The Reading Room

Writing about writing about music.

Henry writes about music and music books for ND, The Bluegrass Situation, Country Standard Time, Publishers Weekly, and more.

The Reading Room

Writing about writing about music.

Henry writes about music and music books for ND, The Bluegrass Situation, Country Standard Time, Publishers Weekly, and more.

Robbie Robertson Gives Us His Testimony

Maybe Levon's book is still too fresh in my mind, but I can't help but feel that Robertson's take is a little disingenuous.  But then, I've only read excerpts from Robbie's book.

I thought the Rialto by 1978 was only showing blaxploitation films?

Robbie loved those guys to death......just not enough to give them writers credits on the songs.     

Bands that consider themselves "bands" and stay together share writers credits.   REM lasted 30 years and they shared credits till the end.  Even Bono, the definition of the word contridiction, knows that.     

Let's face it - Robbie was savvier than the others and he exploited it.   It isn't a crime but I don't feel the need to read his book about how much he felt "betrayed".   I think I'll go listen to the Brains version of "Money Changes Everything" instead.          


Let's face it--if Robertson was such a thief, why didn't Hudson and Danko join Helm in denouncing him? And if the Band was such a nest of songwriters, why was most of the material on their post-Robertson albums written by other people?
Taking Levon's book as gospel but refusing to even read Robertson's is grossly unfair and closed-minded, unless one really believes there aren't two sides to every story.


I’m sorry I wasn’t clear enough for you Revelator and I don’t feel Robbie is a thief (ie. “not a crime”).     But I don’t think I would rest my argument on a lost soul like Danko not trashing Robbie.   And if Garth did put down him, do you think we’d be able to understand him?  

Robbie was a skilled lyricist but I would counter that a lot of the musical elements of the Band’s songs came from the other members.   They have all described it as a collaborative process.     As I said, Robbie didn’t have to give them credit.   He understood what pays out in the long run.  My point was REM and others that always shared musical credits stayed around much longer and with a lot less acrimony.    

Robbie had other ambitions beyond playing with that group of guys and it is fine.   He wanted to be a “star” and on talent and charisma he should have been.  The real tragedy is that none of those talented musicians seems to have gotten what they really wanted.

My feelings are it’s always about the money especially when they say it’s not about the money.   I won’t read the book because I feel “betrayed” by Robbie when he actually uses Levon’s drug use as an excuse for leaving the Band.   Was he not paying attention when Richard Manuel was drinking a bottle of Grand Marnier for breakfast?   That statement doesn’t pass my BS sensor hence my lack of desire to read the rest of the book.   I can definitely see Levon getting upset over money though.  That seems "real".  In fact, I’ve heard it’s the root of all evil.       

You were clear enough, you just weren't convincing. I think it's pretty easy to rest an argument on the fact that none of Helm's bandmates joined him in denouncing Robertson (if they had, wouldn't you have brought that up?). Danko may have been a "lost soul" but he was still capable of forming coherent sentences and thoughts--if he thought Robertson had wronged him, he would have said so. And Hudson doesn't talk in Chinese or riddles.

The Band wasn't REM (only REM was), and Robertson's solo albums (and the demos on the Band's Musical History set) show he was more than a lyricist, whereas the Band's post-Robertson albums show they needed other people to write their material. John Simon, who was the producer of the classic first two albums and practically a sixth member of the group during that period, has also debunked the "shared credit" idea.

If you won't read the book, how will you know that Robertson's only reason for leaving the Band was Levon's drug use? (Robertson by the way has talked many times about Manuel's drug problems and the frustration of trying to hold the Band together.) This sounds like a rationalization to only hear the side of the story you're comfortable with.

Contradiction perhaps?  REM did it right, and Bono is a hack, an immensely popular one, the sharing of royalties is a smart move. As for the Band or any performer, PUBLISHING is what keeps you going into old age. This is why the Chess Brothers had their names as composers, the nasty Syd Nathan, etc etc. Those that held their publishing prospered, those that didn't, didn't.  Leon was feeling the crunch later in life, Danko & Manuel were long gone, Robbie was the only rock star.

I believe the only reason Neil Diamond was on stage was because Robertson produced (or was producing) his most recent album - "Beautiful Noise."

Well the second word was apt anyway :)

Robertson is a fascinating character and a unique, personal, musician who proved a million notes per minute were unnecessary to convey emotion. However, his relationship with Scorsese (a Robertson, Clapton, Stones superfan) and his time after the Band is perhaps more interesting than his time in.
Levon Helm when asked often remarked that Robbie was perhaps re-writing history in his versions.
I look forward to read this volume in any case.

While admitting that he was still friends with everyone, Danko did say that a lot of what Levon said about Grossman and Robertson and when The Band stopped being The Band was true.  But he also said that Levon just as easily could have ended up being the rock star, instead of Robbie.  Maybe it was a clash of egos, as much as anything.  Who knows?  What's clear to me is that, even as a songwriter, Robertson's solo stuff is not a patch on the best of the songs he built with the band.  I suspect Robbie's songs were more informed by Levon's input--especially on songs like "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"--than Robbie might like to admit.  


There's probably a lot of truth in that, but I rate some of the stuff from Robertson's last 2 albums, especially Clairvoyant pretty highly.

I have read Ronnie Hawkins relatively objective side of things in his book,  "Last of the Good Ole Boys".  Levon's side in his book "This Wheel's on Fire" and in interviews. As always, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. A band is a relationship a lot like a marriage and sometimes, despite everyone's good intentions and love,  they dissolve. RR was slagged by Levon for decades over the breakup.  But Levon never took responsibilty for his own drug use, nor was honest about drugs and what impact that might have on him and others in the band.

RR wrote great songs and the band performed them transcendently.  That should be  more than sufficient  for fans. 

They wrote the songs together. Robbie got the credit and the money. I'm sure he spins a marvelous yarn. I might even hold my nose and read it. Who won two Grammy's with solo records? I believe that was Levon. Maybe he didn't write the songs on his solo records, but in my humble opinion he was a superior musician in every way to Mr. Robbie. I mean as a songwriter who would you want singing, playing drums, or even mandolin on your song? Mickey Hart said Levon was "The best drummer this side of the Congo".  Well nobody's left to defend themselves (Garth's always seemed to be so soft spoken). We Arkies have to stick together! We have a Crazy Chester award in Fayetteville Arkansas now (Crazy Chester roamed Dickson Street back in the day) Peace and Grits!