Robbie Robertson, driving drive behind roots-rock icons the Band, dies at 80

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Robbie Robertson, the driving drive behind the pioneering rock ’n’ roll group the Band, died on Wednesday. He was 80.

His loss of life was confirmed by his longtime supervisor, Jared Levine.

In an announcement, Levine mentioned that Robertson died in Los Angeles after a protracted sickness. “Robbie was surrounded by his household on the time of his loss of life, together with his spouse, Janet, his ex-wife, Dominique, her companion Nicholas, and his youngsters Alexandra, Sebastian, Delphine, and Delphine’s companion Kenny,” the assertion learn. “He’s additionally survived by his grandchildren Angelica, Donovan, Dominic, Gabriel and Seraphina. Robertson lately accomplished his fourteenth movie music challenge with frequent collaborator Martin Scorsese, ‘Killers of the Flower Moon.’ In lieu of flowers, the household has requested that donations be made to the Six Nations of the Grand River to help a brand new Woodland Cultural Heart.”

Because the Band’s chief songwriter and grand conceptualist, Robertson turned outdated American folklore into trendy myths, a knack that gave a timeless high quality to such songs as “The Weight” and “The Evening They Drove Outdated Dixie Down”; it was as if he had unearthed the songs, not written them. Robertson specialised in portraits of bygone figures and establishments, writing odes to Accomplice troopers, blacksmiths, drugs exhibits and whistle stops, his tall tales given weight and vitality by the heft of the Band.

“Music From Massive Pink” and “The Band,” the group’s first two albums, arrived on the twilight of the Sixties, serving to to shift rock away from the heady excesses of the psychedelic period and into one thing rugged and elemental, an evolution that had a seismic impact on the group’s friends.

“The Band has leapfrogged all its opponents,” The Instances’ Robert Hilburn wrote in 1970, “and emerged because the chief challenger to the Beatles’ place of rock supremacy.”

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The Band in 1971, from left: Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson.

(Gijsbert Hanekroot / Redferns / Getty Pictures)

Robertson not often sang within the Band however he was unquestionably its chief, assuming management of the initially egalitarian outfit when his bandmates demonstrated they’d no want to take that place. He performed that position with charismatic ease, a high quality showcased in “The Final Waltz,” Martin Scorsese’s documentary concerning the Band’s 1976 farewell.

Flashing a large smile and his knack for spinning yarns, Robertson acted because the ringleader in “The Final Waltz,” extensively thought to be one of many best live performance movies ever made. By the point the movie was launched in 1978, Robertson had parted methods with the Band — they’d later reunite with out him — and his bond with Scorsese deepened. Scorsese turned Robertson’s lifelong collaborator, with the guitarist supervising music on the director’s movies from “Raging Bull” in 1980 to “Killers of the Flower Moon” in 2022.

This common cinematic work allowed Robertson to pursue an idiosyncratic profession as a solo recording artist. After a decade’s absence from music, he returned in 1987 with a self-titled debut designed to sound at house alongside U2 and Peter Gabriel. Robertson progressively left the mainstream behind within the Nineties, as he explored his Native American musical roots and dabbled with electronica, but he preserved the Band’s legacy by supervising deluxe reissues and a documentary, and by publishing his autobiography, “Testimony,” in 2016.

Robertson’s impression upon rock ’n’ roll was immense and speedy. George Harrison’s latter-day work with the Beatles bore indicators of the Band’s affect and Eric Clapton wrote in his 2007 memoir, “It stopped me in my tracks. … Right here was a band that was actually doing it proper, incorporating influences from nation music, blues, jazz and rock, and writing nice songs.” Many years later, the depth of the Band’s attain turned clear, because the alt-country of the Nineties and the Americana of the twenty first century all used its music as a blueprint.

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Robbie Robertson performing within the 1978 live performance movie “The Final Waltz.”

(Larry Hulst/Getty Pictures)

Born Jaime Royal Robertson on the Six Nations Reserve outdoors of Toronto, Ontario, on July 5, 1943,the longer term musician was the son of Rosemarie Dolly Chrysler, who claimed Mohawk and Cayuga as her heritage. Rosemarie was married to James Robertson, a military man whom Robbie believed to be his father. However when his mother and father separated when Robbie was in his early teenagers, his mom revealed that his organic father was Alexander David Klegerman, knowledgeable gambler she met whereas James was stationed in Newfoundland.

