Robbie Robertson, The Band’s lead guitarist and songwriter who in such classics as “The Weight,” “Up on Cripple Creek” and “The Night time They Drove Previous Dixie Down” mined and helped reshape American music, died Wednesday at 80.
Robertson died surrounded by household in Los Angeles “after a protracted sickness,” publicist Ray Costa mentioned in an announcement.
From their years as Bob Dylan’s masterful backing group to their very own stardom as embodiments of old style group and virtuosity, The Band profoundly influenced well-liked music within the Nineteen Sixties and ’70s, first by actually amplifying Dylan’s polarizing transition from folks artist to rock star after which by absorbing the works of Dylan and Dylan’s influences as they original a brand new sound immersed within the American previous.
The Canadian-born Robertson was a highschool dropout and one-man melting pot — part-Jewish, part-Mohawk and Cayuga — who fell in love with the seemingly limitless sounds and byways of his adopted nation and wrote out of a way of amazement and discovery at a time when the Vietnam Battle had alienated hundreds of thousands of younger Individuals. His life had a “Candide”-like high quality as he discovered himself amongst most of the giants of the rock period — getting guitar suggestions from Buddy Holly, taking in early performances by Aretha Franklin and by the Velvet Underground, smoking pot with the Beatles, watching the songwriting crew of Leiber and Stoller develop materials, chatting with Jimi Hendrix when he was a struggling musician calling himself Jimmy James.
The Band started as supporting gamers for rockabilly star Ronnie Hawkins within the early Nineteen Sixties and thru their years collectively in bars and juke joints cast a depth and flexibility that opened them to just about any form of music in any form of setting. Apart from Robertson, the group featured Arkansan drummer-singer Levon Helm and three different Canadians: bassist-singer-songwriter Rick Danko, keyboardist singer-songwriter Richard Manuel and all-around musical wizard Garth Hudson. They had been initially referred to as the Hawks, however ended up as The Band — a conceit their followers would say they earned — as a result of individuals would level to them after they had been with Dylan and check with them as “the band.”
They continue to be outlined by their first two albums, “Music from Large Pink” and “The Band,” each launched within the late Nineteen Sixties. The rock scene was turning away from the psychedelic extravagances of the Beatles’ “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Membership Band” and a wave of sound results, lengthy jams and lysergic lyrics. “Music from Large Pink,” named for the previous home close to Woodstock, New York, the place Band members lived and gathered, was for a lot of the sound of coming dwelling. The temper was intimate, the lyrics alternately playful, cryptic and craving, drawn from blues, gospel, folks and nation music. The Band itself appeared to face for selflessness and a shared and important historical past, with all 5 members making distinctive contributions and showing in publicity pictures in plain, darkish garments.
Via the “Basement Tapes” they’d made with Dylan in 1967 and thru their very own albums, The Band has been broadly credited as a founding supply for Americana or roots music. Followers and friends would communicate of their lives being modified. Eric Clapton broke up along with his British supergroup Cream and journeyed to Woodstock in hopes he might be a part of The Band, which influenced albums starting from The Grateful Useless’s “Workingman’s Useless” to Elton John’s “Tumbleweed Connection.” The Band’s songs had been lined by Franklin, Joan Baez, the Staple Singers and lots of others. Throughout a tv efficiency by the Beatles of “Hey Jude,” Paul McCartney shouted out lyrics from “The Weight.”
Like Dylan, Robertson was a self-taught musicologist and storyteller who absorbed all the pieces American from the novels of William Faulkner to the scorching blues of Howlin’ Wolf to the gospel harmonies of the Swan Silvertones. At occasions his songs sounded not simply created, however unearthed. In “The Night time They Drove Previous Dixie Down,” he imagined the Civil Battle by means of the eyes of a defeated Accomplice. In “The Weight,” with its lead vocals handed round amongst group members like a communal wine glass, he evoked a pilgrim’s arrival to a city the place nothing appears unattainable:
“I pulled into Nazareth, was feelin’ about half previous lifeless / I simply want some place the place I can lay my head / Hey, mister, are you able to inform me the place a person would possibly discover a mattress? / He simply grinned and shook my hand, ‘No,’ was all he mentioned.”
The Band performed on the 1969 Woodstock pageant, not removed from the place they lived, and have become newsworthy sufficient to seem on the quilt of Time journal. However the spirit behind their greatest work was already dissolving. Albums equivalent to “Stage Fright” and “Cahoots” had been disappointing even for Robertson, who would acknowledge that he was struggling to search out recent concepts. Whereas Manuel and Danko had been each frequent contributors to songs throughout their “Basement Tapes” days, by the point “Cahoots” was launched in 1971, Robertson was the dominant author.
They toured steadily, recording the acclaimed reside album “Rock of Ages” at Madison Sq. Backyard and becoming a member of Dylan for 1974 reveals that led to a different extremely praised live performance launch, “Earlier than the Flood.” However in 1976, after Manuel broke his neck in a boating accident, Robertson determined he wanted a break from the highway and arranged rock’s final sendoff, an all-star gathering at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom that included Dylan, Van Morrison, Neil Younger, Muddy Waters and lots of others. The live performance was filmed by Martin Scorsese and the premise for his celebrated documentary “The Final Waltz,” launched in 1978.
Robertson had supposed The Band to proceed recording collectively however “The Final Waltz” helped completely sever his friendship with Helm, whom he had as soon as appeared to as an older brother. In interviews and in his 1993 memoir “Wheel on Fireplace,” Helm accused of Robertson of greed and outsized ego, noting that Robertson had ended up proudly owning their musical catalog and calling “The Final Waltz” a conceit undertaking designed to glorify Robertson. In response, Robertson contended that he had taken management of the group as a result of the others — excepting Hudson — had been too burdened by drug and alcohol issues to make choices on their very own.
