RIP, Robbie Robertson

He’s passed away at the age of 80.

Unlike I think most people who connected with his music, I was never into The Band, either as Bob Dylan’s backing musicians or on their own. I connected with Robertson with his 1987 solo album, and even then it was less about him than it was about Daniel Lanois, who produced the album, and whose music with Peter Gabriel and U2 had impressed me enough that I was willing to take a flyer on a (to me) previously unheard musician. I was not displeased by the choice; the album, Robbie Robertson, was pretty great, with two songs in particular, “Fallen Angel” and “Broken Arrow,” high on my rotation of personal favorites.

It’s interesting to sort of back into someone’s musical career like that; the idea that Robertson was already something of a legend in musical circles even before I came across him and then to simultaneously work backwards and forwards in his discography was an interesting experience. I’m glad I got the chance, and got to learn more about him and music.

— JS

15 Comments on “RIP, Robbie Robertson”

  1. I first really came to idolize Robertson for his mentorship of a Santa Cruz, CA band called The Call, especially to Michael Been, their lead singer, and especially on their 1986 record, Reconciled. That album also featured guest appearances by keyboardist Garth Hudson (also of The Band,) Jim Kerr from Simple Minds, and Peter Gabriel. That first single from that album, “I still believe (great design)” still sounds as fresh to me as ever

  2. With you 100% on his debut solo work. Every song on it is perfect. I really liked the way he embraced his Native American roots on his ’94 and ’98 releases as well, but IMO he never equalled that first work.

  3. Like you, I heard one of his singles–or maybe saw it MTV–back in the 80s, loved it, and then did a little research. Now I love The Band. What a collection of creative geniuses.

  4. I grew up in the ’60s, so was very familiar with The Band. One of my favorites by Robertson is this delve into one of the darker sides of Canadian history.

  5. Robbie Robertson is one of my absolute favorite musicians. I am only a mild fan of The Band but I love all of Robbie’s work after then. His ‘Music for The Native Americans’ and ‘Contact from the Underworld of Redboy’ sustained me during a time of deep grief.
    So shocking and painful to find out about his death today. R.I.P.

  6. I knew of Robertson, but was not really a fan of The Band. It was that same album, which I won from somewhere, that really introduced me to him.

    Listening to CBC’s As It Happens tonight, I wondered why they’d be talking to Blue Rodeo’s Greg Kielor about him–why not Ronnie Hawkins? Only to realize I’d missed Ronnie’s passing last year. Ronnie (an American) pretty much created Canadian Rock and Roll, and Robbie was his greatest discovery.

  7. Fallen angel was my introduction to him, a random song on the radio in Geneva in the mid 90s and I didn’t know who it was until years later when another song was used on the CSI soundtrack and I was able to make the connection.
    He is one of the artists that I am always pleasantly surprised people know of, but so much of his work is present elsewhere

  8. I was a fan of The Band but, Robbie’s solo music touched me greatly. A couple of the songs from his debut album were used effectively in the movie, Powwow Highway (adapted from the book by David Seals). He even had a fledgling acting career starring with Jodie Foster and Gary Busey in the 1980 film, Carny. As I enter into life’s third act the cultural figures who guided me into adulthood are passing away, making way for a new generation. RIP Robbie Robertson.

  9. My first introduction to Robbbie Robertson was “Showdown at Big Sky” which hit me like a lightning bolt & made me an instant fan; I didn’t find “The Band” until later. But up there with my favourites is the “Music for The Native American”, for the documentary series. That album I still listen to regularly.

    If you haven’t already encountered it, the 50th anniversary version of “The Weight” with Robbie Robertson, Ringo Starr & various musicians from around the world is magical.

  10. I had their eponymous album with the now problematic Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. It got a lot of play on my turntable. I was also a huge fan of the Basement Tapes album. Fast-forward 40 years and I watched the “Once Were Brothers” documentary with great interest and Wheels On Fire is one of my bands’ few covers.

    I’ll look forward to checking out that solo album.

  11. Showdown at Big Sky and Ghost Dance both produce a lump in my throat every time I listen. I ugly cried the first time I heard Ghost Dance on KCRW (Santa Monica College NPR station with some of the best music shows on the radio–it is still worth streaming) while I was at work.

  12. Like you and Soon Lee, I discovered Robertson through this album and “Showdown at Big Sky”. Then I went back and discovered the Band, but Robertson always spoke to me.

    Nortally, “The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down” was written by Robertson (a Canadian of Mohawk and Jewish descent) as a gift for his friend Levon Helm, the Band’s lead singer/drummer, who was a Southern Boy.. At the time, I doubt if the problems with the song would have occurred to him.

  13. Same here (and I’m roughly the same age): got the disc with absolutely no context of Dylan (who I still don’t really like) or The Band.

    It’s still a sense memory: driving south on Route 235 in humid southern Maryland at night with the windows down and the tires humming on the wet asphalt and she said “Hang the rich.”

  14. The day my son was born, my husband, his father, brought me a copy of the then brand new “Contact from the Underworld of Redboy”. Robbie’s was the first music my son ever heard.

    Like Soon Lee (hi Soon!) it was Showdown at Big Sky that grabbed me.

    That debut album was a hell of a thing. The first time I listened to it all the way through it felt like I was being told “Wait. Listen. This is important.” And it was.

    Robbie helped me figure out who I am, and put me on the path to becoming that person. I miss him desperately.

  15. Long time reader, first time poster.

    Also a fan who started with Robbie’s solo work. I was a college radio DJ in the 80s in a very small Pa college and town. “Somewhere down the Crazy River” was like a message from an alternate universe.

    Also, a big plug for the “Storyville” album. That was a huge influence, and perhaps the first inkling for me that places like New Orleans were real and not just labels on maps.

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