Robertson was drawn to characters like Klegerman — hucksters who operated on the fringes of society — and he spent a while as a youngster working with touring carnivals earlier than he felt the pull of rock ’n’ roll. He’d been fascinated with music as a toddler, listening to American radio broadcasts of rock ’n’ roll and R&B whereas studying methods to play guitar.

In his teenagers, Robertson began gigging with native bands, then fashioned his personal group, first known as Thumper and the Trambones, then Robbie and the Robots as a salute to a central character within the traditional 1956 sci-fi movie “Forbidden Planet.” Robertson’s subsequent outfit, the Suedes, shared a invoice with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, and the Arkansan rockabilly singer took a shine to Robertson, whereas the fledgling guitarist was infatuated with Levon Helm, the drummer of the Hawks.

Robertson labored his means into the internal circles of the Hawks, writing a pair of authentic tunes (“Hey Baba Lou” and “Somebody Like You”) for Hawkins. Hawkins was so impressed that he despatched Robertson to the Brill Constructing to decide on the remainder of the fabric for what turned his 1959 LP, “Mr. Dynamo.” Robertson turned the bassist within the Hawks shortly afterward. His adolescence at occasions could possibly be some extent of competition with membership homeowners, who have been reluctant to permit underage musicians of their venue; Hawkins needed to sweet-talk the proprietors.

The teenage Robertson graduated to the lead guitar slot inside a matter of months. “I used to be attempting to do one thing with my taking part in that was like screaming on the sky,” he wrote in “Testimony,” creating a taut, penetrating fashion he’d maintain by the heyday of the Band. Because the Hawks toured throughout North America, they acquired bassist Rick Danko, pianist Richard Manuel and multi-instrumentalist Garth Hudson, the lineup that may develop into generally known as the Band later within the Sixties.

The Hawks broke away from Ronnie Hawkins in 1964, quickly adopting the identify Levon and the Hawks. The group performed the same circuit to Hawkins, touchdown residencies on the Jersey shore, however in addition they labored their means into the blues scene of New York Metropolis, taking part in on John Hammond Jr.’s 1965 album, “So Many Roads.” Throughout this time, Levon and the Hawks recorded three Robertson originals that have been launched over two 45s on Atco.

Late in the summertime of 1965, Albert Grossman contacted Robertson with the intention of organising a gathering between his consumer Bob Dylan and the Hawks. Initially, Dylan deliberate to rent Robertson as a guitarist, a suggestion Robertson rejected, however he did sit in on two Dylan live shows, bringing Helm alongside because the drummer. Inspired by the exhibits, Dylan rehearsed with the band as they closed out a Toronto residency, then employed the band for his fall tour of 1965.

Dylan opened these exhibits with an acoustic set, then unleashed the loud, electrified Hawks on his unprepared viewers. Crowds didn’t embrace the full-throated roar of the Hawks however they plowed forward, solely with out Helm, who determined he didn’t need to play to hostile listeners. The remainder of the Hawks soldiered on with a rotating sequence of drummers into 1966. That tour’s emotional climax arrived at Manchester Free Commerce Corridor on Might 17, when anyone within the viewers cried out “Judas!” in response to Dylan’s rock ’n’ roll, a second that was immortalized on bootlegs and later formally launched. Between the U.S. and U.Okay. excursions, Dylan recorded the only “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?” with the Band, then enlisted Robertson for a part of the Nashville periods for “Blonde on Blonde.”

Dylan’s wild years got here to a sudden halt on July 29, 1966, when he suffered a neck damage in a bike accident. As he headed to upstate New York to get better, the Hawks have been saved on a retainer, with Dylan inviting the group to Woodstock in February 1967. Robertson headed upstate along with his new girlfriend, Dominique Bourgeois; they’d marry that 12 months and subsequently have three youngsters collectively earlier than divorcing within the mid-Seventies. Danko, Manuel and Hudson adopted of their footsteps, renting a home in West Saugerties, N.Y., they’d nickname “Massive Pink.”

With a primitive recording studio put in in its basement, Massive Pink turned the artistic heart for Dylan and the Hawks. The 5 musicians would hunker right down to play outdated people, blues and nation songs, then flip their consideration to new tunes supposed to be songwriting demos for Dylan. By the top of the summer season, Helm returned to the fold and the group wound up with greater than 130 recordings . These do-it-yourself, informal recordings weren’t designed for public consumption, but curiosity was stoked when Jann Wenner printed an editorial in Rolling Stone calling for his or her launch, serving to set the stage for 1969’s “The Nice White Surprise,” a bootleg assortment of basement tape highlights generally acknowledged as the primary rock ’n’ roll bootleg.

