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Testimony: A Memoir

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One of the most spellbinding, entertaining, major books of the fall: the long-awaited memoir from the Canadian music legend takes us candidly, in his own voice, into his extraordinary life and friendships with some of the greatest artists of the last half-century.      Robbie Robertson's singular contributions to popular music have made him one of the most beloved songwrite One of the most spellbinding, entertaining, major books of the fall: the long-awaited memoir from the Canadian music legend takes us candidly, in his own voice, into his extraordinary life and friendships with some of the greatest artists of the last half-century.      Robbie Robertson's singular contributions to popular music have made him one of the most beloved songwriters and guitarists of all time. But few could have expected that a young Canadian would pen some of the most distinctively American songs, music that seems soaked in the mythology of the Old South. With songs like The Weight, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, and Up on Cripple Creek, Robertson and his partners in The Band fashioned a new popular music lexicon that has endured for decades, influencing countless musicians. In this captivating memoir of The Band's storied career, Robertson weaves together his half-Jewish, half-Mohawk upbringing on the Brantford Six Nations Reserve and in Toronto; his odyssey south at sixteen and rollicking early years on the road with rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins; the slow formation of The Band, their trial-by-fire with Bob Dylan on his 1966 world tour, and the forging of their unique sound. He recounts being catapulted to fame with the success of their groundbreaking debut, and takes us through the astonishing run of albums that culminated in one of history's most famous farewell concerts: the movie The Last Waltz, directed by Martin Scorcese. This is the story of a time and place--the moment when rock 'n' roll became life, when electric blues legends like Muddy Waters and Otis Rush criss-crossed the circuit of clubs and roadhouses from Texas to Toronto. It's the story of exciting change as the world tumbled into the '60s, and figures like Dylan and The Band redefined music and culture, with a little help from sex and drugs. And it's the moving story of the profound friendship between five young men who together created a new kind of popular music.


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One of the most spellbinding, entertaining, major books of the fall: the long-awaited memoir from the Canadian music legend takes us candidly, in his own voice, into his extraordinary life and friendships with some of the greatest artists of the last half-century.      Robbie Robertson's singular contributions to popular music have made him one of the most beloved songwrite One of the most spellbinding, entertaining, major books of the fall: the long-awaited memoir from the Canadian music legend takes us candidly, in his own voice, into his extraordinary life and friendships with some of the greatest artists of the last half-century.      Robbie Robertson's singular contributions to popular music have made him one of the most beloved songwriters and guitarists of all time. But few could have expected that a young Canadian would pen some of the most distinctively American songs, music that seems soaked in the mythology of the Old South. With songs like The Weight, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, and Up on Cripple Creek, Robertson and his partners in The Band fashioned a new popular music lexicon that has endured for decades, influencing countless musicians. In this captivating memoir of The Band's storied career, Robertson weaves together his half-Jewish, half-Mohawk upbringing on the Brantford Six Nations Reserve and in Toronto; his odyssey south at sixteen and rollicking early years on the road with rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins; the slow formation of The Band, their trial-by-fire with Bob Dylan on his 1966 world tour, and the forging of their unique sound. He recounts being catapulted to fame with the success of their groundbreaking debut, and takes us through the astonishing run of albums that culminated in one of history's most famous farewell concerts: the movie The Last Waltz, directed by Martin Scorcese. This is the story of a time and place--the moment when rock 'n' roll became life, when electric blues legends like Muddy Waters and Otis Rush criss-crossed the circuit of clubs and roadhouses from Texas to Toronto. It's the story of exciting change as the world tumbled into the '60s, and figures like Dylan and The Band redefined music and culture, with a little help from sex and drugs. And it's the moving story of the profound friendship between five young men who together created a new kind of popular music.

30 review for Testimony: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    R

