Robbie Robertson

Biography

Robbie Robertson, OC (born Jaime Royal Robertson, July 5, 1943) is a Canadian singer-songwriter, and guitarist. Robertson was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada to a Jewish father and a Mohawk mother. He is best known for his membership as the guitarist and primary songwriter within The Band.

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.

After Robertson left Ronnie Hawkins with Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, and Garth Hudson, the quintet styled themselves Levon and the Hawks, but they ultimately called themselves The Band. 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 and Robertson's distinctive guitar sound was an important part of the music. Robertson appeared as one of the guitarists on Dylan's 1966 album “Blonde on Blonde.”

From their first albums, 1968’s “Music from Big Pink” and 1969’s “The Band,” The Band was praised as one of rock music's preeminent groups. 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. In the 1978 Martin Scorsese film “The Last Waltz” The Band played their final concert with the help of their friends and influences, Ronnie Hawkins, Muddy Waters, Dr. John, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, Ron Wood, and Ringo Starr.

Between 1979 and 1980 Robertson co-starred with Gary Busey and Jodie Foster in the flim “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, 1983’s “The King of Comedy,” Robertson served as music producer and also contributed with his first post-Band solo recording, "Between Trains." He also scored Scorsese's 1986 film “The Color of Money,” 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 1987’s “Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll,” Taylor Hackford's film saluting Chuck Berry. Wherein he interviewed Chuck Berry and played guitar while Chuck recited some poetry.

As a member of the Band he was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

Robertson released his self-titled debut solo album, on Geffen Records in 1987. Robertson recorded with producer and fellow Canadian Daniel Lanois, the album featured guests such Peter Gabriel and U2 (who were also recording with Lanois at the time), Ivan Neville, The Band members Rick Danko and Garth Hudson and the BoDeans. The album featured the singles, “Broken Arrow” which would become a hit for Rod Stewart in 1991 “Somewhere Down the Crazy River.” The album won the Juno Award for Album of the Year, and producers Lanois and Robertson won the Producer of the Year Juno award, both in 1989.

His second solo album, 1991’s “Storyville” focused on the famous jazz homeland section of New Orleans and on that part of the South in particular. He once again enlisted many guest performers including, Leo Nocentelli, Russell Batiste, Jr., George Porter, Jr., Art Neville and Cyril Neville of the New Orleans based The Meters, Neil Young, Ivan Neville, Aaron Neville, Rebirth Brass Band, Ginger Baker, Mike Mills, Bruce Hornsby and The Band members Rick Danko and Garth Hudson, among others.

In 1994 Robertson released, “Music for The Native Americans” compiling music written by Robertson and other colleagues, billed as the Red Road Ensemble, for the television documentary film “The Native Americans.” The album was Robertson's first foray into writing music specifically inspired by his Mohawk heritage. Robertson brought in his son Sebastian Robertson to handle the drums on "Golden Feather," "Skinwalker," "It Is a Good Day to Die" and "Words of Fire, Deeds of Blood." His daughter Delphine Robertson sang backing vocals on "Coyote Dance."

In 1997, Robertson received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Songwriters.

A second album inspired by his Native American heritage, “Contact from the Underworld of Redboy” was released in 1998. Ivan Neville again appeared as a guest, along with Six Nations Women Singers, Joanne Shenandoah, Laura Satterfield, Leonard Peltier, Caroline MacKendrick, Bonnie Jo Hunt, Leah Hicks-Manning, Rita Coolidge and Priscilla Coolidge.

In 2000, Robertson joined DreamWorks Records as creative executive. Robertson, who persuaded Nelly Furtado to sign with the company, is actively involved with film projects and developing new artist talent, including signings of A.i., Boomkat, eastmountainsouth, and Dana Glover. Robertson served as music supervisor on the 2002 Martin Scorsese film “Gangs Of New York.” In 2003, Robertson was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame. In 2004, Robertson contributed the song “Shine Your Light” to the “Ladder 49” soundtrack. He received the Governor General's Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement in 2006. He also produced the soundtrack for the 2006 Scorsese film, “The Departed.” In 2008, Robertson and The Band received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Robertson provided music supervision for yet another Scorsese film, 2010’s “Shutter Island.”

His fifth solo album, “How to Become Clairvoyant,” was released in 2011. It featured Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Trent Reznor, Tom Morello, Robert Randolph, Rocco Deluca, Angela McCluskey, and Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes.

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