Robbie Robertson: Opinions on three things

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1) astounding, surprising, scary...and richard thompson "borrowed" a lot from him ('specially the dylan/hawks live stuff)

2) who knows? supposedly the songs he got credit for on the band's second album were collabortive efforts. al grossman kept taking him aside and saying, "you, kid; you're the brains in this group," swelling robbie's head and insisting he get sole writing credit. once the writing collaborations stopped (because why would the other members collaborate with him if they weren't gonna get credit?), the songs went in the toilet. so robbie's obviously not the songwriting genius he's made out to be. his solo albums are similarly revealing.

3) more full of himself for less reason than any "rock star" i can think of -- well, 'cept for bono.

Lawrence the Looter (Lawrence the Looter), Tuesday, 2 May 2006 15:15 (twelve years ago) Permalink

and richard thompson "borrowed" a lot from him ('specially the dylan/hawks live stuff)

How exactly did he manage that given that none of this stuff was available on record at the time?!??!??

You'll Never Put a Better Bit of Butter On Your Knife (Dada), Tuesday, 2 May 2006 15:21 (twelve years ago) Permalink

"How exactly did he manage that given that none of this stuff was available on record at the time?!??!?? "

They were definitely available on bootlegs that circulated widely in the late 60's.


James, Tuesday, 2 May 2006 15:24 (twelve years ago) Permalink

1. Amazing, if only for every note he played on Dylan's 66 european / australian tour. Pretty incredible stuff, and really unique playing for the time period. Check out some of the other shows (besides the officiall released "bootleg series"): Robertson was playing different stuff every night.
2. Several really great songs, but yeah, it's debatable whether his brilliance is his or is just a reflection of his great collaborators in the Band. His solo albums certainly point towards the latter. But still, people may go too far in bashing him for stealing from Danko, Helm, Manuel et al—it's not like they've made incredible solo records either.
3. Super-asshole. But the strength of #1 is what really matters, innit?

Tyler W (tylerw), Tuesday, 2 May 2006 15:25 (twelve years ago) Permalink

yeah, boots of the basement tapes stuff started circulating in the UK pretty quickly - the beatles talked abt em while recording 'let it be', for example - and the dylan covers on unhalfbricking obv. predate any 'official' release

Ward Fowler (Ward Fowler), Tuesday, 2 May 2006 15:26 (twelve years ago) Permalink

How exactly did he manage that given that none of this stuff was available on record at the time?!??!??

plus, being something of a dylan fan, richard may have seen dylan/the hawks on their 1966 uk tour.

Lawrence the Looter (Lawrence the Looter), Tuesday, 2 May 2006 15:26 (twelve years ago) Permalink

could someone do a POX on the 60's pre-band stuff that robertson's supposedly so amazing on? i mean i've heard a lot of the dylan stuff and "moulty" and all that and it's good, but i'm not really sure what his rep's based on otherwise and i'd like to know what to seek out.

ZR (teenagequiet), Tuesday, 2 May 2006 15:27 (twelve years ago) Permalink

plus, being something of a dylan fan, richard may have seen dylan/the hawks on their 1966 uk tour

So he memorized Robertson's guitar playing and ran home and copied it?

You'll Never Put a Better Bit of Butter On Your Knife (Dada), Tuesday, 2 May 2006 15:30 (twelve years ago) Permalink

"could someone do a POX on the 60's pre-band stuff that robertson's supposedly so amazing on? "

Besides the Dylan Basement Tapes/live 1966 stuff already mentioned, check out Ronnie Hawkins' "Bo Diddley/Who Do You Love?" single from 1963. Robertson plays some killer guitar on each side, including a molten guitar solo on the flip. You can probably find it on any Hawkins' best-of (like the one on Rhino).

James, Tuesday, 2 May 2006 15:32 (twelve years ago) Permalink

his redman cd from the early 90s, i really loved. also can we get stories about him being an asshole?

anthony easton (anthony), Tuesday, 2 May 2006 15:45 (twelve years ago) Permalink

also can we get stories about him being an asshole?

Check out this terrible Rhino DVD on the making of the Band's second record wherein Robertson is at the piano trying to relive the inspiration through twinkling the keys and explaining how certain notes go together and create certain feelings. It's just painful. Hanging out with Dylan and Ginsburg went straight to his head. He's also tough to take in the Last Waltz but atleast he's still rockin'.

I think Danko is the coolest dude (Unfaithful servant...) and he's zonked on booze and psychedelics in Festival Express!

