Robbie Robertson, the musician best known for leading the influential rock group The Band, has died at 80.
Robertson’s death was confirmed to Variety by his longtime manager Jared Levine, who said the musician died surrounded by family. Sources told TMZ that he had been battling prostate cancer for about a year.
Born in Toronto on July 5, 1943, Robertson had an interest in music from a young age and joined Ronnie Hawkins’ backing band the Hawks when he was 16. There he met drummer Levon Helm, keyboardist Richard Manuel, organist Garth Hudson and bassist Rick Danko, who would later make up The Band.
The group ventured out on their own and became the backing group for Bob Dylan. During his 1965 tour, the Hawks played during Dylan’s then-controversial electric sets. Robertson also served as a session musician on Dylan’s landmark album Blonde on Blonde, and the band collaborated with Dylan on the famous “Basement Tapes” which became a famous bootleg album.
The group then changed their name to “The Band” and recorded their own music without Dylan. Their debut album Music from Big Pink is regarded as one of the best and most influential albums of all time and launched the Americana genre.
The album also included the Robertson-penned song “The Weight,” which is regarded as one of the most influential songs in American music and has been covered by countless artists over the decades. The song also gained popularity after being used in the film Easy Rider.
The Band performed at the legendary Woodstock music festival in 1969, and recorded a successful self-titled follow-up album. This record featured two more influential songs written by Robertson: the Civil War-themed “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” which later became a hit for Joan Baez, and “Up on Cripple Creek.”
The Band continued to perform into the 1970s, and reunited with Bob Dylan for the albums Planet Waves and Before the Flood.
Despite their success, personal conflicts and creative differences began to take a toll. Robertson decided to disband The Band in 1976, which led to an all-star final concert dubbed “The Last Waltz.”
The farewell concert, held on Thanksgiving, featured guest performances by Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Neil Diamond, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, among others. Martin Scorsese directed a documentary of the concert, which is regarded as one of the greatest concert films ever made.
After The Band broke up, Robertson continued to collaborate with Scorsese, serving as musical supervisor on many of his films, including The King of Comedy, Shutter Island, The Gangs of New York and The Wolf of Wall Street; he also composed the score for The Irishman and the upcoming Killers of the Flower Moon.
Robertson recorded a successful self-titled 1987 solo album, which included the hit track “Somewhere Down the Crazy River.” In addition to his solo albums, Robertson collaborated with musicians including Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, and Tom Petty.
With The Band, Robertson has been inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, among other honors.
Rest in peace to the great Robbie Robertson, one of the best and most influential guitarists and songwriters of his time. His work with The Band will continue to inspire generations of musicians.
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