Interview with Robbie Robertson, May 14, 2002
Questions by Jody Denberg
From KGSR FM - Radio Austin.
Copyright © 2002, 2003 Emmis Austin Radio Broadcasting Company, Lp. All Rights Reserved.
Q 107.1 KGSR.
South-by-Southwest in full swing. And you know it's begun when the keynote
speech has happened. And with me right now is, gosh, a man I could describe
in may different ways, the legendary leader of The Band, a man with a
renowned solo career, a person who's now working for Dreamworks Records
in a capacity that we'll find out about, a filmmaker and I guess a speechmaker
now. Robbie Robertson's here with us. Thank you for taking the time, Robbie,
to come by.
A Oh, thank you for inviting
Jody Denberg and Robbie Robertson, Austin, TX, May 2002
Q I didn't get to make it
to the keynote speech this morning, so what did you have to say to the
A Way too much. Yeah, I had
to divulge a few secrets. It was -- this is the first time that I'd been
to SXSW. And this keynote speaker business and I'm not really like a keynote
speaker guy. But there was some things that I thought it would just be
nice to share with the people there and to talk about, just because we're
all in the same boat in a certain way. And so I told some stories. You
know, about the journey, really. About the whole journey that music takes
you on and all of us have been taking on that journey, just different
avenues that we all went down. And so we talked a lot about that and just
about what's going on now and what's going on in the business these days
and everything. And I don't know, just trying to give it all a positive
Q Well, that's good, because
we can use some positivity in these days of uncertainty in - in the music
business alone. And speaking about the journey, you've been on the path
in many different ways. But what is your current position at Dreamworks
Records? What are you doing over there?
A I'm a music executive.
I'm a creative executive there. A few years ago, David Geffen and Mo Ostin,
who -- you know, David Geffen is one of the partners in the whole company.
Mo Austin is an old friend of mine. Mo Austin ran Warner Bros. Records
at its height, you know, and is one of the nicest and well-respected people,
ever, in the whole record industry. And David is, unquestionably, one
of the smartest ever in the whole record industry. And they both came
to me and said, "We're really trying to build a very, very special
company here. And we want it to be artist-oriented. We believe in nurturing
talent and building talent and regardless of what is happening out there
in the street these days, we just
we believe in that and we want
that to be felt out there. And we'd love for you to come and help us build
this company." Because it's the first full company that's like a
movie company and -- with animation and television and music, all of that.
It's the first one, you know, on the level of, you know, these companies
that have been around forever, probably in 60 years. And I love the independent
spirit of it, especially in these times when conglomerates and one company
eating up other companies and swallowing other companies and firing a
bunch of people. I really like the attitude of this place that they were
coming from. And then being old, dear friends of mine made it very comfortable.
And I always like new, interesting challenges to further the journey.
So anyway, I said, "Let's try this out." And they made it so
positive. They said, you know, you can do whatever you want. Just help
us do this in a really special way. So, you know, I thought, yeah, let
me check this out. And it's been fantastic.
Q Well, one thing, it has
been fantastic, but we haven't heard new music from you since you've taken
A I know. It's been a bit
of a distraction in that area. But you know, I've made quite a bit of
music over the years. And I'm probably going to make quite a bit more.
I'm in the process right now of just putting my thoughts together for
doing some new music. And you know, I just did some things. I put together
some things for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake
City. They had a whole segment of the show that they were paying tribute
to, you know, the Native American culture, the origins of this whole country.
And I thought that was really lovely that they wanted to do that. And
they said, "We're going to do something really, really special with
this. And we would like to use some of your music in this and we would
like you to perform some of it." So they did. They used a piece of
mine and that's when they did the whole Indian ceremonial thing out there
that they did. And then I performed a song and then I performed another
song, too, which was the finale of the whole Native American segment,
too. So that was a real honor to be involved with something like that.
Q Well, that's good. So
you haven't lost the thread of being involved in the music personally.
I know you're also involved in other people's careers at Dreamworks, but
you know, having you continue to make music, I think, is an important
thing. And I know one project that's also taking up a lot of your time
and one of the major reasons you're here in Austin for SXSW is the reissue
of "The Last Waltz", one of the greatest rock and roll concert films
ever, one of the great live albums of rock and roll. And Robbie Robertson
is here with us. Robbie Robertson of The Band fame.
