by Jason Ankeny
Copyright © Jason Ankeny, All-Music Guide. All Rights Reserved.
One of the premier songwriters of the rock era, Robbie Robertson was born July 5, 1943
in Toronto, Ontario. The son of a Jewish father and Mohawk mother, Jaime Robbie Robertson's first brush
with live music came at the Six Nations Reservation, his mother's girlhood home; at the age of five, he also
gained exposure to the country music of rural America. Not long after, he began taking guitar lessons from a
cousin, and gradually began composing his first songs. As time wore on, his musical interests evolved from
country to big band to rock, and he eventually dropped out of school to pursue a career as a performer. In
1958, he hooked up with rockabilly star
Ronnie Hawkins' backing band the Hawks, joining fellow sidemen
Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and
After remaining with Hawkins through 1963, the Hawks began working on their own; they soon came to the
attention of Bob Dylan, and became the support unit on the singer's now-legendary 1965-1966 world tour.
Continuing their affiliation with Dylan, the group, renamed simply the Band, went on to become one of rock's
seminal acts; propelled by Robertson's acute, evocative examinations of American mythology and lore, they
made a series of seminal LPs, including 1968's
Music From Big Pink and the following year's
masterpiece. The Band dissolved on Thanksgiving Day, 1976 following an all-star concert filmed by director
Martin Scorsese and later released as The Last Waltz. The project marked the beginning of Robertson's long
affiliation with Scorsese, as well as an interest in dramatic acting; in 1980, Robertson produced and starred in
Carny, co-starring Jodie Foster and Gary Busey.
Also in 1980, he composed the score to Scorsese's brilliant
and continued to confine his musical
activity to the film medium for the next several years, later working with Scorsese on the acerbic 1983 satire
King of Comedy
The Color Of Money,
the sequel to The Hustler.
Finally, in 1987 Robertson
self-titled solo debut, which included guest appearances from onetime Band mates Danko and
Hudson as well as U2, Peter Gabriel, Daniel Lanois and Gil Evans.
a conceptual piece steeped in the
sounds and imagery of a famed area of New Orleans, followed in 1990. In 1994, Robertson returned to his
roots, teaming with the Native American group the Red Road Ensemble for
Music for The Native Americans, a
collection of songs composed for a television documentary series.
Contact From the Underworld of Redboy followed in 1998.
--Jason Ankeny, All-Music Guide