Robbie Robertson, one of rock's finest songwriters and musicians, passed away at the age of 80, as Breitbart News reported.
The Band's lead guitarist and songwriter Robbie Robertson, who mined American music and folklore in such classics as "The Weight" and "Up on Cripple Creek" and helped define contemporary rock, passed away on Wednesday at the age of 80.
Robertson died surrounded by family in Los Angeles "after a long illness," according to a statement released by publicist Ray Costa.
From their years as Bob Dylan's masterful backing band to their own prominence as embodiments of old-fashioned community and virtuosity, they have always embodied these qualities.
The Band had a significant impact on popular music in the 1960s and '70s, first by literally amplifying Bob Dylan's polarizing transition from folk artist to rock celebrity, and then by absorbing Dylan's and his influences' works as they created a new sound rooted in the American past.
“Long before we ever met, his music played a central role in my life — me and millions and millions of other people all over this world,” Martin Scorsese, Robertson’s close friend and frequent collaborator, said in a statement.
“The Band’s music, and Robbie’s own later solo music, seemed to come from the deepest place at the heart of this continent, its traditions and tragedies and joys.”
The Canadian-born Robertson was a high school dropout and one-man melting pot — part-Jewish, part-Mohawk and Cayuga.
He fell in love with the seemingly limitless sounds and byways of his adopted country and wrote out of a sense of amazement and discovery at a time when the Vietnam War had alienated millions of young Americans.
His life had a “Candide”-like quality as he found himself among many of the giants of the rock era — getting guitar tips from Buddy Holly, taking in early performances by Aretha Franklin and by the Velvet Underground, smoking pot with the Beatles.
The singer-songwriter watched the songwriting team of Leiber and Stoller develop material, chatting with Jimi Hendrix when he was a struggling musician calling himself Jimmy James.
The Band began in the early 1960s as backup musicians for rockabilly star Ronnie Hawkins. Through their years together in bars and juke joints, they developed a breadth and versatility that allowed them to perform in virtually any musical context.
In addition to Robertson, the band included drummer-singer Levon Helm from Arkansas and three Canadians: bassist-singer-songwriter Rick Danko, keyboardist-singer-songwriter Richard Manuel, and musical genius Garth Hudson.
People would point to them when they were with Dylan and refer to them as "the band." As a result, they were eventually renamed The Band, a moniker their admirers would say they deserved.
Both "Music from Big Pink" and "The Band," both released in the late 1960s, continue to define them. The rock scene moved away from the psychedelic excesses of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" by the Beatles and a wave of sound effects, extended jams, and lysergic lyrics.
"Music from Big Pink," named for the old house where Band members gathered near Woodstock, New York, was for many the sound of returning home. Blues, gospel, folk, and country music influenced the lyrics, which were variably playful, cryptic, and longing.
The Band itself appeared to represent altruism and a shared, vital past, with all five members making unique contributions and appearing in publicity photos wearing plain, dark clothing.
Through the 1967 "Basement Tapes" they recorded with Bob Dylan and their own albums, The Band is widely regarded as a founding source of Americana, or roots music. Fans and colleagues would discuss how their lives had been altered.
Eric Clapton disbanded his British supergroup Cream and traveled to Woodstock in the hopes of joining The Band, which influenced albums by The Grateful Dead's "Workingman's Dead" and Elton John's "Tumbleweed Connection."
Many artists, including Franklin, Joan Baez, and the Staple Singers, have covered The Band's compositions. During the Beatles' television rendition of "Hey Jude," Paul McCartney yelled lyrics from "The Weight."