After backing Bob Dylan in the mid-60s, then recording on their own, The Band called it quits in '76. Though they had never been mega-sellers (their self-titled sophomore set, released in '69, became the group's first platinum album in '91 - 22 years later), The Band was one of the best and most admired outfits of the era, known for such classics as "The Weight," "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" and "Up On Cripple Creek." All those songs were written by a Toronto native of Mohawk ancestry, guitarist Robbie Robertson.
With the dissolution of The Band (the group later reformed without Robertson), it would be expected that Robertson would embark on a solo career - which he did. But where he spent much of his post-Band career was on films. Here's how it happened.
On Thanksgiving Day in '76, The Band got a send-off worthy of their legendary stature by hosting a concert at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom. High profile director Martin Scorsese was hired to film the show. Scorsese and Robertson worked together editing "The Last Waltz" and became friends.
After spending much of '79 and '80 co-writing, producing and acting in the film Carney (which co-starred Gary Busey and Jodie Foster), Robertson, reunited with Scorsese on Raging Bull where he served as the music producer. It turned out to be one of Scorsese's finest films, due in part Robert De Niro's brutal performance as boxer Jake LaMotta.
Robertson later contributed to other Scorsese movies including The King Of Comedy (also starring De Niro), The Color Of Money and The Departed. He also acted as executive music director for Gangs Of New York, and music supervisor for Shutter Island.
After work was completed on The Color Of Money, Robertson, with help from U2 and Peter Gabriel, finally released his self-titled solo debut. The set contained the song "Broken Arrow," which was covered by Rod Stewart who turned it into a pop hit.
Robertson's sophomore solo set "Storyville," preceded '94's "Music For The Native Americans, a collection of songs composed for a television documentary series. Going back to his roots, Robertson teamed with the Native American group the Red Road Ensemble.
For The Band's '94's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Robertson joined former bandmates Garth Hudson and Rick Danko for a performance of "The Weight."
"Contact From The Underworld Of Redboy" arrived in '98. The album was sandwiched between work on the films Phenomenon and Gangs Of New York, among other cinema projects.
Over the years, Robertson established an extemporary reputation as a sideman. In '06, he recorded "Twilight" with Jerry Lee Lewis for The Killer's album "Last Man Standing." A year later he played on "Goin' To The River" which appeared on "Goin' Home: A Tribute To Fats Domino." In between, Robertson performed at the '07 edition of Eric Clapton's Crossroad Guitar Festival.
With his solo recording career dormant for nearly thirteen years (from '98 to '11) Robertson laid down tracks for "How To Become Clairvoyant." Getting help from the likes of Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood was expected. But the collaboration with Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor on the song "Madam X" raised some eyebrows. "It's a really cinematic piece of music," said Robertson. "I wanted Trent to contribute something, and he understood exactly what I was talking about and did something completely beautiful and haunting."
On more familiar turf, Robertson also recorded "This Is Where I Get Off," which centered on his contentious split from The Band in '76. In the song, Robertson sings, "I know where I went wrong 'long the way." Probably figured it was time to explain that one.
"How To Become Clairvoyant" dropped in April, '11.
1987 Robbie Robertson
1994 Music For The Native Americans
1998 Contact From The Underworld Of Redboy
2011 How To Become Clairvoyant
1978 The Last Waltz (performer/producer)
1980 Carny (actor/writer/producer)
1980 Raging Bull (music producer)
1983 The King Of Comedy (music producer)
1986 The Color Of Money (songs and score)
1991 Until The End Of The World (music)
1994 Jimmy Hollywood (music)
1995 Casino (music consultant)
1995 The Crossing Guard (actor)
1996 Phenomenon (executive soundtrack producer)
1996 Dakota Exile (narrator)
1999 Forces of Nature (creative music consultant)
1999 Wolves (narrator)
1999 Any Given Sunday (soundtrack contributions)
2000 Dancing At The Blue Iguana (song/performer)
2001 The Life And Times Of Robbie Robertson
2002 Gangs Of New York (executive music producer)
2002 Skins (writer/performer)
2004 Jenifa (co-producer/executive producer)
2004 Ladder 49 (original song "Shine Your Light")
2006 The Departed (music producer)
2007 Eric Clapton: Crossroads Guitar Festival 2007 (performer)
2008 Mardik: From Baghdad to Hollywood (actor)
2009 Shutter Island (music supervisor)
"How To Be Clairvoyant" not an earthshaking, shape shifting return. But then, it wasn't meant to be. It is the work of a journeyman musician who has some impressive friends. In fact, Clapton's mark on the album is particularly pronounced.
"Fear Of Falling" is really an alternate version of Clapton's '96 hit "Change The World," and Clapton contributes backing vocals and guitar (of course) to "He Don't Live Here No More." Working a low-key but effective Country-Blues motif, Robertson's lyrics touch on lost love, youthful ambition and hard choices. Experience is always the best teacher.