese, who directed the live performance movie. The pair teamed up many instances over time, with Robertson producing the music for or scoring most of the director’s movies, together with Raging Bull (1980), The King of Comedy (1982) and The Coloration of Cash (1986), and, later, Gangs of New York (2002), The Wolf of Wall Road (2013) and The Irishman (2019). Scorsese’s upcoming movie, Killers of the Flower Moon, scheduled for launch later this yr, was additionally scored by Robertson.
“Robbie Robertson was one in every of my closest mates, a relentless in my life and my work,” Scorsese wrote within the quick aftermath of Robertson’s demise. “I might all the time go to him as a confidante. A collaborator. An advisor. I attempted to be the identical for him. Lengthy earlier than we ever met, his music performed a central position in my life — me and tens of millions and tens of millions of different individuals throughout this world. The Band’s music, and Robbie’s personal later solo music, appeared to come back from the deepest place on the coronary heart of this continent, its traditions and tragedies and joys. It goes with out saying that he was an enormous, that his impact on the artwork kind was profound and lasting. There’s by no means sufficient time with anybody you like. And I liked Robbie.”
Once we final spoke, Robertson, who was exceedingly pleased with his Indigenous heritage, had excessive hopes for what was to be his final venture with Scorsese. “I’m about to work on this film, Killers of the Flower Moon with Martin Scorsese, and I’m going to fulfill with the Osage individuals, as a result of I need to do it like one thing we’ve by no means heard earlier than and in essentially the most sincere trend ever offered in a film, which is an enormous full circle for me,” he mentioned. “And that problem — that have — is totally horrifying and thrilling for me, as a lot as something I’ve ever gone into.”
In 1986, Robertson launched his debut solo album, the excellent Robbie Robertson, adopted by the exceptional Storyville, impressed by the music of New Orleans, in 1991. He additionally contributed to information by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Ringo Starr, Neil Diamond and others, and launched 4 extra solo albums, exploring the music of his mom’s tradition on 1994’s Music for The Native Individuals, and electronica on Contact from the Underworld of Redboy in 1998. In 2011, he launched The right way to Grow to be Clairvoyant, and his most up-to-date album, the elegiac Sinematic, arrived in 2019, concurrently the documentary movie about his days in The Band that he’d shepherded, As soon as Had been Brothers, each of which included his ode to his bandmates of the identical title.
It was, all in all, a exceptional profession from a exceptional man. And Robertson was adamant in one in every of our final conversations that, though he often collaborated together with his former bandmates over time, it by no means felt proper to fairly actually get The Band again collectively.
“Once we have been now not collectively, years after not being collectively and nonetheless, as Levon says within the As soon as Had been Brothers documentary, as soon as it was gone, it was too troublesome to convey all of it again collectively once more,” Robertson recalled in 2021. “And with that got here distance, and other people going via their very own points and every part. That results in one thing that has nothing to do with the concord and the connection and the musical brotherhood that we had for all these years being collectively.”
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