Category Archives: Book Review

Review: Robbie Robertson’s Testimony

In the late 80’s I interviewed The Band, the Robbie Robertson-less version of the band. I was working for CJCS1240 in Stratford Ontario at the time. Back then I know about the music of The Band as a “oldies” radio station the CANCON music policy allowed us to play only the best of Canada back then – and The Band qualified as a mainstay of our playlists. I was selected to interview Stratford’s Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Levon Helm who had started touring again in1983 after then five person band stopped playing live following 1976’s Last Waltz.

I interviewed The Band with Brian O’Neill, our Sales Manager at the time, and a real music buff. We would interview the guys before they went on stage; take the tape and put together a 1-hour special featuring the interview and music. We had one hour to interview the band, and what a great interview it was, great answers to the questions, and lots of laughter with the stories they told. When we were done, and had talked for more than an the hour allotted, we took the tape back to the studio only to find that the batteries on the cassette recorder had died 30-40 minutes into the interview, a good chunk of what we recorded didn’t.

In Testimony, Robbie Robertson was told, by his mother, that when he was older he too would be a storyteller, just like the Elders of the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford where he spent the early years of his life. Even without publishing Testimony Robertson told stories, just read about the music of a career he writes about from hitting the stage with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks to leaving the stage after playing for hours in The Band’s farewell concert in the “the Last Waltz”

From Ronnie Hawkins, to Bob Dylan to Helm, Danko, Hudson and Manuel Testimony is about his musical relationship – make that musical partnerships and how they made the music that executives in 1968 didn’t know what to label. It was the music that shifted the musical world much like Dylan did by going electric, which Robertson had a stage view of.   The tours with Dylan were illuminating as Robertson describes the lifestyle of rock stars, the drugs and alcohol that eventual drove The Band from the stage. He writes of the struggles, especially with Richard Manuel who struggled with alcohol only to turn to marijuana and then cocaine to help with a heroin habit. Rick Danko and Levon Helm also had major issues and Robertson writes of not only their issues but also his use, but when it comes to this part of his life and the story telling, he leaves out his struggles with his use of drugs and drinking. He makes it seem like he is the big brother who did no wrong, but was always there when his little brothers fell down.

I tweeted out when I started reading Testimony that it was like being counted into a song by Levon Helm; 1-2-3-4 Bam, you are into a song. What kept me turning pages was the music. What the band did in 1967 and 68 leading up to two of the greatest albums of the sixties is amazing reading, it gets into your mind and your imagination. Following Dylan’s motorcycle accident The Band retreat to Woodstock NY and the Big Pink, chapters 18 and 19 are required reading on the creation of Bob Dylan’s “Basement Tapes” and The Bands’ “Music from the Big Pink”. There is a passage about the vocal arrangements for “The Weight” that will forever by in my head, and when I listen to the song I will hear Robertson say…

“I began singing the chorus to “The Weight” over and over to the guys, trying to convey the staggered vocal idea I had. “Levon, you go, ‘aaand’, then Rick , ‘aaand’, then Richard on top, ‘aaand’. Levon, ‘you put the load’, Rick, Richard, Levon, ‘you put the load right on me’.”

Now, just try listening to “The Weight” without having this text in front of you or in your head hearing Robbie give those instructions.

Robertson only takes us through to the end of the Last Waltz, which is timely as I figure he has another book in him with his Post Waltz music. In the book he takes the reader through the thought, action and performance of what many call, the greatest rock concert film ever made. I could write more about the last few chapters leading up to the concert, but I think you would get more reading about creating the line up of artists, the new budding professional relationship with Martin Scorsese and how it was all managed to be held together AND the fabulous dinner served to 5000 people before the concert began.

Testimony is two-way mirror into making music, great music and a looking into how success put strains into relationships and what the five did to survive. Levon, Rick and Richard used the drink and drugs, Garth fiddled with electronics and Robertson made music and films with others and discovered the west coast. But as he writes his eulogy to The Band in the final pages, the love of the brotherhood is greater than all the troubles and sins that happened between 1960 with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks to Thanksgiving 1976 and “The Last Waltz” , the love clearly outlasts any pain and misunderstandings that took place.

In the end, Testimony is the BEST rock and roll book I have ever read, its honesty and admiration of the players Robbie Robertson shared a stage with is something I have never taken from pages before.

Testimony is required reading for anyone that plays or loves music that changes how we listen to music.

While I knew the music of The Band, Testimony would have been a great primer for my interview with The Band, in the late 80’s. After reading Testimony, I now understand the music and brotherhood of The Band, and man what questions I would have asked if only I knew as I do today.

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Book Review – “Himself” by Jess Kidd


“a read out of ‘time’ and ‘place’”

I like my books two ways; the quick enjoyable read that leaves you breathless and satisfied. The second is a book that makes me understand the characters, their places, plot placement and personality. It may take longer to finish the book, but the work as a reader that goes into it is just a satisfying. Himself is of the second type of read for me, rereading some passages in Himself allowed me the satisfaction of not putting the book down as the plot lines and timelines converged.

The book is about a boy (Mahoney) and a girl (Orla), the boy is alive and girl sadly is not; the boy is looking for the girl. Set in Ireland in Mulderigg in the 50’s and the 70’s, it’s the hometown of the girl and birthplace of the boy. The shifting narratives of the past, the present, and the past in the present pull you into each time capsule and at times makes you sad that the author has pulled you out – seemly to make sure you don’t know more than you should at that moment. It’s OK though, because as you adjust to the next capsule of time it takes little effort as the reader before you pulled in that as well.

Mahoney sets off a series of spiritual storms as soon as he enters Mulderigg; the spirits take notice of him from his first step out of the cab that delivers him to Kerrigan’s, the local pub. There is a cast of characters in the story, they really are characters as in Himself, Kidd injects colour into the town through those that have lived and will likely die there. The only people that see Mahoney for what he might become, the great disrupter, are those that came to Mulderigg, not by birth, but by choice.  There is Mrs. Cauley, the towns theatre star and Father Quinn, who needs the eccentricities of Mrs. Cauley’s productions for raise money for the parish but would gladly see her and Mahoney run out of his town.

The towns’ folk relish any opportunity to have something more than their daily lives take over their imaginations and their time.   Their lives all travel separate paths until Mahoney comes into town and like a storm approaching, no one can be as prepared as they want to be when it hits. Using the vehicle of an annual theatrical presentation that is the only real fundraising event for the local parish church, Mrs. Cauley initiates and runs her investigation in a manner that would make Agatha Christie proud. Mrs. Cauley is determined to find out how Mahoney’s mother disappeared and by whose hands it happened.

The real charm in the story is how Kidd writes and brings the spirits of the dead alive and gives them a freedom of movement that would make the living envious. The writing was lively and I found myself looking forward to reading the next passage that has Mahoney observing with the spirits. Kidd writes for the spirits in a manner that there are no limits to what or how the ghosts could move around and influence Mahoney, for only Mahoney has the privilege of seeing them.

Himself is a very enjoyable read, it’s an escape in time and into magic where the humans and worldly spirits reside, not always peacefully.

Himself is Jess Kidd’s first novel and if you read her bio on, she also ambitious with her second, third and fourth books all in one stage of composition completion. Himself is available in Canada on March 21, 2017 and is published through Simon and Schuster. Thanks to Simon and Schuster for the opportunity to read and review Himself.

Thank you for reading this post; to catch all my posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress. You can also see me on for what I see, hear and read.

I can be found Twitter @robertdekker, @rdmediaottawa and on Facebook at I can be reached at