Credit: KingKong Photo
Canadian musician Robbie Roberston was best known for his role in The Band, who, under the name The Hawks, backed Bob Dylan as he mad the bold decision to “go electric”.
Robertson’s musical career dates back to the late 1950s, when he played in various bands, such as Little Caesar and the Consuls. However, once he began working in the backing band for Ronnie Hawkins, Robertson started to earn recognition.
By the end of the 1960s, The Band had established themselves separately from their work with other musicians, releasing one of the decade’s defining tracks, ‘The Weight’, in 1968. The track was penned by Roberston, taking significant inspiration from the movies of Luis Buñuel when writing the lyrics.
With The Band, Robertson appeared on seven albums – he is absent from their last three records. He also appears on two Dylan albums – Planet Waves and The Basement Tapes, as well as making five solo albums and two soundtracks. Additionally, he worked on scores for Martin Scorsese, working closely with him for his concert film starring The Band, The Last Waltz.
Robertson significantly contributed to the development of American rock music, blending a mixture of blues and folk influences into The Band’s sound. Robertson wouldn’t have been able to make such a mark on music if not for a vast collection of influences that transformed the way he approached the medium. When the Canadian musician stepped foot in the American south, he found this hugely inspiring, feeling as though he could truly connect with the music that he held so dearly.
He explained to Dressed to Kill: “That was so impactful to me. When I went from Canada to the Mississippi Delta I did think it was a fountainhead, that this is where the music that has changed my life, that is everything to me, grows out of the ground.”
“I’m going to the Holy Land here! Who lives down there? Muddy Waters, Bo Diddly, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, on and on and on. Life moves in a different rhythm down there. This Mississippi river goes by, that makes you want to write a song immediately,” he continued.
For Robertson, these classic artists possessed a type of artistry that shaped the way he viewed guitar music. They were instrumental in the development of The Band’s sound, helping Robertson become one of modern music’s most well-respected artists.
Additionally, Robertson owes much of his guitar-playing skills to other musicians he was exposed to in the South, such as “James Burton and Fred Carter”.
He added: “This sound, this type of playing hadn’t reached Canada yet, so when I come back from the South with that everybody’s like, oh my, this guy’s the saviour!”