Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Robbie Robertson turns 79 today. His work with the Band helped create the Americana genre and he was key to Bob Dylan going electric in the mid 60s. Robertson was called by Dylan and asked to join as guitarist in his backing band. Robertson refused but agreed to play two shows and included Levon Helm on drums. Although the two shows were not well received, Dylan hired Levon Helm and his band the Hawks, which included Robertson for his next tour.
Fans were hostile to Dylans’ efforts, feeling betrayed by his electrification, but the group persisted. Eventually Dylan and the Hawks spent months playing together in the basement of a house in Woodstock, New York. Eventually an album came called The Basement Tapes, but not before bootleg copies circulated widely, jump starting the bootleg record business.
Robertsons work with the Band at the same time includes composition of four of the bands most famous songs, including The Weight and Chest Fever. Robertson launched his solo career in 1987 drawing on many famous musicians to join on the record.
Robbie Robertson grew up in Toronto and often traveled to the Six Nations Reserve where his mother was from. It was there that family members mentored him on the guitar. As a teen Robertson spent summers working for a carnival and a freak show, experiences he later drew on for his role in the movie Carney. After playing in his own band, Robertson started following rockabilly musician Ronnie Hawkins, who eventually hired him for his road crew.
Eventually Robertson found his way into Hawkins’ backing band the Hawks, where he developed a close friendship with Levon Helm.
Robbie Robertsons’ career has included record production, music for movies and acting. He has worked with Martin Scorsese and many projects, including The Irishman in 2019