Robbie Robertson is a Canadian musician known for his work with the music group ‘The Band’. He is also a songwriter, film composer, producer, actor, and author. He started his professional music career at a very early age. He worked with Bob Dylan during his initial years and it was during this time that he formed ‘The Band’ with some of his fellow musicians. Their debut studio album was ‘Music From Big Pink’ which was a success. Other albums released by the band include ‘Cahoots’, ‘Moondog Mantinee’ and ‘Island’. During his work with the band, Robertson wrote several songs, such as ‘The Weight’, ‘Up on Cripple Creek’, and ‘Broken Arrow’. After the band broke up, Robertson began his solo career. He has worked on the soundtracks of many films, some of them being ‘The Last Waltz’, ‘Carny’ and ‘The King of Comedy’. He is known for his frequent collaborations with renowned director Martin Scorsese. The recipient of several honors, he was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and Canada’s Walk of Fame, and has also been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Songwriters.
Childhood & Early Life
Robbie Robertson was born as Jaime Royal Robertson on 5 July 1943. He was the only child of Rose Marie Chrysler and Alexander David Klegerman. His father was killed in an accident when he was an infant. His mother then married her co-worker James Patrick Robertson, who adopted him as his son.
Robertson learnt guitar at an early age from his family members. He listened to rock ‘n’ roll and R&B music on the radio. In around 1957, he began playing in bands with his friend Pete Traynor. The first band he formed was called Robbie and the Rhythm Chords. It later became Robbie and the Robots.
At the age of sixteen, he dropped out of school in order to pursue a career in music. After playing for some local groups, he went to work for the well-known artist Ronnie Hawkins as a part of his backup band The Hawks. Hawkins also recorded two tracks by Robertson named ‘Hey Boba Lou’ and ‘Someone Like You’.
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Robbie Robertson and his Hawks band mates also toured with Bob Dylan; however it was met with negative reactions. The musical group ‘The Band’ was eventually formed in 1968 with Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson as the members.
Their first album was ‘Music from Big Pink’. The album was praised by critics. It was eventually ranked at No.32 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Robertson sang on one of the album’s tracks ‘To Kingdom Come’.
The band found more commercial success with their next self-titled album. Many of the songs were written by Robertson and his work was quite appreciated. The band’s popularity grew with the release of albums, such as ‘Stage Fright’, released in 1970, and ‘Cahoots’, released in 1971. They also collaborated with Bob Dylan on two live albums named ‘Planet Waves’ (1974) and ‘The Basement Tapes’ (1975). The band continued to release several more albums such as ‘Moondog Malinee’ (1973) and ‘Islands’ (1977).
In 1976, a concert was held by ‘The Band’ which included famous guests such as Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, and Ronnie Wood. It was filmed by the well-known director Martin Scorsese who made it into a documentary. It was praised by the critics as well.
Shortly before Robertson split up with the band, he became a producer for Neil Diamon’s album ‘Beautiful Noise’, which was released in 1976. He also tried a career in acting. His first role was in the drama film ‘Carny’. He was also the producer, a co-writer and composer. Over the next few years, he worked as a composer for several films such as ‘Raging Bull’ (1980), ‘The King of Comedy’ (1983) and ‘Jimmy Hollywood’ (1994).
Meanwhile, he also began his solo career in music with a self-titled album in 1987. The album did well commercially, and it stood at the 38th position on the US Billboard 200. Robertson won the Juno Award for ‘Album of the Year’ and another Juno Award, shared with Daniel Lanois, for ‘Producer of the Year’. His second album ‘Storyville’ was released in 1991, and his third album ‘Music for the Native Americans’ was released in 1994.
He worked as a music composer, music consultant, and music producer in several films over the next few years. These films include ‘Forces of Nature’ (1999), ‘Gangs of New York’ (2002), ‘The Departed’ (2006), ‘Shutter Island’ (2010) and ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ (2013). He also released a recording ‘How to Become Clairvoyant’ in 2011.
‘Robbie Robertson’ (1987), Robertson’s self-titled album is one of the most important and successful works of his career. The album stood at the 38th position on the US Billboard 200 and also charted in Norway and New Zealand. The album earned critical acclaim, with some even calling it one of the best ten albums of the year.
Robertson served as the music producer in the 2006 Oscar winning crime drama film ‘The Departed’. Directed by Martin Scorsese, the story was about an undercover gangster working for the police, and an undercover cop working as a gangster, who try to unravel each other’s true identities before their own covers are blown. The film was a commercial success, and won four Oscars, including the Best Picture and the Best Director.
Awards & Achievements
Robertson’s group ‘The Band’ has been inducted into the Canadian Juno Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was also inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2014.
Robertson has been inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. He also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Songwriters.
In 2011, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada by Governor General David Johnson.
Robbie Robertson married a Canadian journalist named Dominique Bourgeois in 1967. The couple has two daughters named Alexandra and Delphine, and a son named Sebastian. The couple divorced later.