    Hmmm...I wasn't sure if I should write a review but everyone seems to be raving about this self-serving book, which I find rather perplexing, so I thought I'd contribute some words, you know, as a fan of The Band. Please check out Andrew Peerless' review of the book; he has summarized everything wrong with Testimony better than I ever could (although I'm going to try, obviously in more detail): https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... First of all, I couldn't help but think of the Churchill quote Hmmm...I wasn't sure if I should write a review but everyone seems to be raving about this self-serving book, which I find rather perplexing, so I thought I'd contribute some words, you know, as a fan of The Band. Please check out Andrew Peerless' review of the book; he has summarized everything wrong with Testimony better than I ever could (although I'm going to try, obviously in more detail): https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... First of all, I couldn't help but think of the Churchill quote "History is written by the victors" or in this case, the survivors. I do not write this review as a Levon defender as I'm far from it. My favorite members of the group, specifically Rick Danko and Richard Manuel, died a long time ago...Levon Helm joined them in 2012. I just find it somewhat suspicious that Robbie chose to share his story now, when the important players cannot contradict or refute his version of events. Another quote that came to mind is one from Rick Danko himself, in an interview from 1997, in which Danko said this about Robbie: "He'll say he did it all, if you give him the opportunity." The more I read Robbie's book, especially as I got to the mid-60s Bob Dylan period, I couldn't help but agree with Danko's statement. I actually had to take a break from the book, because I was getting more and more annoyed. Rick tied The Band's decline in creativity to the ego trips in the group (Levon is pretty guilty of this as well) and I thought of that as I came to the last 100 pages of the book. Robbie blamed "the junkies" (his brothers) and "the road" (uh why did he use Nick Drake as a casualty of the road when the guy, like, never performed live?) as the reasons for The Band breaking up, instead of considering himself as a possibility. Why did the other members of the group, especially Manuel, want to escape? Why did they really want to stop working with Robbie? What about Robbie's coke problem? What about Robbie's wife? He eludes to an alcohol problem there, in which he never elaborates on, but could all this actually be on you Robbie? I don't know...Robbie would rather write in superficial cliches than actually dig deep and admit some hard truths. Some people consider Levon's book to be bitter but there are benefits to his book that are missing from Testimony. One example is that the other members of the group, especially Rick Danko, are included in certain parts. You get to hear their version of events, while Robbie's is purely one-sided. Also, how can one not argue that Robbie is also bitter, especially when he calls Levon "a country boy with an inferiority complex" or says Rick has a "backward personality." Robbie's projecting here, as most fans know that he's the one who's insecure. It's pretty obvious, especially in this book where he can’t stop openly praising himself and his talents on every other page. And let's not forget his insecurity shining through when you watch him mug for the camera in The Last Waltz or talk about "my songs" during the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremony. Hey, what about Richard? As far as I know he wrote a lot of great songs on those first three albums, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. Levon might have been mean-spirited at times but there wasn't so much "me, me, me" in his book. Yes, that's right. If you're a fan of Robbie Robertson's ego, then this book is for you. No joke! Robbie is full of himself, that's for sure. Everybody is praising him left and right. Even total strangers think he's just the best person ever. I recall an interview with Mickey Jones, the drummer during the 1965-66 Bob Dylan tour in which he referred to Robbie as "very standoffish" and how "Robbie was into Robbie." He also referred to Robbie as the "Barnacle Man" because he was obsessed with Bob and always tried to get on camera when they were around. That came to mind as I read the parts about Dylan, although I'm not doubting their friendship at the time, I know Dylan regretted calling Robbie a good guitarist because Robbie took it literally. Robbie also acted like they were best friends, which Bob didn't see at all. I also remember once reading a quote from his son, Sebastian, who monitors The Band's social media pages that his father only comes across as aloof or arrogant because he's shy. Really? For such a shy person, Robbie seemed to be interacting with a lot of freakin' people, which is another problem I have with the book. Not just all the freakin' name-dropping, but that Robbie conveniently is the guy who always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. If it wasn't for him, Bob Dylan wouldn't have done this or that. Right. One example that I found pretty unbelievable (and again no one is going to contradict him because they're all dead) is when Robbie takes Brian Jones to see Jimmy James (the future Jimi Hendrix) play a show, which gives Brian the great idea to bring Jimmy to the UK. Also, Robbie gives Jimmy pointers on becoming a better songwriter. See...if it wasn't for Robbie we would never have known about Jimi Hendrix! Jimi wouldn't have written songs! Oh, and let's not forget Robbie is Jimi's favorite guitar player! I could go on... Other parts that I found unbelievable, especially as a Rick Danko fan: Robbie teaching "Long Black Veil" to Rick, although Rick grew up playing country music and met the originator of that song, Lefty Frizzell, as a kid; Robbie being diagnosed with asthma and telling Rick that's why he doesn't sing the songs although Rick had asthma his entire life; and last but not least, the part where Robbie comes up with the staggered vocal (along with the falsetto melody) idea for "The Weight" chorus and "teaches" it to the guys, something I find hard to believe, especially when Robbie calls Rick "the king of harmonies" at the end of the book. Check out the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame rehearsals when The Band was inducted in 1994 on YouTube (https://youtu.be/S-wHBGz6qmk) - Robbie seems distant, not saying much, while Rick is the one who takes charge in teaching Eric Clapton and Paul Shaffer how to sing "The Weight" chorus. Something to think about. For someone who claims this is all from memory, that nothing was ever written down, he certainly can remember a lot of detail, even total conversations, from stuff that happened 40-50 years ago. I don't know about you, but I find a lot of it hard to believe. The fact that he reminds you numerous times this is all from his incredible memory comes across as a bit defensive. Probably because most people, or maybe 99% of people, can't even remember what they did last week. Yet Robbie can. My advice as a history geek is to always question someone who writes their "story" several decades after the events actually happened. Also, a lot of the words coming out of the other guys' mouths in the book just doesn't ring true for me. You have to wonder if Robbie became obsessed with songwriting/publishing after he was denied credit on an early song he gave to Ronnie Hawkins when he was a teenager, which he writes about in the beginning of the book. But in terms of who wrote what songs in The Band, I really don't care. Robbie can think he wrote it all, which certainly comes across in the book, as he's telling the 4 other guys "to do this and do that" (although I have a feeling nobody told Levon what to do) but I just don't think that's true at all. The Band is the most obvious example of a music group who had a distinct sound and a feeling that cannot have come from just one guy. Robbie might have written the lyrics and melody for most of the songs, but when Richard inverts some of the chords on the piano, and a harmony comes in from Rick, and Levon plays his distinct rhythm, and Garth creates counterpoint melodies...this isn't about writing a song, but shaping and breathing life into it. If one of those guys was missing from the equation, it's just not the same, in my opinion. Also, you have to wonder if the same songs would have been created if Robbie was not jamming with those particular people? I think the four other guys, especially Garth, had a huge influence on Robbie's creativity. Also, let's not forget Bob Dylan didn't record The Basement Tapes with Robbie alone. Actually some of the time Robbie wasn't even there. The Band was not Levon. The Band was not Robbie. The Band was ALL 5 members. Every single one of them. This is a music group whose musical appeal is much more than songwriting. Everyone's voices and musical talents came together to create something very unique. If Robbie thinks it's all about him, and these are "his songs" then he's just plain wrong. The same goes for Levon. Robbie's book AND Levon's book are not "The Bible;" they're memoirs, a flawed genre. Robbie's also in the music business where it's all about selling something. Please remember that before you give Testimony 4 or 5 stars.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Barry Hammond

