Jaime Royal “Robbie” Robertson, OC (born July 5, 1943), is a Canadian musician, songwriter, film composer, producer, actor, and author.
Robertson is best known for his work as lead guitarist and primary songwriter for the Band, and for his career as a solo recording artist. His work with the Band was instrumental in creating the Americana music genre. Robertson has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Canadian Music Hall of Fame as a member of the Band, and has been inducted to Canada’s Walk of Fame both with the Band and on his own. He is ranked 59th in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 greatest guitarists.
As a songwriter, Robertson is credited for writing “The Weight”, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, “Up on Cripple Creek”, “Broken Arrow”, “Somewhere Down the Crazy River”, and many others. Robertson has been inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Songwriters.
Robertson became a fan of the Arkansas-based rockabilly group Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks after Robertson’s band, The Suedes, opened for Hawkins at Dixie Arena. Hawkins took a liking to Robertson and would have him run errands for the Hawks. Hawkins recorded two songs co-credited to Robertson, “Hey Baba Lou” and “Someone Like You”, for his album Mr. Dynamo (1959), and brought Robertson to the Brill Building in New York City to help him choose songs for the rest of the album.
In late 1967, Dylan left to record his next album, John Wesley Harding (1967). After recording the basic tracks, Dylan asked Robertson and Garth Hudson about playing on the album to fill out the sound. However, when Robertson heard the tracks, he liked the starkness of the sound and recommended that Dylan leave the songs as they were.:147–148 Dylan worked with the members of the Hawks once again when they appeared as his backup band at two Woody Guthrie memorial concerts at Carnegie Hall in New York City in January 1968.:29 Three of these performances were later released by Columbia Records on the LP A Tribute to Woody Guthrie, Vol. 1 (1972).
Over the course of the “Basement Tapes” period, the group had found a voice of their own, and Grossman went to Los Angeles to shop the band to a major label, securing a contract with Capitol Records.:22, 28 The group went to New York to begin recording songs with producer John Simon. Capitol was happy with the results of the sessions, and brought the group to Los Angeles to finish the album. The resulting album, Music From Big Pink, was released in August 1968.
Robertson wrote four of the songs on Music From Big Pink, including “The Weight”, “Chest Fever”, “Caledonia Mission,” and “To Kingdom Come”. Robertson is listed in the songwriting credits as “J.R. Robertson”. Robertson sang lead vocal on the track “To Kingdom Come”; he would not sing on another Band song released to the public until “Knockin’ Lost John” on 1977’s Islands