Monday, 6 January 2014

The Archivist: Robbie Robertson - Robbie Robertson

1963. A group of guys got together and called themselves Levon & The Hawks. Catchy, huh? Those guys turned out to be Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson. They were hired by a quite famous folk singer to join him on his US tour in 1965 & a World tour in 1966, when he decided he'd like to try an electric approach to his music. The folk singer was the one and only Bob Dylan. After working with Dylan they renamed themselves, The Band.
They were an unusual group in the sense that they were ALL songwriters and almost all multi-instrumentalists.
Their first Two albums, Music From Big pink & The Band went on to become two of the most influential albums in Rock history.
Robbie Robertson was their guitar player. He stayed with The Band from their inception right through to 1976. Robbie had grown tired of touring and it was then that The Band ended their touring career. The final performance was captured on film by the director Martin Scorsese and released as The Last Waltz. It is one of the finest concert films ever produced. During the show, The Band were joined on stage by various luminaries of the music business including Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Van Morrison & more.
Robbie had been responsible for writing some of the Band's best known songs.
The Band reformed to tour in 1983 without Robbie and kept on touring. And they even produced three more albums in the 1990s. Without Robbie.
After leaving The Band, Robbie's first projects were to produce the two Neil Diamond albums, Beautiful Noise in 1976 and his live album Love At The Greek in 1977.
Robbie then went on to work again with Scorsese on various film projects.
I remember the anticipation in the mid 1980s when word got out that Robbie was working on his first solo album. What nobody expected is that he would choose the Producer of the moment, Daniel Lanois to work on it with him. But Robbie had worked previously with Lanois so really it should not have come as a surprise. Lanois was already producing the Peter Gabriel album So and was also working on the U2 album, The Joshua Tree while recording Robbie's self titled debut solo album. This gave an indication as what to expect sound wise.
I'll never forget that rumble and droned guitars of the opening track Fallen Angel. The song is about his former Band mate Richard Manuel. It had such a scope and dynamism but was somehow gentle and poetic. Such a beautiful and dramatic opening song. Robbie's voice sounded as clear and crisp and strained as ever with absolutely gorgeous backing vocals from Peter Gabriel. The sound for the whole album is right there on that one track. And it doesn't half give your Hi Fi a good old test.
It is such an album of depth and emotion it needed a brilliant producer to harness the magic and bring the best out of this collection of songs. Many of which explored aspects of Robbie's Native American background.
And if you're working with the hottest producer of the moment, you can even get a great backing band on a song. How about U2?
The album did include one world wide smash hit single which seemed to be everywhere when it was released and on constant rotation on MTV.
The album won the Juno for Album Of The Year award of 1988
Robbie & Daniel Lanois' production skills on this album were rewarded with the Juno award for Producer Of The Year.
Robbie has hardly been prolific and has only recorded 5 solo albums to date but every one is worthy and he remains one of the best musicians on the planet.
So do yourself a favour - go and get this album and PLAY IT LOUD.
Then go and get the others.
Twitter - @r0bbier0berts0n


  1. Love Robbie; especially his first two solo albums. If you don't love 'em now you'll learn to love 'em later!
    Amazing to think that he was the 4th best vocalist in The Band!

  2. All true mr jones. I always believes that the EStreet Band or Tom's Heartbreakers were the best backing band but The Band had probably the 5 most creative musicians in one band. Amazing. I can still remember the smile in my face when I first sat down and listened to this album (on headphones of course) for the first time :)

  3. Ay, it's a cracker. Surely due a remaster. Do you know Lanois' 'Acadie' btw? Brilliant!

    1. Oh yes, had it in the first day of release. It's such an intimate and simple record after the sonic shenanigans of U2.