    For fans of The Band, this memoir by their main song-writer and guitarist is a treasure trove of his memories: childhood, learning guitar, the ritual passing through bands that led him to the music of the southern United States, blues and R & B, rockabilly, and gospel that permeated the playing he did, first with Ronnie Hawkins and The Hawks, then with Bob Dylan when that artist "went electric," and then with Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson, and Rick Danko as The Band. It's rich with de For fans of The Band, this memoir by their main song-writer and guitarist is a treasure trove of his memories: childhood, learning guitar, the ritual passing through bands that led him to the music of the southern United States, blues and R & B, rockabilly, and gospel that permeated the playing he did, first with Ronnie Hawkins and The Hawks, then with Bob Dylan when that artist "went electric," and then with Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson, and Rick Danko as The Band. It's rich with detail and opinions of the many things he saw and heard in his travels and evocative of the times and places of those decades. A colorful kaleidoscope of the 50's, 60's, and 70's. The only shortcoming is that it only covers the period up to and including the filming of Martin Scorsese's The Last Waltz, their farewell concert to the world. Obviously, a second volume is needed to catch this memoir of a complex life up to the present day. - BH

  3. 5 out of 5

    Steven Peterson

    An excellent autobiography of a rock and roll star--Robbie Robertson of The Band. Such works can be duds, can be okay, or can be really good. This is in the latter category. The book traces the arc of his career through "The Last Waltz," as The Band terminated its career. We get a good sense of Robertson growing up, coming from an intriguing background of native Americans and Jews. The book does a nice job of tracing his youth and the point--when he was very young (16)--beginning a music career. An excellent autobiography of a rock and roll star--Robbie Robertson of The Band. Such works can be duds, can be okay, or can be really good. This is in the latter category. The book traces the arc of his career through "The Last Waltz," as The Band terminated its career. We get a good sense of Robertson growing up, coming from an intriguing background of native Americans and Jews. The book does a nice job of tracing his youth and the point--when he was very young (16)--beginning a music career. He got a break by working with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks. Over time, the Hawks change as new talent comes in--Garth Hudson, Rich Danko, Richard Manuel, and Levon Helm. At one point, they go their way and Ronnie Hawkins goes his (as per Bob Dylan--"You go your way and I'll go mine"). They end up backing Bob Dylan on his bizarre transition from folk singer to rock and roll. Then, after Dylan's motorcycle accident, they drift to Woodstock, begin a studio, back up Dylan on the "Basement Tapes," and become The Band. The story of their rise in the music world, their tours, their personal lives are all well told. Their successes. . . . Then, the tolls--drugs, stress, and so on. Then, the time came for the finale. Robertson and mothers got Martin Scorcese to direct their farewell concert as a movie--"The Last Waltz." The book does a fine job describing the technical issues and challenges getting the project to work. The denoument? What a fine way to end a group's career. . . .

