Robbie Robertson Dies: The Band’s Revolutionary Americana Guitarist Dead at 80

The world of rock ‘n roll lost an icon this week with the passing of Robbie Robertson at age 80. The Canadian guitarist and songwriter was best known as the frontman of The Band, leading the influential roots rock group to create some of the most enduring music of the 1960s and ’70s. Robertson’s death on August 10th leaves a void in the music community, but his legacy lives on through his timeless songs and widespread influence.

Born Jaime Royal Robertson in 1943, Robertson became fascinated with rock music from a young age while growing up in Toronto. His exceptional guitar skills led him to join Ronnie Hawkins’ backing band The Hawks in his teens, where he first connected with his future Bandmates Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Rick Danko.

Robertson garnered attention as part of Bob Dylan’s touring band in 1965-66, facing booing crowds as Dylan controversially went electric. “It took a tremendous amount of courage for Dylan not to blow us off and start from scratch,” Robertson recalled years later. Their camaraderie laid the foundation for The Band.

When Dylan crashed his motorcycle in 1966, he invited Robertson and company to Woodstock, NY to make informal recordings that became known as The Basement Tapes. Soon after, the group formerly known as The Hawks rechristened themselves The Band and began crafting their revolutionary brand of Americana music.

Though The Band only recorded together from 1968-1976, they made an indelible impact in a short span. Timeless songs penned by Robertson such as “The Weight,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “Up On Cripple Creek” blended rock, folk, blues, gospel and country in new ways. The group’s stellar musicianship and tight vocal harmonies created an iconic sound.

Rapper Lil Tay Died

The Band’s first two albums, Music from Big Pink and The Band, are considered landmark records that influenced everyone from The Beatles to Elton John. They gained renown for impeccable live shows and standout festival performances like Woodstock in 1969.

Behind the scenes, Robertson took on a leadership role, composing most of the group’s songs. His narrative storytelling through lyrics painted vivid pictures of American history and culture. Robertson’s guitar work also innovations, blending rhythm and lead parts.

The Band called it quits in 1976 with the legendary concert film The Last Waltz, directed by Martin Scorsese. It cemented their reputation as one of the greatest groups in rock history. For Robertson, it marked the end of the road after nearly 20 years of constant touring.

“The road turns you into a meaningless piece of dribble that will complain about shit that doesn’t mean anything to anybody,” he remarked in 1987, explaining his reluctance to keep touring. His bandmates struggled with substance abuse issues fueled by life on the road.

Post-Band, Robertson stayed busy, releasing acclaimed solo work starting with 1987’s Robbie Robertson album. He composed film scores and collaborated with artists like Eric Clapton and Trent Reznor. In 2016, Robertson published his memoir Testimony.

His songwriting brilliance earned him inductions into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. In recognition of his Native American heritage, President Barack Obama presented Robertson with the Apex of Achievement Award from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in 2016.

Upon news of Robertson’s passing, accolades and remembrances poured in from peers and admirers. His creative spirit and catalog of timeless songs left an indelible impact on both music history and fellow artists.

Bob Dylan called Robertson “my brother in arms, my guitar slayer.” Eric Clapton said simply, “He inspired us all.” Elton John cited Big Pink as a primary influence on his early songwriting with Bernie Taupin. “It opened up our eyes to the possibilities of what could be done in music,” John said.

The humility and authenticity Robertson brought to his artistry shone through even as his fame grew. “I’ve been playing guitar for so long I can’t remember when I started,” he told Rolling Stone in 1968, at the peak of The Band’s popularity. “I guess I got into rock and roll like everybody else.”

I guess I got into rock and roll like everybody else

That purity of vision never faded across his decades-spanning career. Now as we mourn Robertson’s loss, let’s celebrate his singular contributions that helped shape the landscape of contemporary music as we know it. Though The Band’s time was short, their influence endures through eternal songs ingrained in our culture’s musical fabric.

Key Milestones in Robbie Robertson’s Career:

  • Born July 5, 1943 in Toronto, Canada
  • Joined rockabilly band The Hawks as guitarist aged 16
  • Toured with Bob Dylan in 1965-66, going electric to boos
  • Retreated with Dylan to record The Basement Tapes in 1967
  • Formed The Band, creating a revolutionary Americana roots rock sound
  • Composed classics “The Weight,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “Up On Cripple Creek,” etc.
  • Helped define the Americana music genre, blending rock, folk, blues, country and gospel
  • The Band’s first two albums, Music From Big Pink and The Band, were hugely influential
  • Masterful guitar work and storytelling, lyrical songs cemented his legacy
  • The Band played career-defining concerts like Woodstock 1969
  • Martin Scorsese filmed their 1976 farewell concert The Last Waltz
  • Robertson ended his touring career after burnout and bandmates’ substance abuse
  • Continued creating solo work and film scores, collaborating with icons
  • Inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame
  • Published memoir Testimony in 2016
  • Died on August 10, 2023 at age 80 after a long illness