“It hit me laborious that in a band like ours, if we weren’t working on all cylinders, it threw the entire machine off beam,” Robertson wrote in his memoir “Testimony,” revealed in 2016.
The Band regrouped with out Robertson within the early Eighties, and Robertson went on to a protracted profession as a solo artist and soundtrack composer. His self-titled 1987 album was licensed gold and featured the hit single “Present Down at Large Sky” and the ballad “Fallen Angel,” a tribute to Manuel, who was discovered lifeless in 1986 in what was dominated a suicide (Danko died of coronary heart failure in 1999, and Helm of most cancers in 2012).
Robertson, who moved to Los Angeles within the Seventies whereas the others stayed close to Woodstock, remained near Scorsese and helped oversee the soundtracks for “The Shade of Cash,” “The King of Comedy,” “The Departed” and “The Irishman” amongst others. He additionally produced the Neil Diamond album “Lovely Noise” and explored his heritage by means of such albums as “Music for the Native Individuals” and “Contact from the Underworld of Redboy.”
The Band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Corridor of Fame in 1994; Robertson attended, Helm didn’t. In 2020, Robertson appeared again and mourned within the documentary “As soon as Have been Brothers” and within the title ballad, on which Robertson sang “When the sunshine goes out and you may’t go on / You miss your brothers, however now they’re gone.”
Robertson married the Canadian journalist Dominique Bourgeois in 1967. That they had three kids earlier than divorcing.
Jaime Royal Robertson was born in Toronto and spent summers on the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve the place his mom Rosemarie Dolly Chrysler grew up. He by no means met his father, Alexander David Klegerman, who died earlier than he was born and whose existence Robertson solely discovered of years later. His mom had since married a manufacturing unit employee, James Robertson, whom Robbie Robertson at first believed was his organic father or mother.
Music was an escape from what he remembered as a violent and abusive family; his dad and mom separated when he was in his early teenagers. He would watch family play guitar and sing on the Six Nations reserve, and have become “mesmerized” by how absorbed they had been in their very own performances. Robertson was quickly working towards guitar himself and was taking part in in bands and writing songs in his teenagers.
He had a knack for impressing his elders. When he was 15, his group opened for Hawkins at a membership in Toronto. After overhearing Hawkins say he was in want of latest materials, Robertson hurried dwelling, labored up a few songs and introduced them over to his resort. Hawkins recorded each of them, “Somebody Like You,” and “Hey Boba Lu,” and Robertson would quickly discover himself on a practice to Hawkins’ dwelling base in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Over the subsequent few years, he toured with Hawkins within the U.S. and Canada as members left and the performers who ultimately turned The Band had been introduced in. By 1963, Robertson and the others had grown aside from Hawkins and had been able to work on their very own, recording a handful of singles because the Canadian Squires and getting into rock historical past when mutual acquaintances prompt they need to tour behind Dylan, then rebelling towards his picture as folks troubadour and infuriating followers who thought he had offered out.
In 1965-66, they had been Dylan’s co-adventurers in a few of rock’s most momentous reveals, with Dylan taking part in an acoustic opening set, then joined by the Hawks for an electrical set that was booed so fiercely, Helm dropped out and was changed on the highway by Mickey Jones. As captured in audio recordings and in footage by filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker seen a long time later within the Dylan documentary “No Course House,” the music on stage for such Dylan songs as “Simply Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” and “Ballad of a Skinny Man” greater than equaled the fury of its detractors, culminating in a Might 1966 present at Manchester, England, when one fan screamed out “Judas!”
“I don’t belieeeeve you,” Dylan snarled in response. “You’re a liar!” Calling on the Hawks to “play f——ing loud,” he led them by means of an all-out finale, “Like a Rolling Stone.”
“A form of insanity was percolating,” Robertson wrote in his memoir. “The entire environment was heightened. I adjusted the strap on my Telecaster so I might launch it with a fast thumb motion and use the guitar as a weapon. The live shows had been beginning to really feel that unpredictable.”
Later in 1966, Dylan was badly injured in a motorbike accident and recuperated within the Woodstock space, the place The Band additionally quickly settled. Underneath no contractual obligations or any type of deadlines, Dylan and his fellow musicians stepped out of time altogether. They jammed on previous nation and Appalachian songs and labored on such originals as “Tears of Rage” and “I Shall Be Launched” that had been initially supposed as demo recordings for different artists. “The Basement Tapes,” as they had been ultimately referred to as, had been amongst rock’s first bootlegs earlier than being launched formally — partly in 1975, and in a full six-CD set in 2014.
Working and writing with Dylan inspired The Band to attempt an album of its personal. “Music from Large Pink” featured the Dylan-Danko collaboration “This Wheel’s On Fireplace” and Dylan-Manuel’s “Tears of Rage,” together with such Band originals as Manuel’s “In a Station” and Robertson’s “Caledonia Mission.”
In his memoir, Robertson remembered the primary time their previous boss listened to “Music from Large Pink.”
“After every track, Bob checked out ‘his’ band with proud eyes. When ‘The Weight’ got here on, he mentioned, ‘That is improbable. Who wrote that track?’” he wrote. “‘Me,’ I answered. He shook his head, slapped me on the arm, and mentioned, ‘Rattling! You wrote that track?’”
Story by Hillel Italie, Related Press