QuantumNoise (Justin Farrar), Tuesday, 2 May 2006 15:54 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Check out this terrible Rhino DVD on the making of the Band's second record wherein Robertson is at the piano trying to relive the inspiration through twinkling the keys and explaining how certain notes go together and create certain feelings. It's just painful.

I find it painful whenever I've seen ANY musicians talking about songs they wrote.

robert in SLC, Tuesday, 2 May 2006 16:17 (twelve years ago) Permalink

... or even songs other people wrote and they took all the credit for... allegedly

You'll Never Put a Better Bit of Butter On Your Knife (Dada), Tuesday, 2 May 2006 16:19 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Where does it say specifically that Robertson took credit for songs the others wrote? All I remember from Helm's book was his example that Garth should have had credit for Chest Fever because the organ was more memorable than the words.

robert in SLC, Tuesday, 2 May 2006 16:30 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Yeah I gotta agree that Robertson seemed to be the driving creative force behind The Band, and the legalities are no different than any other situation with other song-writers/bands.

Having said that, if I were Robertson and I was filthy rich while watching my former Band-mates struggle, I would have seen fit to modify the publishing rights to cut them in. I'm sure he MUST admit that even if the other members didn't contribute to the official compositions, would he have been as creative without the fact that he was constantly jamming with them?

Anyhow, I certainly don't fall completely on the "Robertson is a complete asshole" camp, but I do wish he had dealt with this entire issue more from a moral standpoint than a legal one.

To answer my own questions:

1) Fantastic guitar player
2) Even better song-writer, and it was his determination that his priority became "song over solo" that, in my opinion made him less of a guitar player. Nothing wrong with that.
3) See my comments above. I don't think he's the devil, but he's no angel either.

shorty (shorty), Tuesday, 2 May 2006 16:47 (twelve years ago) Permalink

1) Used too many pinch harmonics. Otherwise pretty decent. Clapton slays him in "Last Waltz," though.
2) Unfortunately this is going to be clouded forever.
3) Got more pussy than Frank Sinatra.

Also, he's not a very good singer.

Keith C (lync0), Tuesday, 2 May 2006 18:04 (twelve years ago) Permalink

So he memorized Robertson's guitar playing and ran home and copied it?

no, of course not.

he transcribed robertson's guitar parts onto staff paper during the concert.

Lawrence the Looter (Lawrence the Looter), Tuesday, 2 May 2006 18:18 (twelve years ago) Permalink

1) Had a gift for fiery, economical solos. Oddly, he seemed to play his best on songs written by others ("Who Do You Love," "Don't Do It," "Mystery Train," basically every note he played with Dylan in 1965 and '66). The solos on his own songs were usually a bit too careful.

2) Didn't write a half-decent song after 1970 (well, maybe "Ophelia"), but when he was on there were few better.

3) Insufferable blowhard and glory-hound, but that doesn't make him a bad person. Although, remixing and overdubbing 'The Basement Tapes' *does* make him a bad person.

Dan Heilman (The Deacon), Tuesday, 2 May 2006 18:24 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Definitely agree that he's not a very good singer. Pretty sure he agrees too.

I don't agree that Clapton slays him, nor do I feel Robbie kicked his ass. Watching the difference in style between the two of them during "Further On Up The Road" in The Last Waltz is definitely one of my favourite performances of all time, and I fully appreciate how the very different styles of each came together in one song.

And you just have to love it when Clapton's strap came loose and Robbie picked up the solo! Classic...

shorty (shorty), Tuesday, 2 May 2006 18:28 (twelve years ago) Permalink

1) My favorite guitar player, and not because of his virtuous blues bar band work with The Hawks, or his raunchy playing with Dylan, but because of his work with the Band. He is such an amazing economical player, the right licks at always the right time. He had the skills to be masturbatory at every turn, but with the band he kept the guitar in its place and let the other instruments and voices fill in. My favorite gut wrenching solo is from "The Unfaithful Servant". So much restraint and power, yet still showing virtuosity.

2) He wrote about 3 full albums of an incredible songs. 1/2 of "Music From Big Pink, the whole "S/T", a few good songs per album here on out. Though i do think "Northern Lights, Southern Cross" is horribly underrated. It is easily the Band's third best recorded album, a return to form. It actually sounds like the band instead of the individual vocal efforts that started with "Stage Fright".

So in short, i would say he is a better song writer than guitar player. So many amazing, memorable and meaningful songs. Classics in the cannon of Americana "the weight", "the night they drove old dixie down", "Up On Cripple Creek" and more.

