Today Robbie Robertson turns 69, it wasn't something I had marked in my calendar I was duly informed whilst listening to a radio program on Radio National called the Inside Sleeve. They talked about his history, something that I've read a lot about it and posted about, his is an amazing story such a profound influence on music but it's a story that remains a little in the background. As a guitarist he is woefully underrated perhaps because people haven't heard his earlier recordings with the likes of Ronnie Hawkins and the early pre-Band recordings with Levon and The Hawks. He has woven a unique tapestry in popular music one that harnessed the roots of American music, something he did as a passionate outsider, hailing from the mean inner city streets of Toronto. He was fascinated with the deep south, the southern mythology fuelled his teenage ambitions, where some viewed the south with distaste Robbie viewed it from a place of respect for the music and the people and with a touch of romanticism for it's rich cultural heritage. He was inspired in almost equal amounts by the stinging guitar of Arkansas native Hubert Sumlin and the intensity of the words of William Faulkner and the drama of Tenneessee Williams.
His southern idealism was matched by a steely ambitious resolve to better himself as a musician, he worked harder than most and had dreams of success, it appears that he guarded these dreams only letting those know in his inner circle his deeper thoughts. He certainly wanted more than 6 nights a week toiling through dancehalls and small clubs in the south and playing the clubs up in Canada, he wanted to take his music beyond the blues. He wanted to express his admiration for the south in stories and characters that embraced all elements of southern music, from gospel blended vocals and church organ to funky gritty guitar sounds to the more country influences of mandolin and fiddle. He didn't achieve this alone with four other brilliant musicians they were able to create something that moved against prevailing trends but uniquely matched the times. The Band's music was a blast of nostalgia that calmed the fraying nerves of an America that was seemingly at war with itself, the music harked back to the importance of community and respect for history. Success in some ways was a poor reward, it splintered the Band and drove Robbie deeper from his musical brothers and left him searching for something else to hold onto. He was also possibly looking for new challenges to re-gain some inspiration, he found this in film work forming a notable partnership with Martin Scorsese compiling the music for a number of his films.
Earlier this year Robbie released his first solo album in some years, the reflective How To Become Clairvoyant, it was certainly the most introspective and autobiographical of his works, commenting on his early life on the road to the reasons behind the break up of the Band. There is a rumour of an upcoming autobiography, that would truly be a fascinating read.