  4. 4 out of 5

    Tina

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Fan of The Band, HUGE fan of Levon. . I found it pretty sad. Knowing what we know about what happens between them, and that Rick, Richard and Levon are gone, I found it sentimental and heart wrenching that 3 brothers ended up bitterly fighting and broke up at the end of an amazing run. This book revived my love for their music, and even had me researching more on Dylan's catalog. I would recommend it to any music lover and tell you that if you are a big fan of The I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Fan of The Band, HUGE fan of Levon. . I found it pretty sad. Knowing what we know about what happens between them, and that Rick, Richard and Levon are gone, I found it sentimental and heart wrenching that 3 brothers ended up bitterly fighting and broke up at the end of an amazing run. This book revived my love for their music, and even had me researching more on Dylan's catalog. I would recommend it to any music lover and tell you that if you are a big fan of The Band, view it with an open mind because I know how easy Robbie is to hate. Regardless of how things ended, he is one heck of a storyteller/songwriter and I was grateful to hear his side of things.

  5. 4 out of 5

    JenniferD

    caveat: i am a giant 'band' fan and also played his solo debut robbie robertson (1987) on repeat through most of 87/88 (and which has a track called testimony on it). which is to say, i was a bit stupid-excited for this book. robertson is a storyteller as a songwriter, and that transfers well to his memoir. there wasn't a huge amount of new information for me in testimony, yet it was still very enjoyable and engaging. while, of course, this is only robertson's perspective on the years spanning h caveat: i am a giant 'band' fan and also played his solo debut robbie robertson (1987) on repeat through most of 87/88 (and which has a track called testimony on it). which is to say, i was a bit stupid-excited for this book. robertson is a storyteller as a songwriter, and that transfers well to his memoir. there wasn't a huge amount of new information for me in testimony, yet it was still very enjoyable and engaging. while, of course, this is only robertson's perspective on the years spanning his time with ronnie hawkins, the hawks, and the band (this memoir really only covers this specific era, with a bit of robertson's early life starting things off), it feels sensitive and respectful towards the other players, even when robertson is writing about the harder times they endured personally, and professionally. (and it's telling what was left out, given the ink that has previously been spilled in the media over animosities.) i hope that is the case, anyway... the sensitivity. i love all of the guys in the band. there is no 'favourite beatle' for me -- though if forced (forced) to choose, hello rick danko! robertson somehow manages to convey both a focused yet zen personality, which i am not sure if i am totally buying into. (heh! sorry.) but it sure does help with the flow of the story. a couple of 'yeah.... but?' moments cropped up for me during the read, where i was left with the feeling of wanting more: a) robertson references photographs and photo shoots quite a bit, yet the 2 sections containing images - though wonderful to see - felt sparse. i would have loved a bit more photographic support, though recognize that rights may have been tricky to negotiate/acquire. b) some things i thought he might write about just weren't covered. one example, you know how in the last waltz interviews with the guys are interspersed with the musical performances? i would have really dug reading about that aspect of the production. but these are pretty minor quibbles on my part. overall, i keep thinking this book is a lovely reflection on a pretty extraordinary time in the music world. also, #GoCanada

