Hollywood Records' Ladder 49 Soundtrack Features New Music by Robbie Robertson
Business Wire, Burbank, Calif., Aug. 12, 2004
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer's "Shine Your Light" is the First Song He's Ever Written and Recorded Specifically for a Film; Album in Stores September 28
As the leader of seminal rock group The Band, he wrote "The Weight," which was prominently featured in the 1969 Peter Fonda/Dennis Hopper classic, "Easy Rider." In 1980, Martin Scorsese hired him to be the music producer for Academy Award nominee "Raging Bull." Two decades later, he teamed with Scorsese again, serving as executive music producer for 2002's Oscar-nominated film "Gangs of New York." Over the course of the past 35 years, songwriting legend and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Robbie Robertson has produced music for several films, including "King of Comedy," "Casino" and "Phenomenon" and contributed songs to a dozen more, among them "The Big Chill," "The Color of Money" and "Any Given Sunday." Remarkably, for all his acclaimed cinematic and recording credits, Robertson has never written and recorded a song specifically for a film -- until now.
For new movie "Ladder 49," about a group of Baltimore firefighters, Robertson penned "Shine Your Light," as a tribute and in celebration of these everyday heroes. It's a stunning track that recalls the enduring material of "Music From Big Pink" and "The Band," both landmark albums from the songwriter's former group. Part anthem and part gospel hymn, "Shine Your Light" plays in its entirety over the film's dramatic culminating scene; it's the only sound that's heard. Robertson also composed an orchestral adagio for the final credits. The soundtrack will be released September 28 on Hollywood Records. The Touchstone Pictures/Beacon Pictures film, which was directed by Jay Russell ("Tuck Everlasting," "My Dog Skip") and stars John Travolta and Joaquin Phoenix, opens nationwide on October 1.
Determined to enlist "one of the great songwriters" to pen an original song for the crucial scene, Russell (a huge fan of The Band) came up with a list of what he calls "dream choices," and Robertson's name was at the very top. "When it comes to themes of life, death and Americana," Russell asserts, "you can count the songwriters who can capture that on one hand, Bob Dylan being one and Robbie Robertson being another. So we only went to one person on the list, and that was Robbie."
Robertson agreed to view a rough cut of the film, but he was skeptical going in. "Initially I went into this thinking, `This is probably something I'm not going to want to do,'" he recalls. "I do it with Marty (Scorsese) because it's always an interesting challenge and he's a dear friend. But these other things that come along, most of the time I'm not really that interested."
Robertson's attitude changed after he saw "Ladder 49." "This movie just had the right taste factor to me," he says. "It takes you into a different world -- into the firefighters' club. I didn't know anything about this club. I didn't know how these things work with these people. This movie is paying tribute, and paying such beautiful respect, to these guys who go out every day and risk their lives for the rest of us, in some of the most horrendous situations imaginable. It made it feel like this is an important statement, and not in any kind of pretentious way at all."
Inspired by the experience of seeing "Ladder 49," Robertson soon came up with an idea for the song. Once he had it roughed out, he invited Russell over to his studio and played it for the director on the piano. Afterward, Russell recalls, "I just sat there thinking, 'I'm very moved by this song; I think it's beautifully poetic,' and it was exactly what I was looking for. And secondly I'm thinking, 'Robbie Robertson just wrote a song for me!' It was a unique experience for me, both as a filmmaker and as a person, a very special moment."
Russell has reason to feel honored, because Robertson has never previously written a song expressly for a film. Until now, the only freshly penned Robertson song to be so employed was "Between Trains," which appeared on the soundtrack of Scorsese's "The King of Comedy," but it wasn't written for the movie.
Robertson recorded "Shine Your Light" with a hand-picked crew: Abe Laboriel Jr. (who drums for Paul McCartney), orchestrator David Campbell (who composed the string arrangements for "Sea Change" by his son, Beck) and multi-instrumentalist John Shanks (Sheryl Crow, Michelle Branch), who would co-produce as well as playing bass, dulcimer and guitar. Campbell also orchestrated the end title theme, which Robertson titled "Reflection/Adagio." Robertson handled the lead vocals, piano and other keyboards and lead guitar. Chris Lord Alge mixed both pieces.
In order to complete the project, Robertson had to clear a slot in a busy schedule that finds him developing a nontraditional Broadway musical focused on Native American music and dance, putting together a definitive box set on the Band and overseeing the assembly of a much-belated soundtrack album for the Scorsese classic "Raging Bull." "I have many other things on my plate right now," Robertson acknowledges. "But when these things come along you make time, because they call out to you." "Ladder 49," starring Joaquin Phoenix, John Travolta, Morris Chestnut, Robert Patrick, Balthazar Getty, Jay Hernandez, Jacinda Barrett & Billy Burke is an exciting, powerful film that celebrates the ordinary men who put everything on the line every day. Directed by Jay Russell, the film's story was written by Lewis Colick and produced by Casey Silver, the executive producers are Armyan Bernstein and Marty Ewing.