I am biased though, i care far more about song writing than virtuous musicianship.

There is so much talk about Robbie taking credit for songs he didn't write, but i think its largely untrue. i haven't read Levon's book (though i would love to), but i hear most of the controversy stems from comments he wrote in it. but if you listen to the difference between the first, more collaborative album, and the S/T album where Robbie wrote most of it, the difference is night and day. You can see Robbie's talent with song's like "the weight" on the first album vs his band mates' efforts. Not to mention that the 2nd album is such a cohesive work in terms of song writing. I truly believe that he wrote all the words and the basic song structures/chord progressions for most of the songs he is credited to have written.

The problem, i think, is the system of royalties with the mechanical royalties and song publishing royalties. so much of the band's appeal was the whole band, not just the song-writing; everyone's unique voices and musical talents coming together to create a unique sound. by the book, i think robbie was in the right in terms of the way songs were credited, but it was probably wrong in spirit to give himself sole credit given the way royalties are paid. i have never seen the publishing break downs song by song, does anyone know if this is published anywhere? at the time though no one knew where the band was headed. they were all rich with album sales and touring, no one could foresee the way they would breakup or the way the songs would linger in the hearts and minds of people for decades.

there is no doubt that the band members contributed in countless ways to every single recorded band song and they should have probably gotten some publishing credit in one way or another.


3) everything i have seen or read about the guy makes me sad, but i have never met him so i should withhold a value judgement. probably the most damaging thing i have read is in "chronicles vol. 1" when bobby is talking about how even Robbie did not understand him as a musician or song-writter. god, if there was ONE person who could at that period you would it think it would have been robbie....

lawrencerock, Wednesday, 3 May 2006 21:40 (twelve years ago) Permalink

What is your opinion about Robbie Robertson as a:

1)Guitar player
2)Song-writer
3)Person

You left out:
4) Singer

Edward Bax (EdBax), Wednesday, 3 May 2006 22:06 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Insert anecdote about his mic being off in The Last Waltz...

Edward Bax (EdBax), Wednesday, 3 May 2006 22:06 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Well put Lawrencerock.

shorty (shorty), Thursday, 4 May 2006 02:22 (twelve years ago) Permalink

1) i can hear a lot of his influence in andy cohen from silkworm's guitar soloing, and andy cohen's are some of my favs.

2) i know too little to distinguish between his or any other Band mates' songs, but i do know i prefer dylan's songs on the basement tapes, for what that's worth.

3) big time points for being half mohawk, but he did do tv ads for the GAP

ath (ath), Thursday, 4 May 2006 03:32 (twelve years ago) Permalink

4) singing

Next to Levon and Richard, anyone would look like a thin and un-emotive singer. i mean damn, their voices are so rich. even rick, i think, pales in comparison.

so robby may have had the fourth best voice in the group, i actually quite like the ONE song he sings on "Music From Big Pink", TO KINGDOM COME.

lawrencerock, Thursday, 4 May 2006 13:04 (twelve years ago) Permalink

1.) Best with Dylan
2. & 3.) After you read Levon's book it's hard to watch the last waltz and not want to kill the guy. And even without levon's book that riff where Robbie talks about how he has to hang it up because "the road takes all the great ones" or whatever shows him as an egotistical shitbag. But when I listen to the band, I believe Levon (the only one who didn't overdub the last waltz, apparently) so much more, as a songwriter and singer, that I'm sure I'm not giving Robbie a fair shake. That said, Levon's book all but points at Robbie as the reason for Manuel's suicide, which doesn't seem right.

But, until you see this video:

you haven't lived. O boy!

natecavalieri (phonetagged), Thursday, 4 May 2006 15:51 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Oops, the link didn't work:
http://theband.hiof.no/band_pictures/on_drums_drumming_tag.jpg
Gimme that, a bag o weed and some v-drums and I'll see you next columbus day.

natecavalieri (phonetagged), Thursday, 4 May 2006 15:53 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Hey Nate!

There is a disc floating about of one of Manuel's last gigs before taking his life. It's a tough, sad listen. Manuel ain't in good shape but at the same time, there are a few incredible performances. I forget the name of the disc though.

QuantumNoise (Justin Farrar), Thursday, 4 May 2006 15:59 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Levon is a bitter old cunt.

shookout (shookout), Thursday, 4 May 2006 15:59 (twelve years ago) Permalink

And once again the polemic arguments arise. I don't believe that Levon is a bitter old c*** anymore than I believe Robbie is the devil.