  6. 5 out of 5

    John Corcelli

    Last fall, four autobiographies were released by some of the biggest names in music history: Bruce Springsteen (Born To Run), Phil Collins (Not Dead Yet, Live), Brian Wilson (I Am Brian Wilson, A Memoir) and Robbie Robertson, who named his autobiography Testimony (Knopf), after one of his compositions. Of those four, I was most keenly interested in hearing from Robertson, particularly since I couldn’t book him for a CBC Radio Documentary I co-produced with Kevin Courrier in 2008. I assumed he wo Last fall, four autobiographies were released by some of the biggest names in music history: Bruce Springsteen (Born To Run), Phil Collins (Not Dead Yet, Live), Brian Wilson (I Am Brian Wilson, A Memoir) and Robbie Robertson, who named his autobiography Testimony (Knopf), after one of his compositions. Of those four, I was most keenly interested in hearing from Robertson, particularly since I couldn’t book him for a CBC Radio Documentary I co-produced with Kevin Courrier in 2008. I assumed he would have offered some first-rate memories that, happily, are now in print. And since I am a fellow Torontonian, many of the places he writes about are familiar to me. Robertson has penned an idealistic autobiography that is not for fans of revisionist history: “These are my stories; this is my voice, my song.” Testimony is one hell of a tale and a hefty one, at 500 pages. As a young man growing up in Toronto, he was captured by the sounds of rock 'n' roll, country and blues music that never left him. His aboriginal mother, from the Mohawk Nation in Ontario, had a very rich musical family whose strong sense of traditional storytelling was equally matched by their skills as musicians. He reports on his many visits to the Six Nations Reserve in Southwest Ontario, with great affection – “On the banks of the Grand River I found a quiet spot and sat for a while, musical memories swirling around in my head. This is where it had all begun for me,” Robertson recalls from 1966. One never doubts that what he says is true and sincere. But, at times, it all seems too neat and tidy. Although I was struck by the profundity of what his mother told him at a young age, “Be proud to be an Indian; but be careful who you tell,” Robertson makes no use of this portal into his own life. Testimony is more about all the good stuff than the bad, which is occasionally passed off as remote memory; he tells you about the often crazy events in his life, but never fully explains their meaning. I prefer biographies that get under the skin of their subjects: how they think and why the artistic choices they made stemmed from one profound moment. That moment for Robertson didn’t come with his mother’s advice or after learning his real father was killed during the Second World War, but when he was 16 years of age on his first trip south to join Ronnie Hawkins in Arkansas. Robertson finds comfort in the music and weaves a great tale about his early days with the Hawks and Hawkins, their charismatic front man. Robertson's experiences as the guitar player in Hawkins’s band read as enthusiastic, heartfelt memories of his life. To think that in 1959, for instance, he was earning $125 a week and wearing suits designed by fellow Torontonian Lou Myles, while his friends were stuck in high school – but it’s a little too quaint. These passages, interspersed with memories of his childhood, seem compartmentalized; scenes described by an outsider looking in, rather than by a participant. Nevertheless, he does offer some moments of self-discovery: “My job in life at age twenty-two was to learn, to absorb the magic, and to have a real good time along the way.” Perhaps Robertson feels the need to be distant from the more painful events (involving race, addiction, organized crime bosses) while fully enjoying the stories of his days with Ronnie Hawkins, Bob Dylan and The Band. As he told Tom Power on CBC Radio’s q in November, he "felt lighter” after carrying the weight of all these stories and “setting them free.” Many of the stories in Testimony are already familiar to his fans, only without his insight. And it is the latter part of his life, after 1965, covered in the middle chapters, that is most engaging. Here we begin to understand Robertson’s songwriting process. We learn that he wrote “The Weight” in one sitting after being inspired by the Luis Buñuel film, Viridiana. We also get some details into one of his best songs, penned for Levon Helm, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” written from the point of view of a Southerner. Throughout the book Robertson reports on his timely and unexpected meetings with other musicians and artists during his youth. For instance, in 1965, Bob Dylan is introduced to him by John Hammond, Jr. during the recording sessions for “Like A Rolling Stone.” One of his first gigs away from The Hawks was with Dylan, whom he befriended in due course. We also learn that he did the stereo mix of Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde. Hammond also introduces him to Jimmy James (Jimi Hendrix) by way of a club date in New York. He also hangs out with Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground, attends a house party with Salvador Dali and plays with street musician Tiny Tim. Robertson always seems to be in the right place at the right time, either at a party or a gig or after a concert. But while his book often reads like a series of introductions with some serious name-dropping, the ride that Robertson -- and therefore the reader -- finds himself on is sweeping in its speed and success. For me, the best information doesn’t really come until after the 1966 tour with Bob Dylan. As the story goes, after the tumultuous world tour of 1966, where fans booed and threw things at the band, The Hawks relocated to the area of Woodstock NY and the house known as Big Pink. This was following Dylan’s decision to rest and regroup after his motorcycle accident. The years 1967 