Friday, October 21, 2011

Robbie Robertson On My Own

 Opening Remarks

 Today marks a bit of a change. The profile today is framed in a context and I will do more of this type of profile. Many artists start out as part of a group, or team. At some point, that group has run its course and it is time to move on. A few form new groups as Jeff Beck and others did. Most however, go out on their own and try to make a name for themselves and break free from the box they were in as a member of a group. That will be the focus of this blog/profile. Not so much the history of Robbie Robertson, but the contrast between what he was in The Band and what he did on his own, and how they relate to each other.
What is clear is that Robbie Robertson had a desire to do more creative and less commercially based music, and to do that he had to go on his own and make his own way. Many artists try that..and fail. Due to his immense talent and savvy, he was able to pull it off. The other members of The band were not as lucky and floundered.

 The Facts Of Life

Jaime Royal Robertson,was born  July 5, 1943 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

His father was Jewish and his mother was a Mohawk Indian. He had his earliest exposure to music at Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation, where he spent summers with his mother's family.

In 1967 Robertson married Dominique Bourgeois, a Québécoise journalist. Together they have three children: daughters Alexandra and Delphine, and son Sebastian.

By 1958, Robertson was performing in various groups around Toronto, including Little Caesar and the Consuls, Robbie and the Robots, and Thumper and the Trambones. 

By 1959 he had met singer Ronnie Hawkins, who led a band called The Hawks. In 1960 Hawkins recorded two early Robertson songs, "Hey Boba Lu" and "Someone Like You" on his Mr. Dynamo LP

Robertson then took over lead guitar with The Hawks and toured often, before splitting from Hawkins in 1963.


He is best known for his membership as the guitarist and primary songwriter within The Band. 

He was ranked 78th in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time

 Has been inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.

As a songwriter Robertson is responsible for such classics as

"The Weight"

, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"

, "Up On Cripple Creek"

, "Broken Arrow"

"Somewhere Down the Crazy River"

The song "Somewhere Down the Crazy River", became Robertson's biggest solo hit.

After Robertson left Ronnie Hawkins with Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, and Garth Hudson, the quintet styled themselves Levon and the Hawks, but, after rejecting such tongue-in-cheek names as The Honkies and The Crackers, as well as the Canadian Squires—a name the record label called them and that they immediately hated—they ultimately called themselves The Band.

Robertson performing with The Band. Hamburg, Germany, May 1971.
Bob Dylan hired The Hawks for his famed, controversial tour of 1966, his first wide exposure as an electrified rock and roll performer rather than his earlier acoustic folk sound. Robertson's distinctive guitar sound was an important part of the music

 Dylan famously praised him as:

"the only mathematical guitar genius I’ve ever run into who doesn’t offend my intestinal nervousness with his rearguard sound." 

Robertson appears as one of the guitarists on Dylan's 1966 album Blonde on Blonde.

From their first albums, The Band was praised as one of rock music's preeminent groups. Rolling Stone magazine praised The Band and gave its music extensive coverage. Robertson sang only a few songs with The Band, but was the group's primary songwriter, and was in the later years of the Band often seen as the de facto bandleader.

In 1976, The Band began to break up due to the stresses of sixteen years of touring.  The Last Waltz (1978) had The Band playing their final concert with the help of their friends and influences, Ronnie Hawkins, Muddy Waters, Dr. John, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Neil Diamond, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, Ron Wood, and Ringo Starr.

Martin Scorsese was hired to direct The Last Waltz based on his use of music in Mean Streets. The two were housemates during the editing of The Last Waltz and became friends. Robertson went on to compose the musical score for his 1980 film Raging Bull, ,The King of Comedy, The Color of Money, Casino, The Departed, Gangs of New York, and provided music supervision for Shutter Island.

After The Band

"this was 5 men making a decision. It wasn't my decision. I feel a tremendous sadness about certain things. Some things you just have no control over. You have to go with it....after The Last Waltz the idea was that everybody was going to take a step back, gather themselves, refocused and we were going to come back and do some great creative work together. Everyone went off to do some individual projects and nobody came back"

Robbie Robertson on the common perception that The Band never got back together because he didn't want to, which according to him was not the case.

Robertson produced Neil Diamond's albums Beautiful Noise in 1976 and Love at the Greek (live) in 1977.

Between 1979 and 1980 Robertson co-starred with Gary Busey and Jodie Foster in Carny. He also co-wrote, produced, and composed source music for the film. Robertson became one of the first rock and rollers to seriously engage the medium of film.