I know I'm just a sentimental, middle-aged fan, but it pains me to watch the part in The Last Waltz when Levon is doing the interview with Scorsese and Robbie's at the table.. Levon has a butt hanging out of his mouth and sparks up a match, talks a bunch, then lights Robbie's cigarette, talks some more, then finally lights his up, just before his fingers would start to burn. They still seem like buddies at that point, and I just wish it was still the same today.

I'm sure it would help if Robbie would see fit to part with some of his %100 take on the writing credits, but nevertheless.

shorty (shorty), Thursday, 4 May 2006 20:40 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Levon always seemed a bit removed from the band. He's not Canadian. He was the only holdover from the original Hawks, and he didn't like the kind of music Dylan was making during '66 so he didn't participate (or that's the reason I've read).

QuantumNoise (Justin Farrar), Thursday, 4 May 2006 20:49 (twelve years ago) Permalink

I'm sure that may have been part of the reason Quantum, but I've also read that Levon was just not into getting booed by Dylan's folk fan base.....

shorty (shorty), Thursday, 4 May 2006 20:54 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Shorty, that's right, too. I needed a little memory jab.

QuantumNoise (Justin Farrar), Thursday, 4 May 2006 20:58 (twelve years ago) Permalink

I just wanna say I think "Ophelia"'s a damn sight better than "half decent," as is "Acadian Driftwood" and for that matter "Right as Rain"

Thomas Tallis (Tommy), Thursday, 4 May 2006 21:13 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Gotta agree with you Thomas.. I love Ophelia, and Acadian Driftwood is a masterpiece in my opinion.

shorty (shorty), Thursday, 4 May 2006 21:20 (twelve years ago) Permalink

we should start a "Northern Lights, Southern Cross" appreciation thread!!

Levon and Robbie were the perfect singer meets songwriter match. can you imagine someone else trying to sing "the night they drove old dixie down"? it would sound like a bad middle school history report. levon actually sounds like a freakin' confederate soldier, i mean he was the only member of the band to hail from the US let alone the south.

it was a special bond. levon probably should have made more money, but i am guessing if he had managed his money a bit better he would be a wealthy man today regardless of the publishing.

lawrencerock, Thursday, 4 May 2006 21:56 (twelve years ago) Permalink

ten years pass...

has anyone read robbie's book?

new noise, Sunday, 15 January 2017 02:25 (one year ago) Permalink

I read the first few chapters which were actually pretty good.

Moog and Stan (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 15 January 2017 02:52 (one year ago) Permalink

I have. by far the biggest flaw is that it concludes after the Last Waltz. anyone who cares to know about him is familiar with his doings up to that point. The true points of interest are the past 40 fucken years…friendship with Scosese, acts in Carny, whatever constitutes music consulting for S's films, the end of his marriage with his quebecoise wife (who he praises in the book), the solo albums (the first one contains the song from which the book takes its name) that do not seem to have ever prompted reassessment, his response to the levon's accusations (he does this passive-aggressively in this book), being a Los angeles smoothie, not playing live but for a handful of times in 40 years, etc etc… as it is, he spins the same yarns he's always preferred to proffer.

veronica moser, Sunday, 15 January 2017 14:44 (one year ago) Permalink

one year passes...

the solo albums (the first one contains the song from which the book takes its name) that do not seem to have ever prompted reassessment,

and how!

morning wood truancy (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 13 February 2018 02:45 (seven months ago) Permalink

You did it again. Kudos

Psmith, Pharmacist (James Redd and the Blecchs), Tuesday, 13 February 2018 02:55 (seven months ago) Permalink

This is the rare example of an album I've only ever put on for every reason but the singer and songwriter.

Josh in Chicago, Tuesday, 13 February 2018 12:37 (seven months ago) Permalink

so why do you play it?

morning wood truancy (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 13 February 2018 12:57 (seven months ago) Permalink

I like the session dudes. For example, the song you picked is not a good song, but the drum part (by Manu Katche) is cool on its own merits.

Josh in Chicago, Tuesday, 13 February 2018 13:02 (seven months ago) Permalink

Two of the tracks have the weird proggy rhythm section of Tony Levin and Terry Bozzio (!)

Something I'm not sure of, but I think RR started working with Lanois *before* Joshua Tree or So came out, which is an interesting dynamic, especially since there was that trend jumping vibe to this record's release.

Josh in Chicago, Tuesday, 13 February 2018 13:05 (seven months ago) Permalink


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