to 1974 are well covered and offer some marvelous details into the songwriting process Robertson and his band mates developed during those fertile years. This includes the Basement Tapes story and the origin of The Band’s name, their signing with Capitol Records and their worldwide success. Robertson constantly sings the praises of Bob Dylan during this time and spreads compliments to Garth Hudson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Levon Helm – his "brothers” – and, considering the quality of the group's output, starting with their debut album, Music from Big Pink, he’s not being sentimental. During these productive years after 1968, the group smoked a lot of pot and was pretty reckless with their cars on the country roads of upstate New York, but Robertson seems to pull his punches on the subject of the group’s drug abuse. At one point, Helm, Danko and Manuel were using so much heroin that it was affecting the band’s very existence. In Robertson’s view, this had a huge impact on the success of the group and left him the only one who could pull them altogether. What’s implicit in Testimony is the idea that if not for Robertson, The Band wouldn’t have existed in the first place. With their consent, he negotiated publishing and recording deals with the help of trusted business partners such as Albert Grossman. He also encouraged the group to tour whenever the opportunity arose. What he couldn’t do was stop the heroin abuse until he discovered the source of their problem: touring. The book ends with the Last Waltz project: a filmed concert and semi-biographical documentary about The Band, which came after much discussion and planning in 1976. Martin Scorsese directed it. Here we learn of Robertson’s attempt to get his band off the road and off smack. As he says, “I worried that Garth and I had three junkies in our group, plus our so-called manager. Finally I declared, ‘No more’… no one was opposed to the idea.” Robertson reports that all the members of The Band felt it was time to take a break from the many temptations that were affecting their health. The Last Waltz was their way of going out big after sixteen years on the road. According to Robertson, it was his hope and the hope of the other members of the group that recovery could only happen if they didn’t tour again. But he underestimated the last concert’s effect on the group, as he admits in the coda: “This train we’d been riding for so long was pulling into the station, not just for touring, not just for recording, but for everything.” Robertson is often blamed for the breakup of The Band, based on the mistaken belief (one that I long held) that only he was tired of the road, not the whole group, who simply needed a vacation to dry out and start again. Robertson dispels that myth in Testimony. As he writes, “I thought I knew where I wanted to go and what my calling was, but if I hadn’t … hopped that southbound train, who knows?” Indeed. Robertson’s book is essential reading on the history of The Band and his particular skills as the de facto leader of the group. It’s a story full not of spite, ill will or petty jealousy but of love and respect and fairness, three of the least appreciated qualities in the music business. At the TIFF presentation I attended in November, Robertson reported that he was working on a second volume.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    I enjoyed this book a a lot more than I thought I would. I kind of expected Robbie to include a lot of myth making (as he did in the interview segments of The Last Waltz) and maybe more name-dropping; I also thought he would be getting even with some of the things that other Band members, notably Helm, said about him over the years. I was wrong. Robertson's prose is lean and descriptive, and he's good at capturing characterizations. His characterizations of Band members are warm and seem, from li I enjoyed this book a a lot more than I thought I would. I kind of expected Robbie to include a lot of myth making (as he did in the interview segments of The Last Waltz) and maybe more name-dropping; I also thought he would be getting even with some of the things that other Band members, notably Helm, said about him over the years. I was wrong. Robertson's prose is lean and descriptive, and he's good at capturing characterizations. His characterizations of Band members are warm and seem, from listening to them over the decades, accurate as to their talents and shortcomings. He doesn't try to counter some charges as the others, or not explicitly, but presents the story as he sees it without arguing. In the end, it's an engaging book. Oftentimes funny, and he doesn't shy away from his own problems (notably, drugs, though not as bad as some of his Bandmates, and womanizing). I very much enjoyed his descriptions of how the Band worked in its early days. His characterization of Body Dylan was interesting, mostly because Bob was more of a bandmate and collaborator to him than a hero figure. Towards the end, before The Last Waltz, the book feels a bit name-droopy, he talks about his friendships (and sometimes affairs) with such as Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, David Geffen, Martin Scorsese, Jimi Hendrix, etc. etc. It feels a bit tiresome at the time, but on the other hand, this is Robbie Robertson, and if you had the likes of Michaelango Antioni visiting you, wouldn't you make sure to mention that in your memoirs? And also, his characterizations of many of these people are fascinating. Finally, it's interesting and likely that he ends the book after The Last Waltz. His life became a lot less, what, groundbreaking after that. It seems this may have been a late decision, as many things he mentions, notably his wife's nascent drinking problem, are left unfinished. All in all, a good book. Not up to the heights of the recent Springsteen, but if you care about The Band, a must read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Duffy Pratt