 For Scorsese's Raging Bull, Robertson created background music and produced source music.

For another Scorsese film, The King of Comedy (released in 1983), Robertson served as music producer and also contributed with his first post-Band solo recording, "Between Trains."

 He also scored Scorsese's The Color of Money (1986), working with Gil Evans and Willie Dixon and co-wrote with Eric Clapton (It's In the Way That You Use It")

Robertson was enlisted as creative consultant for Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll (1987), Taylor Hackford's film saluting Chuck Berry. Wherein he interviewed Chuck Berry and played guitar while Chuck recited some poetry.

He produced and played guitar on Van Morrison's song "Wonderful Remark"

Solo albums

Robbie Robertson, self-titled solo debut album released in 1987
From 1987 onwards, Robertson released a series of four solo albums, his first was self titled.

 Showdown at Big Sky, the first single off that album.

followed by Storyville

 Go Back To Your Woods..a great track off that album

Music for the Native Americans 

and Contact from the Underworld of Redboy

 In 1990, he contributed to Japanese musician Ryuichi Sakamoto's album Beauty.

Robertson's song "Broken Arrow", off the Robbie Robertson album, was covered by Rod Stewart on his album Vagabond Heart and became a hit single. "Broken Arrow" 

In 1994, Robertson returned to his roots, forming a Native American group the Red Road Ensemble for Music for The Native Americans, a collection of songs that accompanied a television documentary series.

How To Become Clairvoyant was released on April, 5, 2011 and is the fifth solo release from Robbie Robertson. It features Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Trent Reznor, Tom Morello, Robert Randolph, Rocco Deluca, Angela McCluskey, and Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes. Pino Palladino, and Ian Thomas are the rhythm section. Robbie performed "He Don't Live Here No More" on CBS's Late Show with David Letterman in support of the album,

 In 1994, Robertson joined Garth Hudson, Rick Danko and inductor Eric Clapton onstage to perform "The Weight" when The Band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In contrast to how Robbie Robertson thrived and did so many great things after his days with The Band,  the rest of the group members struggled greatly. Mostly they had serious drug addiction issues and without his leadership guiding them and his talents in the mix, did nothing or any significance on their own.

Garth Hudson

 Through the years, he kept in contact with his old bandmates, playing on solo efforts by Rick Danko, Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm.

Hudson released his first solo album September 11, 2001 entitled The Sea To The North.
In 2002, with his home in foreclosure and Robertson having bought out his stake in The Band, Hudson was forced to declare bankruptcy for the third time. He continued to record and perform.He continues as a much-in-demand session player.

Rick Danko

Although The Band had performed its farewell concert ("The Last Waltz") in November 1976, Danko had no intention of calling it quits. Clive Davis offered him a contract with Arista Records, making him the first Band member to record a solo album. Issued in 1977, his self titled débuts poor showing, however (it barely cracked the Billboard 200), destined it for rarity status, and although he recorded a follow-up album, Danko was dropped from Arista.

By the late 1990s, his lifestyle was taking its toll however, particularly his drinking and indulging in a mix of harder drugs and painkillers, the result of the serious car accident in 1968. He continued to be on prescribed opiates, including morphine, throughout the remainder of his life, Danko's health problems were later compounded by rapid weight gain in the mid 1990s. By 1997, he was chronically obese. Danko was found guilty of attempting to smuggle heroin into Japan.

On December 10, 1999,, Danko died in his sleep at his home in Marbletown, New York, near Woodstock.autopsy, Danko's cause of death was determined to be drug-related heart failure.

Richard Manuel

By 1975, Robertson had expressed his dissatisfaction with touring and acting in an increasingly parental capacity, as the move to Malibu had seen him take the managerial reins on a de facto basis from an increasingly difficult Grossman (their manager). According to Levon Helm, Manuel was now consuming eight bottles of Grand Marnier every day on top of a prodigious cocaine addiction.
On March 4, 1986, after a gig at the Cheek to Cheek Lounge outside Orlando, in Winter Park, Florida, Manuel committed suicide.

The last member of The Band, Levon Helm, while a fine musician and relatively healthy, has done nothing of significance on his own.

This song, a Band classic really tells an autobiographical tale of the members of The Band.

The Band is a classic case of 5 very good musicians who came together to make great music. But only one, Robbie Robertson was capable of doing more and moving forward by himself on the same level. The others simply didn't have the life skills or writing skills to make it on their own.


No comments:

Post a Comment