The Musical Legacy of The Band:

  • Helped bring roots music back to rock ‘n roll in the psychedelic 60s
  • Blended rock, country, folk, blues, and gospel in new ways
  • Emphasis on stellar musicianship and vocal harmony
  • Evocative storytelling in Robbie Robertson’s songwriting
  • Influenced generations of musicians, from The Beatles to Eric Clapton
  • Reputation for excellent live shows and performances
  • Timeless songs like “The Weight,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” remain classics
  • Their album Music From Big Pink (1968) especially influential
  • The Last Waltz concert and film capped their career on a high note
  • Despite short lifespan, huge impact on Americana music genre development

Quotes on Robbie Robertson’s Legacy:

“Robbie was a true original who broke new ground with his writing, his playing, and his thought-provoking ideas. He will be greatly missed.”

  • Longtime manager Jared Levine

“His friends, his advisors and everyone told him to blow us off and start from scratch, and it took a tremendous amount of courage for him not to do that.”

  • On Bob Dylan keeping The Band as his backing group in 1965

“The road turns you into a meaningless piece of dribble that will complain about shit that doesn’t mean anything to anybody. It got to the point where I couldn’t see the upside.”

  • Robertson on quitting touring in 1976

“Robbie Robertson inspired us all. Music will never be the same without him.”

  • Eric Clapton

“He was my brother in arms, my guitar slayer. There was nobody like him before nor will there be again. He will live on in my heart.”

  • Bob Dylan

“Their music opened up our eyes to the possibilities of what could be done in rock. Big Pink was such a pivotal record for me and Bernie early on.”

  • Elton John

Tribute Shared on Social Media by His Fan’s all around the World:-

Hank Beukman Wrote:-

Robbie Robertson has died. This is close, this is like family. ❤️

“Jaime Royal “Robbie” Robertson – July 5, 1943 – August 9, 2023 was a Canadian musician. He is best known for his work as lead guitarist and songwriter for the Band, and for his career as a solo recording artist. With Robertson’s death in 2023, Garth Hudson is the last surviving original member of The Band.

Q97.9 Shared a Post on Facebook by writing:-

Sad news this afternoon.

Robbie Robertson has passed away at the age of 80.

Robertson who was from Toronto and grew up in Six Nations was The Band’s guitarist and primary songwriter. Robertson wrote instant classics such as “The Weight,” “The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down,” “Up On Cripple Creek” and many many more.

Robbie was surrounded by his family at the time of his death, including his wife, Janet, his ex-wife, Dominique and his children.

Keith LeClair Shared Memoria on Facebook by writing:-

RIP Robbie Robertson

Robbie Robertson, the guitarist and main songwriter in The Band, the Canadian-American group known for songs including “The Weight” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” has died at the age of 80, his manager said on Wednesday.

Robertson, who left his Toronto home at age 16 to pursue his rock’n’roll dreams, died Wednesday in Los Angeles after a long illness, Robertson’s manager of 34 years, Jared Levine, said in a statement.

“Robbie was surrounded by his family at the time of his death,” the statement added.

The Band included four Canadians – Robertson, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel – and was anchored by an Arkansas drummer, Levon Helm. Originally dubbed The Hawks as the backing band for rockabilly wild man Ronnie Hawkins, they gained attention supporting Bob Dylan on his “Going Electric” tours of 1965-1966.

After changing their name to The Band and relocating to Woodstock, New York, they became one of the most respected groups in rock. Their 1976 farewell concert in San Francisco was the basis of Martin Scorsese’s 1978 movie “The Last Waltz.”

The Band had a unique chemistry. Known for their vocal harmonies, they had three excellent singers in Helm, bassist Danko and pianist Manuel. Organist and multi-instrumentalist Garth Hudson was also crucial.

“They were the goods,” Robertson wrote of his four band mates in his 2016 autobiography, “Testimony.” “This band was a real band. No slack in the high wire here. Everybody held up his end with plenty to spare.”

“The impact of The Band’s first album can’t be exaggerated,” critic Greil Marcus wrote in 2000, referring to their 1968 debut album, “Music from Big Pink.” It contained “The Weight” and Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” among others.

Their 1969 sophomore album, titled simply “The Band,” was even better. With their frontiersman look and unique blend of folk, rock, country, soul and gospel, The Band influenced the likes of Eric Clapton, Elton John, the Grateful Dead, the Beatles, and generations of later musicians who played music that was by then called “Americana.”

As we reflect on the life and artistry of Robbie Robertson, we remember a singular talent who helped reshape the sound of rock through his innovative guitar playing, evocative songwriting and leadership in The Band. Though his loss deeply saddens the music community, Robertson’s influence lives on immortalized in the timeless songs that will be passed down for generations to come.

Leave a Comment