Robbie Robertson obituary


Within the autumn of 1968, when rock music appeared in imminent hazard of succumbing to extra of every kind, a single album – the Band’s Music from Huge Pink – provoked a wholesale reconsideration of its priorities. In addition to implying a declare to particular standing, the group’s title was chosen to counsel the ego-less collective endeavour of 5 people, 4 Canadians and one American. By the point the Band made the duvet of Time journal in 1970, nevertheless, Robbie Robertson had emerged not simply as their guitarist and chief songwriter however as their musical architect and the engine of their ambition.

Robertson, who has died aged 80, was a superlative guitarist who restored a way of economic system to a craft that had turn out to be obsessive about empty virtuosity. As a songwriter, he created small masterpieces of temper, character and narrative, tailor-made to the expressive voices of Levon Helm, the Arkansas-born drummer who delivered The Night time They Drove Previous Dixie Down as if the civil battle have been a private reminiscence, of Rick Danko, the bassist, who invested It Makes No Distinction with ineffable disappointment, or of Richard Manuel, the pianist, who evoked a misplaced world of backporch consolation and pleasure in Rockin’ Chair.

When he had them alternating verses and singing choruses collectively, as in The Weight, their first single, Robertson created a form of rough-hewn vocal polyphony influenced by gospel teams however new to rock music. “I pulled into Nazareth, was feelin’ ’bout half-past lifeless” was the memorable line given to Helm, the primary of the three lead voices, opening a music whose lyric revealed Robertson’s love of southern gothic novels – William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor – in addition to the affect of his friendship with Bob Dylan.

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The Band, left to proper: Garth Hudson, Robertson, Levon Helm, Richard Manuel and Rick Danko, in June 1971. {Photograph}: Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns

Refreshed by the wellsprings of blues, rockabilly, nation in addition to gospel, the homespun sound of that first album supplied a paradoxical however convincing imaginative and prescient of an older America as a signpost to the longer term. Virtually in a single day, having seen the Band dressed as gamblers, outlaws and backwoods preachers from the earlier century, a big proportion of the rock world ditched its silk blouses and snakeskin boots together with overextended shows of instrumental prowess.

The Band’s apotheosis got here in 1976 with a gala live performance filmed by Martin Scorsese and launched two years later as The Final Waltz. In San Francisco’s Winterland ballroom they have been joined on stage by a galaxy of stars, together with Dylan, Joni Mitchell, the Staple Singers, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton and Neil Younger.

Robertson would embark on a solo profession, starting with an eponymous album in 1987, that includes his personal singing, and successful single, Someplace Down the Loopy River, adopted in 1991 by Storyville, whereas his curiosity in cinema and his friendship with Scorsese would lead him to work on the music for such movies as Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, The Coloration of Cash, On line casino, Gangs of New York, The Wolf of Wall Road and The Irishman.

He was the one little one of Rosemarie (nee Chrysler), often known as Dolly, and James Robertson, each staff at a Toronto metal-plating manufacturing facility. Dolly, of Mohawk and Cayuga descent, had been raised on the Six Nations Indian reserve, the place her son heard the campfire tales that, he later mentioned, would form his songwriting. When he was in his teenagers, and his mother and father had separated, his mom divulged the identification of his organic father: knowledgeable gambler named Alexander Klegerman, who had been killed in a street accident. The 20-year-old Dolly was pregnant together with her son when she married Jim Robertson in 1942.

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From left: Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and Robertson within the finale of The Final Waltz. {Photograph}: United Artists/Getty Photographs

Guitar classes from the age of 9 led to his first electrical instrument, a Christmas current when he was 13, and a 12 months later he was taking part in in his first bands. His skilled apprenticeship started on the age of 16, taking part in bars and golf equipment in Canada and the American south with the Hawks, the backing band for the extrovert American rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins. The Hawks had been joined by Helm, Danko, Manuel and an organist named Garth Hudson by the point Robertson performed a memorably scorching lead half on Hawkins’s recording of Bo Diddley’s Who Do You Love?.

In 1964 the band left the singer to strike out on their very own. The Stones That I Throw, a Robertson music launched beneath the title Levon and the Hawks, had the beginnings of an unique sound. However in 1966 it was Robertson who inspired them to hitch Dylan on a tumultuous world tour that uncovered them to the fury of followers enraged by the singer’s espousal of electrical devices.

After Dylan retreated to Woodstock, in rural upstate New York, Robertson and the others joined him to work on songs that grew to become often known as the Basement Tapes, plundering quite a lot of archaic idioms. Huge Pink was the big wood home in whose basement they rehearsed the 11 songs that grew to become their very own first album, 4 of them written by Robertson.

Its success, due as a lot to reward from such rock gods as Eric Clapton and George Harrison as to their document firm’s promoting marketing campaign, was adopted in 1969 by a second album, recorded in Los Angeles, referred to as merely The Band (and recognized to many, because of the sepia hue of its cowl, because the brown album). The inclusion of such seemingly ageless and finely detailed Robertson songs as King Harvest (Has Certainly Come) and The Untrue Servant satisfied many who this was their masterpiece, whereas dwell performances underlined the qualities that set them aside.

However in a touch of the issues that might undermine the collective spirit, eight of the second album’s 12 songs have been solely composed by Robertson. On Stage Fright (1970), there have been seven, with eight on Cahoots (1971). On a lot of the different songs he was credited as a co-writer with Helm, Manuel or Danko. By the point a fifth studio album, Northern Lights – Southern Cross, was launched in 1975, all 12 songs have been written by Robertson alone. He was now incomes excess of the others, which created mistrust.

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He may legitimately level out that his colleagues’ work ethic had been corroded by the temptations their success had made reasonably priced, significantly after the transfer to California. By avoiding heroin, particularly, he remained productive. However after the mid-70s, during which a triumphant reunion tour with Dylan (and their look on his album Planet Waves) was adopted by The Final Waltz, Helm’s bitter resentment over the way in which Robertson had dealt with their song-publishing affairs stored them aside. Manuel took his personal life in 1986, Danko died of coronary heart failure in 1999, and Robertson and Helm wouldn’t be reconciled till, in keeping with Robertson’s account in his 2016 autobiography, Testimony, a gathering simply earlier than the drummer’s dying from most cancers in 2012.

Robertson’s final album, Sinematic, was launched in 2019, the 12 months during which his firm produced As soon as Have been Brothers, a documentary telling his aspect of the Band’s story. Earlier than his dying he was engaged on music for Killers of the Flower Moon, Scorsese’s forthcoming movie in regards to the battle of the Osage Nation to retain management of the oil rights on their land in Oklahoma within the Nineteen Twenties.

He’s survived by his second spouse, Janet Zuccarini, whom he married this 12 months, by the 2 daughters, Alexandra and Delphine, and son, Sebastian, of his first marriage, in 1968, to Dominique Bourgeois, which led to divorce, and by 5 grandchildren.


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