OAN’s Brooke Mallory
4:58 PM – Wednesday, August 9, 2023
Robbie Robertson, the guitarist-singer-songwriter who led the Canadian-American group the Band to rock fame in the 1970s and collaborated extensively with musician Bob Dylan and director Martin Scorsese, has died at 80.
According to his management team, Robertson died on Wednesday in Los Angeles after a protracted illness.
Jared Levine, Robertson’s manager for 34 years, made a statement in remembrance of his long-time client and friend.
“Robbie was surrounded by his family at the time of his death, including his wife, Janet, his ex-wife, Dominique, her partner Nicholas, and his children Alexandra, Sebastian, Delphine, and Delphine’s partner Kenny. He is also survived by his grandchildren Angelica, Donovan, Dominic, Gabriel and Seraphina. Robertson recently completed his fourteenth film music project with frequent collaborator Martin Scorsese, ‘Killers of the Flower Moon.’ In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to the Six Nations of the Grand River to support a new Woodland Cultural Center.”
On July 5th, 1943, Robert, whose real name was Jaime Royal Robertson, was born in Toronto. His mother was a member of the Mohawk Indian tribe. His original father, Jewish gambler Alexander Klegerman, died in a car accident before he was born.
As a child on the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario, Robertson grew more interested in music after hearing American tunes on U.S. clear-channel channels.
Director Martin Scorsese filmed and released the Band’s 1976 farewell concert “The Last Waltz”, where Robertson would eventually go on to work with him as a composer, music supervisor, and music producer on films such as “Gangs of New York,” “Raging Bull,” “The King of Comedy,” “The Departed,” “Shutter Island,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Silence,” “The Irishman,” and “Killers of the Flower Moon” starting in 1980.
Robertson is best known for writing legendary songs for the Band, including “The Weight,” “Up On Cripple Creek,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “The Shape I’m In,” and “It Makes No Difference.” His experiences with The Band were documented in the 2019 documentary “Once Were Brothers.”
Robertson gave a farewell interview to the outlet Variety only two weeks ago.
He discussed his 55 years of collaboration with Bob Dylan and Scorsese, highlighting “Killers of the Flower Moon,” which is due to be released later this year.
“We’re in awe ourselves that our brotherhood has outlasted everything,” he added of his collaboration with the filmmaker. “We’ve been through it; we’ve been there and back. I am so proud of our friendship and our work. It’s been just a gift in life.”
Following an apprenticeship with American rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins’ backing band the Hawks in the early 1960s, Robertson and his colleagues, drummer Levon Helm, bassist Rick Danko, pianist Richard Manuel, and organist Garth Hudson, formed their own band in 1964.
The Hawks were Bob Dylan’s powerful touring band during the singer-guitarist-songwriter’s tumultuous first electric tour in 1965–1966. They reunited with their dissident percussionist during Dylan’s famed, bootlegged informal recording sessions, known as the “basement tapes,” in 1967.
Signed to Capitol Records in 1968, the renamed “The Band” rose to prominence with its first two albums, “Music From Big Pink” and “The Band,” which borrowed elements of blues, southern rock, and more. The Band influenced other notable musicians such as Eric Clapton and George Harrison, as well as succeeding generations of American roots musicians.
“I always thought, from the very beginning, that this music was born of the blues and country music, Southern stuff. The Mississippi Delta area, and the music came down from the river and from up the river and met, and it made something new. I always looked at that as kind of the source of the whole thing,” Robertson said.
He composed delicately for the distinct, layered voices of Danko, Helm, and Manuel, the musically talented multi-instrumentalists, and by the group’s third album, he had become their key songwriter.
The group grew to prominence in the early 1970s, due in part to renewed collaboration with Dylan, which included a sold-out 1974 tour and the No. 1 album “Planet Waves,” as well as concerts at the legendary 1969 Woodstock festival, Isle of Wight, and Watkins Glen festivals.
Robertson went on to have a sporadic solo career, he acted in films and as a screenwriter, worked as an A&R rep for a record label, and had a lengthy creative collaboration with Scorsese on several of the director’s drama movies.
In 1989, he and his bandmates were inducted into the Canadian Juno Hall of Fame, and in 1994, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1997, he was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Songwriters.
The most recent tweet from his account was made only a day before his death, and it was snapshot of himself in 1970 with Garth Hudson with a comical caption, the Band’s last surviving member.
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