    I've read several of these Rock autobiographies recently and this one stands somewhere in the middle. Not as good as Keith Richard's Life, or Elvis Costello's Unfaithful Music and Dissappearing Ink. But it is more substantial than, for example Clapton's book, and maybe on a par with Gregg Allman's book. The stories told here are good and entertaining, and there is a lot of great stuff about life on the road, life cloistered in the Catskills, and about how The Band put together its music. The spec I've read several of these Rock autobiographies recently and this one stands somewhere in the middle. Not as good as Keith Richard's Life, or Elvis Costello's Unfaithful Music and Dissappearing Ink. But it is more substantial than, for example Clapton's book, and maybe on a par with Gregg Allman's book. The stories told here are good and entertaining, and there is a lot of great stuff about life on the road, life cloistered in the Catskills, and about how The Band put together its music. The specter haunting this book is Robertson's treatment of his bandmates after the break-up, and the book offers some exculpatory information, particularly in his claim that the members wanted to sell him their rights just before the break-up. It's hard to credit him on this, however, because of another main weakness in the book. A key rule for writers is to keep in mind that every character sees himself as the hero of his own story. I'm not sure that that rule should apply so religiously in a memoir. Since the writer is, by definition, writing a book about his own life, its reasonable to expect at least some confessional material. Robertson basically offers none. If you took this book at its word, the worst that he ever did was play some pranks (like his near attempt at armed robbery with Levon, or when they ripped off Paul Butterfields stash, etc...) These count more as hijinks than failings though. There is basically nothing about his own drug dependence, though there is quite a bit about especially Levon's and Manuel's. Nor is there any other story that tends to open up a darker side to his character. Mostly, he talks about his triumphs, both known and unknown, and casts things as triumphs even when they might not be. I will compare this to, for example, Herbie Hancock's or Phil Lesh's stories. Hancock is relentlessly positive in his book, with an air of modesty (which Robertson lacks) that is so extreme that it sometimes comes across as false modesty. But even he gives a pretty stark and harrowing depiction of his crack addiction and how it almost ruined his life. Likewise, Lesh has basically nothing bad to say about anyone in his book, but gives a pretty clear account of his own abuse of cocaine and then his alcoholism. The most that Robertson ever says is that it was hard for him to intervene when he was no saint himself. Beyond that, there is basically no detail. I'm not saying that I need to have a blow by blow description of being strung out. Rather, the book takes on such a positive tone about Robertson himself, that it sometimes is hard to believe. And I mean that other details are hard to believe. For example, just how influential is he really on Joni Mitchell, having played on Raised on Robbery? This is a strange one, because I didn't know that he had played on it, and he's one of my all time favorite guitarists and songwriters. But that always stuck out for me as the one song that didn't fit seamlessly into Court and Spark as an album. It's a great song, but it sounds like it belongs on another album. So even if he can be credited for the change in the sound, I'm not really sure that its credit I would want to take. Finally, given the amount of time he has spent with really amazing figures - Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Allan Tossaint, etc... - there isn't a whole lot of insight into any of their personalities. (Though the stuff with him and Mitchell and David Geffen in Paris is really fun). With Dylan, I almost suspect that Dylan has spent so much time making himself an enigma that Robertson decided he would respect that by not revealing too much. I'm glad I read this. I would like also to read Levon's book, if I can find it. Ultimately, it doesn't matter to me that much which members of The Band were assholes to the others. They were around as a group for about the same amount of time as the Beatles, and may be the next most talented collection of musicians. That's enough.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Don Gorman

