Robbie Robertson, best known as the guitarist and main songwriter for Rock & Roll Hall of Famers The Band, has died after a long illness, ABC Audio has confirmed. He was 80.
A statement on Robertson’s Facebook page reads, “Robbie was surrounded by his family at the time of his death, including his wife, Janet, his ex-wife, Dominique, her partner Nicholas, and his children Alexandra, Sebastian, Delphine, and Delphine’s partner Kenny,” as well as his five grandchildren. No cause of death was given.
The statement notes that Robertson had recently finished working with his longtime friend and collaborator Martin Scorsese on music for Scorsese’s film Killers of the Flower Moon.
In lieu of flowers, the statement requests that donations be made to the Six Nations of the Grand River to build their new cultural center; Robertson’s mother, Rosemarie Dolly Chrysler, was Mohawk, one of the Six Nations. His biological father, Alexander Klegerman, died in a car accident before he was born. Robertson’s First Nation heritage later inspired much of his solo work.
Robertson, born in Toronto, was a member of rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins‘ backup band, The Hawks, along with Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson. After leaving Hawkins, the musicians toured as Bob Dylan‘s backup band and recorded the legendary “basement tapes” with him in 1967.
As The Band, they released their debut album, Music from Big Pink, in 1968. Their rootsy sound influenced everyone from Elton John and Eric Clapton to The Beatles. As The Band’s guitarist and primary songwriter, Robertson wrote such classics as “The Weight,” “Up On Cripple Creek” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”
The Band split in 1976 amid personal conflicts and substance abuse issues; they said goodbye at a star-studded farewell concert documented in the Scorsese-directed film The Last Waltz. Robertson went on to work with Scorsese on music for movies including Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, Casino, The Departed, The Wolf of Wall Street and The Irishman, and on other TV and movie soundtracks. He also worked as an A&R rep at DreamWorks, helping to sign Nelly Furtado, among other acts.
Robertson released six solo albums; his self-titled 1987 debut featured contributions from U2‘s Bono and Peter Gabriel, and included the rock hit “Somewhere Down the Crazy River.” Robertson and The Band were inducted into the Juno Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.
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