Robbie Robertson on his new memoir 'Testimony'
Robbie Robertson, The Band’s Canadian-born lead guitarist-songwriter, solo artist, film composer, producer and actor has had quite the life.
And it isn’t over yet.
A touring guitarist at age 16 with Arkansas' Ronnie Hawkins before The Band became Hawkins and then Bob Dylan’s backing band and a musical force of their own with such hits as The Weight, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Up on Cripple Creek, and The Shape I’m In, the musician has finally written his first autobiography, Testimony.
The 494-page book ends after The Band’s 1976 all-star final performance as documented in Martin Scorsese’s incredible concert film, The Last Waltz.
“I’m appreciate of the influence that The Band’s music has had on so many people and that it lives on in a very healthy way today,” said Robertson who says he’s still friendly with both Hawkins and Garth Hudson.
We caught up with the 73-year-old Robertson, who hailed from Six Nations near Brantford, Ont. which he says he’ll visit in the spring, in Toronto recently.
Was writing Testimony difficult?
It turned into an incredible challenge. And I knew in its structure that I would have to find something cinematic because I’m just drawn to that. I don’t read music autobiographies or biographies. I wanted to come at this as innocent as a I could, and at the same time, come out the other end looking like I knew what I was doing. It’s the oldest trick in the world.
Will there be another book?
Yeah. When I handed this in, they said, ‘Okay, this will come out to be 850 pages in a book.’ I thought I was writing 400 pages. And I was way off and it was twice as much.
A celebration of the 40th anniversary of The Last Waltz was just announced as a 2017 North American tour with Michael McDonald among others. Would you and or Hudson (the only two surviving members of The Band) be involved?
It’s lovely that this is remembered in this kind of way. I can’t speak for Garth, but I haven’t been invited.
And if you were?
No. It’s just - I did it. I did the original. I was in the Mona Lisa.
Your relationships with both The Band’s drummer-singer Levon Helm and Dylan read like brothers in the book. (Before an incredibly long estrangement with Helm, who wrote about it in his own 1993 autobiography.) What was it about your chemistry with those two men?
They’re just fantastic people. And I loved Levon. He took me under his wing. And we just had some of the best times known to mankind together. It was great. And then with Bob, it was such a different world [folk] that he was coming from and I thought that the experience was fascinating and I just thought that he was just a great guy and I just admired his musicality. And he was just a great buddy.
Did you get to reconnect with Helm before his 2012 death from cancer?
We were estranged brothers in later years and then his daughter sent me a message saying, ‘It’s taking him down, he’s going.’ And I went to New York and I went to the hospital and I sat and held his hand and he was not very conscious but I was glad I could be there and I was tremendously sad. But I could see how ill he was too physically. And I knew that it was time for him to move on. Anyway, I was fortunate to be able to see him.
Is there any more new music coming from you?
I’m in the midst of a new record, and I’m working on some movie stuff, some television series things, and other music stuff. I’m going to start writing volume two of the book.
Any touring in your future?
I don’t need it. And I don’t mean that in an arrogant way. I mean that my soul doesn’t pine for that. I feel like I did that. And after a while I felt like I was in the same play for the rest of my life. And there’s nothing with that either. But I don’t want to be The King and I.