Dylan progressively loosened his ties with the Band in early 1968 — they supported him at two Woody Guthrie memorial live shows at Carnegie Corridor that January — whereas Albert Grossman, who was now their supervisor, secured a contract with Capitol Data. Working with producer John Simon, the group recorded “Music From Massive Pink,” an album whose painterly, evocative manufacturing contained passing hints of the nervy vitality of the Hawks. “Music From Massive Pink” blended the intimacy of folks with the rollicking ramble of a juke joint, the temper shifting as typically because the lead singers. Helm, Danko and Manuel traded leads, typically particular person traces, over the course of the report, with Robertson singing only one tune: “To Kingdom Come,” one among his 4 originals on the 11-track album.

Certainly, your complete group had an air of secrecy: Their identify was deliberately generic; their photographs weren’t seen on the outer art work; the group didn’t tour or do interviews. Not lengthy after the album’s launch, Aretha Franklin and Jackie DeShannon every lower their very own model of “The Weight,” step one within the track turning into a modern-day normal.

The Band’s cultivated thriller began to carry with “The Band,” a sequel they swiftly lower at a pool home they leased from Sammy Davis Jr. Leaner and louder than their earlier work, “The Band” ran the gamut from delicate, plaintive people (“Whispering Pines”) to funky rock ’n’ roll (“Up on Cripple Creek”), with “The Evening They Drove Outdated Dixie Down” — a Civil Struggle story informed from the angle of a Accomplice soldier — anchoring the album. Like “The Weight,” “Outdated Dixie” was popularized by covers, with Joan Baez having a Prime 10 hit with it in 1971. Not like “Music From Massive Pink,” “The Band” bore songwriting credit from Robertson on each monitor and no lead vocals from the guitarist in any respect (he’d not sing once more on a Band album till their final, “Islands”).

“The Band” positioned the Band squarely inside the fashionable zeitgeist, incomes sufficient consideration to garner them a Time journal cowl in 1970. Robertson tentatively began to pursue initiatives outdoors of the group, producing the acclaimed eponymous 1970 debut by singer-songwriter Jesse Winchester, however the Band remained his main focus. Cracks started to develop inside the group beginning with “Stage Fright,” a 1970 album recorded with pop wunderkind Todd Rundgren. Robertson loved the experimental vitality Rundgren dropped at the periods however the engineer clashed with different Band members, lots of whom began a sluggish slide into substance abuse. With Helm, Danko and Manuel all experiencing some type of debilitating toxicity, Robertson rallied the group ahead by “Cahoots,” a 1971 album that confirmed indicators of fatigue; of its 11 songs, solely “Life Is a Carnival” — a track Robertson co-wrote with Helm and Danko — turned part of the Band’s canon.

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The Band, from left: Rick Danko, Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson.

(Gijsbert Hanekroot/ Redferns / Getty Pictures)

Pulling again from the studio and the highway, the Band bided their time for some time. Their New Yr’s Eve stint at New York’s Academy of Music in 1971 turned the 1972 double album “Rock of Ages.” The group stirred again to life in 1973, knocking out an amiable assortment of rock ’n’ roll oldies known as “Moondog Matinee” and headlining the Summer time Jam at Watkins Glen alongside the Grateful Lifeless. On the finish of the 12 months, the Band reunited with Dylan to report “Planet Waves,” an album they supported with a blockbuster tour in 1974; the closing stint at Inglewood’s Discussion board was condensed into the double album “Earlier than the Flood,” launched in the summertime of 1974. The next 12 months, one final Bob Dylan & the Band challenge emerged when Robertson produced a double-LP set of “The Basement Tapes,” cleansing up the unique 1967 recordings with some overdubs and including just a few Band outtakes to create the phantasm they have been equal companions to Dylan.

The Band reconnected with their previous in one other means: They sought to re-create the clubhouse environment of Massive Pink by renting a Malibu ranch known as Shangri-La (beforehand the positioning the place the talking-horse sitcom “Mr. Ed” was filmed) and changing it right into a recording studio. Different musician associates hung out at Shangri-La — Eric Clapton lower his 1976 LP, “No Purpose to Cry,” there, a report that featured all 5 members of the Band — whereas the Band recorded “Northern Lights — Southern Cross,” a 1975 launch that was their strongest, most cohesive album since their second report. As soon as Robertson wrapped up his manufacturing duties on Neil Diamond’s “Stunning Noise,” the Band launched a supporting tour for “Northern Lights — Southern Cross” in the summertime of 1976.