And Robbie, I thought, let's just play the folks one of these songs that
you've dusted off. One of the things you've done with "The Last Waltz"
-- and we'll talk about it in depth in a moment, but you re-mixed the
I went back to the original masters and all the music that was originally
in this, mixed it all over again from scratch. Just because with today's
technology and everything, you can bring people closer into what was actually
happening there and into the music. So we mixed this -- the original record,
plus 24 bonus tracks on this. It is now a four-CD box set that has 54
tracks on it. And there was a lot of things in there that I'd never heard
before. So this was like really wonderful to have the opportunity to do
this and to do it really right. It sounds -- it just sounds extraordinary
now. I'm so happy with that. And we also did the same thing with the movie
and for the DVD that's going to be coming out as well.
(song: Up On Cripple Creek )
Q 107.1, KGSR. Up on
Cripple Creek, that version on the soon-to-be-released, four-CD box
set edition of "The Last Waltz". And the leader of The Band and so
much more, Robbie Robertson is here with us this afternoon, after giving
the keynote speech this morning. You are actually screening this newly,
re-mastered edition of the film, "The Last Waltz". That screening
is tomorrow night?
A Yeah, it's tomorrow night
at the Paramount at 7:30. And I have to tell you, I'm very excited about
this because the premier of it is going to be at the Ziegfield Theater
on April the 10th. So this is like a sneak of it. This is the first time
I have seen the movie in the new, restored version of it, with complete
Surround Sound. This is the very first time, so it's pretty great that
its here in Austin and during SXSW.
Q When you made "The
Last Waltz", you worked with a gentleman named Martin Scorsese.
What was it about his work, up to that point, that wanted you to work
with him on this project?
A I could tell that he had
a very special knack for music. He had worked on the Woodstock film.
The way that he used music in his films, to me, it was above and beyond
what I could see other filmmakers were doing. And I was somewhat sensitive
to that, too, of just how music was used in films. I was always fascinated
by that. And so when it came time to figure out who would be "the
man" that could figure out how to get this on film and capture this
whole thing, he was my first choice, and actually, my only choice. And
I was really happy that he did it. And obviously, he's made, you know,
what's been called, even after all these years, the greatest rock movie
ever made. So that's pretty great.
Q Was it Thanksgiving 1976;
is that --
A Yeah, that's when the concert
part of it was shot. And then we did things on the soundstage and the
interviews, stories of the road, you know, we did that sometime in '77.
And he was making a movie -- another movie, when he did "The Last
Waltz". So he had to finish that. And that's why it didn't actually
come out until the beginning of '78.
Q So somewhere in there,
it's sort of the 25th anniversary between '76 and '78.
A Exactly, it is.
Q The new version of "The
Last Waltz", you said that you took the musical part and pretty
much re-mixed it from scratch. The original version was a two-CD set.
This is four CDs. And there's all sorts of music on here. I mean, on the
original set, I think we got a song from Neil Young, a song from Van Morrison.
But I'm looking on here. And I wasn't aware Neil did a couple of songs,
Joni did three.
A Bob Dylan did more.
Q Was there just one show,
was it two shows?
A One show.
Q So where -- all this stuff
had existed, but wasn't used the first time around?
A Right. Well, for a few
reasons. Back then, when it originally came out, when it came out on vinyl,
it was a three-vinyl disc set. And that, at the time, was considered very
lengthy. And people were like, oh, my God, three records. And so there
was all this other music that was part of the experience that we just
couldn't share with the people back then. And for the movie -- obviously,
a movie is a movie and you cut a movie according to what feels right and
what's, you know, good for the audience and good for the film. So there
was so much of it that wasn't until now. We weren't able to even share
this with people. So, you know, I'm really happy about people being able
to be closer to the actual experience.
Q Yeah, because there's
two songs by Muddy Waters on here, Bobby Charles is now included. Just
amazing. I'm looking at an advance copy of this four-CD box set of The
Last Waltz, which comes out April 16th.
You have to kind of take it back to square one for the CD version. What
about for the movie itself? Is it essentially the movie as it originally
was, just with improved sound or is there extra material in it as well?
A Well, the movie has been
-- the print of it, what they can do now with prints. So it's been restored
or whatever they do. And it makes it just look that much more beautiful.
But the difference, when I was working on mixing this and I could hear
the original sound of the movie and then they would switch to what it
is now and it's just night and day. The experience is so much more, like
actually being there. And this concert -- "The Last Waltz" experience, it
was one of those once-in-a-lifetime things. All those people have never
-- you know, it's been 25 years. There's been nothing like this ever since
I read Bill Graham's book,
which, I guess, came out shortly after his death. He was working on it.
And he tells the story that it was difficult to get Mr. Dylan to agree
to be filmed and it went kind of back and forth. Do you remember what
was going on with that situation?
