Whether backing Bob Dylan or lounging with Martin Scorsese, the late Robbie Robertson had a career befitting rock ‘n’ roll royalty of the 1960s and 1970s. The self-taught musician, who was best known for his work with The Band, died Wednesday at age 80, leaving behind a rich legacy that helped define a now-iconic musical era and culture.
Before The Band secured its status as Americana legends with hits like “The Weight,” “Up on Cripple Creek,” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” the group got its start in the early 1960s as supporting players for rockabilly star Ronnie Hawkins. The foursome, originally known as The Hawks, consisted of Canada-born Robertson on lead guitar alongside Arkansas-born drummer-singer Levon Helm and bassist-singer-songwriter Rick Danko, keyboardist-singer-songwriter Richard Manuel, and keyboardist-saxophonist Garth Hudson, all also Canadian. They would eventually transition to playing with Bob Dylan, a move that prompted them to adopt a new name. Their work with the folk superstar as well as their own albums established Robertson and the rest of The Band as foundational innovators within what would become the Americana and roots music scene.
Over the years, The Band’s songs would be covered by Aretha Franklin, Joan Baez, the Staple Singers, and others, and their influence would be felt in the works of artists like Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, and The Grateful Dead. Scorsese’s 1978 documentary, “The Last Waltz,” featured film from The Band’s farewell concert in San Francisco, organized by Robertson, which included cameos from the likes of Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, and Neil Young.
Here’s a look back at some of Robertson’s greatest moments throughout his music career.
Scorsese’s “The Last Waltz”
The trailer for the Scorsese documentary shows the breadth of the acts Robertson and The Band brought together to mark the end of their time as a touring group — and it includes hints from Robertson about why The Band ultimately decided to break up.
Scorsese captured The Band’s performance of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” in “The Last Waltz.”
Ringo Starr, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan joined The Band for its “Last Waltz” concert.
Hall of Fame inductions
Robertson played alongside Paul McCartney, Bonnie Raitt, Billy Joel, Eric Clapton, Bono, and Bruce Springsteen at the star-studded 1999 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
The following year, in 2000, Robertson inducted his friend Eric Clapton into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Hanging out with Scorsese and Van Morrison
Archival footage shows Robertson playing Van Morrison’s hit “Tupelo Honey” for Scorsese for what looks like the film director’s first time ever hearing it.