Robbie Robertson: Seeing Around Corners
Photo by David Jordan Williams
Robbie Robertson carries the legacy of rock and roll with him, as someone who witnessed its birth almost first-hand and then put his heart and soul into shaping its future. With legends like this, there comes a time in their lives—one not necessarily easily recognized—when history needs to be accounted for. With How to Become Clairvoyant, his fifth solo album and first in ten years, Robertson’s time for reconciliation has come.
When Robertson walks into the lobby of The Village Recorder studios in west Los Angeles where he has a private office and studio, you can almost see molecules moving flowing past him in the air like a boat’s wake. The room is filled with a ping-pong table, but there is poshness to the place that. Everyone from The Rolling Stones to Bob Dylan to Pink Floyd have recorded here.
Dressed in black, Robertson has formidableness and exudes an earthy elegance like he’s both a man of the mountains and Manhattan. While he’s seen most of what rock and roll has to offer, he’s still searching for elusive moments and pieces to complete the experience.
Much of Robertson’s creativity follows a straight-line link to his earliest inspirations. It’s a sleight-of-hand where he is able to record such an autobiographical album as How to Become Clairvoyant and remain completely in the moment.
He has always found allies from a variety of sources, whether they were film noir classics or blues kingpins like Sonny Boy Williamson. The way that Robertson melds it all together is unique to him. When asked how he does it, he points to a lifetime of experiences.
“I happened to find myself in some amazing places,” he explains. “When we met up with Sonny Boy in Helena, Ark., he may have been near the end but he was also very aware of holding his own and defining that he played the blues. Very prideful, too. ‘I do not play no rock and roll,’ he’d say. That always stayed with me.
“I used that in the first song on the new record, but I got the title [“Straight Down the Line”] from the movie Double Indemnity, where Fred McMurray tells Barbara Stanwyck when they’re planning to kill her husband: ‘Yeah baby, don’t worry. We’re gonna do it straight down the line.’ Those kinds of lines never leave you.”
When it came to writing music for The Band, Robertson called on experiences like the one with Williamson to deliver material that seemed like it was from the American South, so it’s hard to imagine Robertson being Canadian.
If listeners are still enthralled by what The Band created, then most don’t know the first-hand events that it sprang from. Today, Robertson lights up while remembering how it happened.
“It was an overwhelming experience, going from Canada to the Mississippi Delta when I was 16 years old to play with Ronnie Hawkins,” he says of his formative time with The Hawks prior to The Band. “This was where rock and roll grew up out of the ground, in that little area where Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi all meet. In that 100-mile radius, 75 percent of the music that I liked came right out of there.”
The Hawks, mostly young Canadians—along with Arkansas-born Levon Helm—got a glimpse into a world that was starting to vanish. Elder bluesmen, shake dancers and mountaineers were part of a surreal amalgam of characters. “Going there when I was young had such a powerful effect on me,” Robertson says. “It came out years later in my songwriting because all of those things were stored away in a kind of attic in my mind. When it came time to really sit down and write songs—to go into that attic and see what you could call on—it was like an American mythology of music.”
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
Ron Sexsmith visits the Relix office to perform a tune from his latest record Forever Endeavor.
Crystal Bowersox stops by Relix to perform a song from her new album, All That For This.
- Spin Doctors: If the River Was Whiskey
- Ray Manzarek, Founding Member of The Doors, Passes Away at 74
- Golden Bloom "Flying Mountain"
- Tedeschi Trucks Band at the Doheny Blues Festival
- Video Premiere: Anna Bergendahl "Fun"
- Electric Forest’s King and Queen
- Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers "Friend of The Devil"
- Grateful Dead’s Morning Brew and Drop Dead Dark Roast
- Interlocken Festival to Feature Neil Young, Furthur, String Cheese Incident, Black Crowes, Zac Brown and More
- The Salvation of Page McConnell (Relix Revisited)
- Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis Tried to Form Supergroup with Paul McCartney
- Weir’s Here: On TRI, RatDog and Solo Gigs
- Warren Haynes and Joe Bonamassa "If Heartaches Were Nickels"
- The Final Ingredient in Dogfish Head’s Grateful Dead Tribute Ale Is…
- Stone Gossard Readies His Moonlander
- Allie Kral Says Goodbye to Cornmeal
- Doctor’s Orders: So what should we call the Super Ball IX Newspaper?
- John Kadlecik Posts Statement on Bob Weir’s Collapse
- "I Wanne Be In moe.": The Latest Volunteers
- Bob Weir Escorted Off Stage During Furthur Show
- Furthur Cancels BottleRock Show as Bob Weir Is Out Of Commision
- Vote for Your Favorite "I Wanne Be In moe." Contestant
- Doctor’s Orders: What’s Your Favorite Furthur Song? (Win Copy of Relix Signed by Phil and Bobby)
- On The Verge Poll