A Yeah, I remember some of
what was going on with that. Bob was making a movie himself at that time
called "Renaldo and Clara." And he was really concerned,
like, what am I doing here? It's like I'm shooting myself in the foot.
I'm trying to make this movie and have people come and see that and I'm
doing this thing in this other movie, which has a chance of overshadowing
that. So just on a level of him trying to figure out whether it was just
a foolish mistake for him to do that, that's what we were dealing with
that. But what we said was, "Well, go ahead and finish your movie,
release it and we'll just wait." And we did.
Q And thankfully, you rolled
the cameras while he was up there.
Q I mean, just from a rock
and roll standpoint, has Bob Dylan ever looked cooler than when he came
out with those ringlets and that hat on and that jacket when he came on
for The Last Waltz? I mean, that was the - that was the deal.
A Yeah, I know. It was almost
like a religious experience, just the way that he happened to look in
the movie and the way that he performed.
Q We're talking with Robbie
Robertson about the re-issue of The Last Waltz, both the music
and the film, which will be coming out on DVD May 7th. The limited theatrical
run of the film begins April 5th. But tomorrow night, you have the screening
at the Paramount. So do you -- as today, where you kind of winged it being
the keynote speaker, are you going to come out before the film and say
a few words?
A I'm going to introduce
the film, yeah. I'll say something, just to let the audience know, you
know, what's going on there.
Q You could write a book,
A I know that.
Q Some have been written,
as you know.
A Some of it we don't want
Q Well, we heard a moment
ago from The Last Waltz, Up on Cripple Creek. That was Levon Helm
Q And now we're going to
hear The Shape I'm In. And this is Rick --
A This is Richard Manuel.
Q Richard Manuel. The late
Richard Manuel on vocals. And then we'll come back and talk to the much-alive
and thriving Robbie Robertson on 107.1, KGSR. From The Last Waltz,
Richard Manuel on the vocals, The Shape I'm In.
( song: The Shape I'm In )
Q 107.1, KGSR. The late
Richard Manuel on vocals. The band from The Last Waltz, The
Shape I'm In. "The Last Waltz" is being screened
tomorrow night at the Paramount Theater. And Robbie Robertson, who was
so central to this, I mean, do you have the title of director with Martin
on this or is he --
A No, I produced it.
Q Okay. And Robbie is here
with us and gave the keynote speech this morning and re-mixed and re-mastered
and added all this extra music to the box set. And the film is going to
be in the theaters. That's going to be fun. You were talking about, I
guess you said, the Ziegfield. Seeing it up there on the big screen --
A Yeah. The Ziegfield is
one of the great old movie palaces. In San Francisco, they're showing
it at the Castro, which is, in the whole country, one of the greatest
movie palaces there is, too. So it's going to major cities all over the
country. That's really nice. And the record comes out, you know, the middle
of April. And then the beginning of May, I think May the 7th, the DVD
is released. And there's some extra footage on that from "The
Last Waltz" that nobody's ever seen before. Scorsese and I, we
do commentary on the thing and try to tell people some of the stuff that
was going on behind the scenes that nobody knows about.
Q The Last Waltz,
Thanksgiving 1976. This was your farewell. This was your farewell to the
road, farewell to "The Band." A band that had played with Bob
Dylan, most of the members. A band that has one of the greatest catalogues
in rock and roll history, which you just revitalized. I want to get to
that. Let's talk about that for a second. All The Band's records, the
original records, were re-released over the -- I guess about a year ago.
Bonus tracks. Were you involved in that process?
A Yeah. They got all the
original tapes, went back and very carefully re-mastered it and found
a bunch of lost tapes that had been missing for years and years. And I
thought they were going - you know, I had no hope of ever discovering
these again. And these people at Capitol Records, bless their heart, they
went out there and they found all these things. So I was involved in just
helping them make the choices of what to use on this and in the re-mastering.
And they did an excellent job in that.
And what I was getting to beforehand was, The Last Waltz was your
farewell. It was saying good-bye to the road and The Band. But then in
the early '80s, the other members of the band decided that they wanted
to get back out there. And in talking to them, they were saying, well,
it was Robbie who really wanted to end it all. You know, we've reconsidered
and we kind of want to go back out there. How did you feel about that?
A Oh, I felt fine with it.
You know, I didn't want to stand in the way of them just playing music
and the creative process or earning a living, any of that. So you know,
they did that with my blessing. I just didn't want to do it anymore.
Q And you really haven't.
