Robbie Robertson

Artist Playlists

About Robbie Robertson

In an interview with Apple Music around the release of his 2019 album, Sinematic, Robbie Robertson described his work with The Band the way you might describe a foreign object you dug up in the backyard before remembering that you, in fact, built it. “I would revisit these songs, and some of the times I did think, How in the hell did I ever think of that? What was I on that could have ever made me write a song called ‘The Unfaithful Servant’? That isn’t what you write about in music. Nobody writes a song like that. And revisiting those things—how outside of everything else and everybody else that music was—made me very proud.” Of course, that outsideness—the way something peripheral and arcane could capture the current moment better than something more obviously current—is what made the music essential. Born in Toronto in 1943, Robertson fell in love with music while visiting relatives on the Six Nations of the Grand River Indian reserve outside the city before moving to Arkansas to play guitar in the rockabilly band Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks alongside Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, and Garth Hudson—who would later become The Band. He was 16. As a guitarist, he helped Bob Dylan go electric. (Stage direction during the Manchester show where Dylan was infamously called Judas: “Play fucking loud.”) As a writer—of “The Weight,” of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” of “Up on Cripple Creek”—he captured an America both deeply familiar and impossibly out of reach, not to mention stranger than any vision of his psychedelic peers’. And while The Band cast a long shadow, his solo work was reliably interesting, too, whether it was albums like the New Orleans tribute Storyville and the electronic-textured Contact from the Underworld of Redboy or the scoring, production, and soundtrack supervision he did for his longtime friend Martin Scorsese, which included Gangs of New York, The Departed, and Killers of the Flower Moon. He once quipped that he went left while everyone else went right, which isn’t entirely true—it just took a minute for everyone else to course-correct. Robertson died in August 2023 at the age of 80.

Toronto, Ontario, Canada
July 5, 1943

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