Tag Archives: Robbie Robertson

No. 3 Saville Row, London

50 years ago on January 30, 1969, the Beatles performed live for the last time.  It wasn’t a big show, but it was a big deal.  The Fab Four performed on the rooftop of No. 3 Saville Row, home of Apple Corps.  According to Tripadvisor, No. 3 Saville Row is 679th on a list of 1914 attractions in London. The Beatles performed 9 songs including 3 takes of ‘Get Back’.  On the 50th anniversary of the fab four finale it’s announced that award winning director Peter Jackson will be piecing together unseen footage of the Let it Be sessions giving generations of Beatles fans a new look at the sessions that would result in the final Lp that the Beatles would release.  There have been many articles written about the rooftop concert, the movie shows four musicians  who still had something to prove.  For there to be a new film about that time, that music, that LP and that concert its like a new Star Wars movie moment for me.

Forty one years ago, was the release of another generational last concert .  On the American Thanksgiving in 1976,  The Band hosted “The Last Waltz” a dinner and a concert for and with many of their friends at the Winterland Ballroom in San Fransisco. Conceived by Robbie Robertson the Last Waltz was not planned to be the end of the The Band, but rather like the Beatles, the end of touring.  It ended up being the end of the Band led by Robbie Robertson though.   The Band invited many of their friends to join them on stage for the farewell.  The film directed by Martin Scorsese, stands as one of the finest concert documentaries.  Five different versions of the concert, five different song line-ups.  If you’re counting, there’s the  concert song line up which differs from the film which differs from the original 1978 soundtrack version which differs from the 2002 four disc CD to finally,  the 40th anniversary edition released in 2018. which is different from all the others.  Amazingly and for whatever reason each has a different song sequence.  Perhaps Robbie Robertson can answer the question with the follow up to his book Testimony which ended after the final song of the concert.

In 1976, Neil Young performed two songs in The Last Waltz, though only those who were in the Winterland Ballroom would see Young perform ‘Four Strong Winds’, it hasn’t appeared (that I know of) on any released version of the Last Waltz.  In ’76 Young was an established artist but it was only 10 years earlier that he started making a name for himself  since arriving in California from Toronto.

Young compared his music, especially the sessions for the ‘Everybody Knows this is nowhere’ album to that of the Beatles, short and traditionally structured.  Its not the only comparison he makes to the Beatles. In the biography “Shakey” his says his time with CSN&Y is like the Beatles while performing with Crazy Horse is like the Rolling Stones.

In 2006 Young started releasing his archive series, live recordings going back to 1968.  The second archives release is his concert in Massey Hall in 1971, it went to #1 in Canada and #6 in the US.   It was a time when he was extremely creative he would release music with Buffalo Springfield, CSN&Y, Crazy Horse and also released solo recordings.  The Live at Massey Hall recording is momental for a few reasons, first its recorded in Massey Hall and it captures Young just before he would have his first #1 hit, Heart of Gold. It’s this tour in 1971 that had Neil at his best.  When I first listened to the recording in 2007 I got chills.  Here was Young playing music that was new in ’71.  No one knew what would happen to it.  But as I listened I was envious that I was not there (I was only 11 at the time) to hear these incredible songs that would end up on “Harvest”.  The people that filled Massey Hall that evening had no idea that they were a part of a generational shift in music.

I can only imagine what those  people that jammed Massey Hall in 1971 thought of the music they were listening to – and then to have the chance to hear it all again 36 years later.  It gives me chills just thinking now how they would react to hear that show all over again kowing that his music that night would be as great today as it was when he played those songs befiore they were released on that in 1971.  There is a part in that show where I stand (or sit) still and just listen.  It happens as Neil has walked off the stage and the crowd starts clapping, banging seats and making noise with just about anything to bring him out for an encore.  It goes on for at least 4 minutes before Young reappears and starts into ‘I am a child’. I listen in amazement to the reaction of those at the concert when he comes back.  It gives me shivers every time.

Imagine being one of the 2,765 people that would have had the opportunity to be making that noise in Massey Hall that night to bring him back, but to hear it all again a generation later.  That’s what makes this recording worthy of being connected to The Beatles on the roof on No. 3 Saville Row and The Band in The Last Waltz in a trifecta of concerts we should not be without watching or listening to.

Thank you for reading this post; to catch all my posts and be notified as new ones come up please follow me on WordPress.  I can be found on Twitter @robertdekker&  @rdmediaottawaand on Facebook at http://tiny.cc/n5l97.  If you prefer email, please contact me at rdmedia@bell.net

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.

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 www.redheartbluelife.wordpress.com for what I see, hear and read.

I can be found Twitter @robertdekker, @rdmediaottawa and on Facebook at http://tiny.cc/n5l97. I can be reached at rdmedia@bell.net.