ROBBIE ROBERTSON (By Phil Davies)
Born Jaime Robbie Robertson, 5 July 1944, Toronto, Canada Robbie's work with The Band in the late 60s/early 70s has earned him a stellar reputation in the Rock world as a singer,songwriter and guitarist, but for the more musically educated, his early work as a Hawk (in Ronnie Hawkins seminal group) is of equal importance.We will therefore concentrate this biog on the rompin' rockin' roadhouse days. His dad was a Jewish gambler with mob connections, and his mother a Mohawk native, who had been raised on the 6 nations Reservation near Hagersville, north of Lake Erie.His father was killed in a mob shooting (an uncle did time for a major jewel theft) and his mother re-married and the young Robbie lived in Cabbagetown in Toronto, which was as glamarous as it sounds! He spent summer on the Reservation with his mam's family. He was introduced to the guitar at 7, and apart from one lesson was self taught. He recalls being around 14 when rock n roll changed his life.He loved listening to DJs like George Lorenz in Buffalo. R&B greats like Bo Diddley and Little Willie John, rockers like Eddie Cochran and fellow Indian guitarist Link Wray, were particular favs. He played in cool sounding local combos like Thumper & the Trombones and Lil Caesar & the Consuls. He started hanging out on the fringes of Toronto's hottest group(probably the hottest group anywhere in late 58/59), the Hawks, always anxious to impress big boss man Ronnie Hawkins. Two songs written by our teenage rage were featured on the legendary second Roulette album Mr Dynamo, check out Hey Boba Lou and Someone Like You. Much cooler than a certain young Mr Zimmerman briefly (allegedly) being Bobby Vee's pianist!!!! By 1961, Robbie had the nerve wracking job of filling the Hawks guitar slinger's role, following the fingerprints of Jimmy Ray Paulman, Fred Carter Jnr as road/studio Hawks and even Hank Garland and Grady Martin as album/studio Hawks!! Following on from a rather bland Nashville overproduced and predictable Hank Williams tribute album, the Hawk got back to rocking in a NY studio with Levon Helm, Rick Danko and our lil Robbie on September 13th -18th 1961. Check out the very highly recommended (nay essential) Sequel Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks 2cd set for goodies like Sexy Ways, Come Love, Susie Q, Matchbox and I Feel Good. The 2cd has the two songs with Levon on vocals, Further On Up The Road and 19 Years Old. Feb 1962 saw Arkansas and Mojo Man laid down and was there a better 1963 session anywhere than the January 63 NY session where the most blistering indeed scorchingest Diddley covers of all time were laid down for immortality. The bass player was Roy Buchanan. Any Shake r worth his salt must have Bo Diddley/Who Do You Love locked in the vinyl/shiny vault. American teens were too wrapped up in Motown and Mersybeat to notice and this stunning 45 pegged out at 117 in Billboard. Fast forward to 1976 and the Band's Scorcese produced Last Waltz movie, where the cuddly and bearded Ronnie H. fans Robbie's Who Do You Love guitar solo with his stetson. Brilliant. 63 saw one more rompin r&b session, Bossman, High Blood Pressure and There's A Screw Loose, then it was El and Pris time, Seperate Ways for Mr Dyamo and his disciples. Robbie and Levon were apparently unhappy with the wages. Ronnie trained up several new versions of the hawks over the decades and happily is still rompin in Canada to this day.The Hawks later met Mr ZImmerman, evolved into The Band (originally called The Crackers!!), cut some cool stuff (to my 60s tuned ears) both with Dylan and especially on their own. Their oldies album Moondog Matinee is a personal fav, with a song list reminiscent fo their days as youngblood Hawks, but perfomed in their later laid back style, they became one of the most highly rated and influential groups of the late 60s and 70s. Robbie went on to score movies and produce introspective solo albums after The Band split, he even dabbled in acting. Bet he still remembers Ronnie telling him " You won't earn much, but you'll get more pussy than Frank Sinatra!" Ah'll get me coat. ps Robbie had the good taste to induct both Elmore James and Allen Toussaint into the RnR Hall Of Fame. Here's the AMG section on his later career "In 1958, he hooked up with rockabilly star Ronnie Hawkins' backing band the Hawks, joining fellow sidemen Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel. 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 self-titled 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, Roberts on produced and starred in Carny, co-starring Jodie Foster and Gary Busey. Also in 1980, he composed the score to Scorsese's brilliant Raging Bull, 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 The King of Comedy and 1986's The Color of Money, the sequel to The Hustler. Finally, in 1987 Robertson released his 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. Storyville, a conceptual piece steeped in the sounds and imagery of a famed area of New Orleans, followed in 1991. 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"
The Hawk -Story of Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks - written by good egg and long time fan Ian Wallis, pub Quarry Rocks 1996.
A superb book, very highly recommended. Introduction by one former President Bill Clinton
This Wheel's On Fire - Levon Helm (insight into the long term feud between Helm and Robbie)
Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks The Roulette Years, Sequel 2cd -1994, get it while you can
For the non purist:
Dylan & the Band/Hawks -Live 1966, Albert Hall, has the folk set followed by the electric rock set, the Judas tour! No Levon
Dylan & Band - the Basement Tapes
The Band , Music Fom Big Pink/The Band/Stage Fright/Cahoots/Rock Of Ages (live), Moondog Matinee, Last Waltz (also on dvd)
His solo work leaves me cold.
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