Founding member of The Band and long-time Martin Scorsese collaborator Robbie Robertson has died at the age of 80. Robertson’s manager released a statement, saying the guitarist died in Los Angeles surrounded by family.
“In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to the Six Nations of the Grand River to support the building of their new cultural center,” the statement said. The Six Nations of the Grand River is a First Nation community representing Haudenosaunee people.
The Band – ‘Chest Fever’
Born in Toronto, Robertson began his music career as a teenager in the late 1950s. A chance encounter led to an opportunity to work with Arkansas rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins, who recorded two of Robertson’s songs for his 1959 album, Mr. Dynamo.
Robertson then joined Hawkins’ band, the Hawks, which included American drummer and future member of The Band, Levon Helm. Bass player Rick Danko, pianist Richard Manuel and organist Garth Hudson joined the Hawks in 1961, and in 1964, The Hawks parted with Hawkins, thus laying the foundation of The Band.
Their next major assignment was to play as Bob Dylan’s band on his 1965 US tour and 1966 world tour. These performances, including the infamous “Royal Albert Hall” concert, put Robertson and The Band on the map.
With help from Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman, The Band signed with Capitol Records and recorded their debut album with producer John Simon. The majority of the track listing was written at a house in West Saugerties, New York, which the members of The Band shared with Dylan for a period of time in 1967.
Music From Big Pink came out in 1968 and featured many of The Band’s signature songs, including the Robertson-penned ‘Chest Fever’ and ‘The Weight’, and Dylan’s ‘I Shall Be Released. The Band went on to release a total of seven studio albums – including 1969’s The Band (or “The Brown Album”) and 1970’s Stage Fright – before deciding to call it a day in 1976.
Their final concert was filmed by Martin Scorsese and released as The Last Waltz in 1978. The likes of Hawkins, Dylan, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and The Staple Singers make guest appearances.
Scorsese and Robertson continued to work together from that point onwards. Robertson acted as music producer and composer on many of Scorsese’s best-known films, including Raging Bull (1980), The King of Comedy (1982), Gangs of New York (2002), The Departed (2006), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and The Irishman (2019).
Scorsese shared a statement with Pitchfork commenting on the gravity of this loss. “It goes without saying that [Robertson] was a giant, that his effect on the art form was profound and lasting,” he said. “There’s never enough time with anyone you love. And I loved Robbie.”