Your solo records, you didn't really tour behind in any conventional --
A I don't -- The Last
Waltz, you know, I said, "I'm not going to do this anymore."
And I didn't want to just -- I didn't want to lie. So I haven't.
Q So when we see you like
that rare time you were on Saturday Night Live around the time of the
Storyville record or if we see you on stage with the Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame, it's a pretty rare occurrence?
A Yeah, I don't come out
there too often.
Q Sadly, over the years,
Rick Danko from The Band, Richard Manuel, they've both passed. And your
relationship with Levon has seemed contentious, at least from what we
read in the press. The Band is one of the greatest experiences of rock
and roll. How do you keep it positive in your heart with all the bitter-sweetness
A Well, you know, it's tremendously
saddening and tragic, you know, to lose Richard and Rick, for sure. And
as far as Levon or Garth, you know, these are -- you know, we grew up
together. These are my brothers. And I love them dearly. I don't have
any of these problems, you know. I think the world of them. I just don't
want to necessarily work together, you know, like we were. And I've worked
with Garth over the years, you know, on solo projects I was doing, film
things. The same thing with Rick and with Richard. So on my part, there's
no bitterness. There's no nothing. You know, it's all fine with me.
Q It is so great to hear
this music anew, because I told you when I listened to The Last Waltz,
I was thinking, are these the same versions of these song, because of
the way you've re-mixed it, I'm hearing things that I've never heard before.
A That was the idea. That
was the idea, to just bring you that much closer to the music. And you
know, what we can do now in the technology is just -- you can. You can
listen to this and hear things that were just never audible before. And
this was one of these things, too, that I really felt like, this has to
be done absolutely the best it can, once and for all. For the movie, for
the record, for the DVD, for all of that. You know, it is a very special
piece of music history. And I just wanted to be so respectful of that
and get it right.
Well, it is definitive. And I want to remind everyone, April 5th -- do
you know some of the cities on April 5th when the limited theatrical run
A I think that the cities
are like -- it opens in San Francisco on, I think, the 5th. But the New
York premier is on the April the 10th. And then it opens in Los Angeles
on the 12th. And I believe also in Boston and Chicago and Philly and San
Diego and Seattle and DC.
Q And Austin gets theirs
A Yes, sir.
Q Any other plans for you?
SXSW is going on. You got that keynote speech out of the way. You have
the premier tomorrow night. But do you have any other SXSW plans?
A I have a lot of other SXSW
plans. Well, tonight, there's a secret show tonight of a Dreamworks group
that -- you know, that I signed, called East Mountain South. They're playing
at the Clay Pit tonight at 1:00. Then they're doing an ASCAP showcase
on Saturday at 5:00. This group, this music just gives you chills. It
is Americana. And seeing what happened with Oh Brother, Where Art Thou,
with the Grammys and everything, you think, that's really good that something
like this could be acknowledged in the climate of the way music is these
days. Very special to see that happen. This is not Bluegrass music. But
it is of that kind of soul of Americana that is so special. And I'm really
proud to be a part of this. So they're playing tonight and on Saturday.
I'm really looking forward to that.
Q And are you doing any
kind of panels or any of that stuff or you're pretty much --
A I'm doing a panel tomorrow
with Ben Fong-Torres, the renowned Rolling Stone writer from years ago.
He's also portrayed in "Almost Famous", which is a true
thing. So I'm doing a panel tomorrow with him on "The Last Waltz".
And I'm doing a lot of other press things while I'm here, because this
is literally, the launching of this whole Last Waltz experience. And for
the idea that a lot of younger people that have never experienced that
can - to now be able to share that with them is pretty great.
Q Well, I must thank you,
not only for being here today, but I don't know what it's like for you
to know that in our hearts and consciousness the music and the words that
you put together with The Band and after that, you know, it's just --
it's part of our everyday being for a lot of us. It's part of who we are
and how we see the world.
A Oh, that's lovely. I appreciate
Q Thanks, Robbie. Thanks
for coming by.
A Thank you.
Q And we're going to leave
everyone with one of your best, the song called It Makes No Difference.
Q And I'd be remiss if I
didn't ask you where that line came about about the stampeding cattle
that rattle the wall. Where did that come from?
just an imagination run amuck. I don't know.
Q Let's run with it. We
heard Levon sing, we heard Mr. Manuel sing. And this is a Rick Danko vocal,
Q Robbie Robertson, thank
A Thank you.
Q The band, 107.1, KGSR,
from The Last Waltz. See the screening tomorrow night at the Paramount
(song: It Makes No Difference )
(End of interview.)
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