Issues rapidly fell aside. Richard Manuel sustained a neck damage in a boating accident, forcing the Band to cancel a portion of the tour and prompting Robertson to think about an escape route. He conceived “The Final Waltz,” a lavish farewell to the stage to be delivered on the Winterland Ballroom on Thanksgiving Day 1976. Robertson determined to protect the occasion, so he requested Scorsese, contemporary off the discharge of “Taxi Driver,” to direct a documentary. The pair fashioned an on the spot and deep bond, evident within the completed movie, which portrays Robertson as a film star in ready.

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Van Morrison, from left, Bob Dylan and Robbie Robertson performing “I Shall Be Launched” from 1978’s “The Final Waltz.”

(United Artists / Getty Pictures)

Inside the Band, there was discontent about whether or not the live performance closed the curtain on their years as a touring act or on their profession total; Robertson claimed the previous, Helm the latter. The drummer proved to be appropriate. Robertson spent a lot of 1977 working with Scorsese in postproduction on “The Final Waltz,” dreaming up concepts like taking pictures on-camera interviews with the group and filming the Band taking part in on a soundstage. “The Final Waltz” and its accompanying soundtrack appeared in 1978, serving to stoke Robertson’s cinematic dreamsn. He secured a take care of MGM and developed a movie based mostly on his teenage experiences with a carnival. Throughout preproduction, Robertson leapt from producer to star, showing alongside Jodie Foster and Gary Busey within the 1980 movie “Carny.”

Robertson didn’t show to be a film star however he discovered area within the movie business, working alongside Scorsese as a music advisor on “Raging Bull” and “The King of Comedy.” For the 1985 “The Hustler” sequel “The Coloration of Cash,” Robertson co-wrote the theme track, “It’s within the Means That You Use It,” which Clapton recorded; it was the primary time Robertson had a presence on rock radio in a decade.

Quickly, Robertson launched his solo profession, hiring Daniel Lanois to co-produce his self-titled debut. Robertson subsequent launched “Storyville,” a 1991 album impressed by the sounds and legends of New Orleans.

“Storyville” was the final typical rock album Robertson would make for some time. “Music for the Native People” discovered him collaborating with the Crimson Street Ensemble, a gaggle of Native People who helped him hint his heritage. Robertson moved additional into the longer term with “Contact From the Underworld of Redboy,” an electronica fusion made in collaboration with Marius deVries and Howie B. After its launch in 1998, Robertson slowed the tempo of his solo initiatives, taking a full 13 years earlier than returning in 2011 with “Methods to Turn into Clairvoyant,” a semiautobiographical report sporting cameos by Clapton, Steve Winwood, Tom Morello and Trent Reznor. His 2019 album, “Sinematic,” coincided with the looks of Scorsese’s gangster epic “The Irishman”; the movie’s quasi-theme track, “I Hear You Paint Homes,” was the centerpiece of the album.

Robertson was credited as government music producer or music supervisor on each Scorsese characteristic from 2002’s “Gangs of New York” to 2022’s “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

He additionally did different film work. He supervised the soundtrack to the John Travolta movie “Phenomenon,” serving to convey collectively Clapton and producer Babyface for the mellow soul of “Change the World,” which might take house Grammys for track of the 12 months and report of the 12 months in 1997. Robertson additionally labored on Oliver Stone’s NFL saga “Any Given Sunday.”

Robertson spent a while working as an A&R government at DreamWorks Data within the early 2000s, serving to the label signal Nelly Furtado. He additionally spent a substantial period of time tending to considerate reissues of the Band’s catalog, shepherding the monumental 2005 field “The Band — A Musical Historical past,” a number of anniversary editions of “The Final Waltz” and Fiftieth-anniversary editions of their core catalog that provided contemporary remixes. He additionally informed his story by his 2016 memoir “Testimony” and the 2019 documentary “As soon as Have been Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band.”

Robertson bought his music publishing, recorded pursuits and rights to his identify, picture and likeness for a reported $25 million to Iconoclast in 2022.

Following the Band’s induction into the Canadian Corridor of Fame in 1989, the Band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Corridor of Fame in 1994. Robertson obtained a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Nationwide Academy of Songwriters in 1997. In 2008, he obtained a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2011.

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