    (4) What an exhilarating book. Upbeat, positive (almost to a fault) and full of incredible information. Not the introspective revealing tone of Born to Run but undeniably its equal in reporting the unique processes of writing, recording and the ins and outs of the music business. Robertson is a few years older than me and I am totally aware of all his many influences in music, which made this book resonate even more deeply with me. The experiences that he had and the unbelievable "A" list of cel (4) What an exhilarating book. Upbeat, positive (almost to a fault) and full of incredible information. Not the introspective revealing tone of Born to Run but undeniably its equal in reporting the unique processes of writing, recording and the ins and outs of the music business. Robertson is a few years older than me and I am totally aware of all his many influences in music, which made this book resonate even more deeply with me. The experiences that he had and the unbelievable "A" list of celebrities and characters he interacted with are nothing short of remarkable. The fact that this book held my interest so fully through almost 500 pages covering less than a 20 year period really speaks to its power and level of writing. Another just terrific music memoir/autobiography.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Joe Kraus

    Robbie Robertson has an incredible story to tell. It’s not enough that his mother is a Choctaw Native-American or that his father was a Canadian Jewish gangster who died in an accident (possibly an “accident”) before he was born. And it’s not enough that he was on the road as a member of Ronnie Hawkins band when he was only 17, that he provided some of the most important electric guitar in Bob Dylan’s first electric period, or that he was on the scene for most of the rock excess of the mid-1960s Robbie Robertson has an incredible story to tell. It’s not enough that his mother is a Choctaw Native-American or that his father was a Canadian Jewish gangster who died in an accident (possibly an “accident”) before he was born. And it’s not enough that he was on the road as a member of Ronnie Hawkins band when he was only 17, that he provided some of the most important electric guitar in Bob Dylan’s first electric period, or that he was on the scene for most of the rock excess of the mid-1960s to mid-1970s. Above all, it should have been enough that he was an integral part of The Band – its lead guitarist and chief songwriter – which is, arguably, one of the handful of the greatest rock bands in American history. That last point needs a little defending, but hear me out. British rock is mostly about great bands: Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks, Oasis, and name your favorites. It’s rarely about major solo artists; even Brit rockers like Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton worked to create new bands before abandoning their band success and going out as individual front men. American rock tends to go the other way. Our stars, from the start, have been front men: Elvis, Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and, again, name your favorites. When it comes to American bands, though, there are only a handful that have endured without splitting off lead singers or guitarists somewhere else. (I recognize I’m oversimplifying, but still…) At first blush, I can think of only a few American bands that have reshaped mainstream music, have been balanced rosters without a clear front man/woman, and have endured: The Dead, Jefferson Airplane, R.E.M., maybe Pearl Jam, and The Band. And if you don’t think The Band have endured, give a listen to their music, and then try on something by the Avett Brothers, Conor Oberst, the Felice Brothers, the Lumineers, or any of a dozen bands working in the Americana vein right now. Dylan and Neil Young may be the grandfathers of Americana, but the genre runs right through The Band. They are the fathers of this new sound, and – since I’m biased in thinking it’s the richest source of contemporary rock going – I think they still matter. So, digression ended, this ought to be a great story. It ought to be an account of how this group of disparate musicians – four were from Canada and one an Arkansan – came and stayed together. It ought to be the story of how drummer Levon Helm mentored Robertson into a musician capable of hanging with Dylan and how time with Dylan matured him into one of the great songwriters of his era. (“The Weight,” anyone? And there are 12-15 more great ones where that came from.) It ought to be about the full story behind the way Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Helm had as rich a trio of singers as any band this side of Fleetwood Mac in their prime. And then it ought to be an answer to the complaint levied by Helm and some of his supporters that Robertson sold out The Band by acquiring all the publishing rights to their songs, leaving himself a playboy pal of David Geffen and relegating the rest of them to the lives of working musicians. But this book is barely any of that. I hung on throughout it because, as I expect I’ve implied, I’m a big fan of The Band. Instead, this is a succession of things that happened to Robertson, a sometimes mixed up account of his life leading up to The Band and culminating in their memorable Last Waltz break-up concert. It opens in awkward fashion, starting with the day he took a train south from Canada to join Ronnie Hawkins band in the U.S., but immediately flashing back to a disorganized series of anecdotes about learning the guitar and getting to know Hawkins. After Robertson straightens out his account – which also doubles back to, and then makes overly complicated, the story of his Jewish gangster uncle’s involvement with the Toronto mafia – it becomes a series of scenes that never quite culminate in a larger narrative. He must know that there are Levon Helm fans (and likely Danko and Manuel too, with the many fans of Garth Hudson blissfully disinterested in the business side of it all) who resent him, who see him as the guy who made millions off their shared work. Instead, we get perhaps a paragraph in which he reports that the other band members asked to sell him their song rights – even Levon – even after he triple-checked to make sure they knew what they were doing. So they were all strung out on heroin and booze at the time; he was the sober one who thought to take out a loan to buy the rights and give them ready cash. And all of this ends surprisingly. For a memoir that gives only surface reports of the character of the other Band members, it ends with The Last Waltz. I’d have liked to see more; Robertson did go on to a commercially successful (though, to my ears, largely unlistenable) solo career, and he did become an important soundtrack composer. And the other Band members, the wonderfully unruffled Hudson aside, have all died in ways that I’d like to see him reflect upon. Throughout the second half of this, he expresses concern for Manuel’s substance abuse; I’d like to have heard what it was like to see that deeply talented man kill himself years later – or to have him reflect on Danko’s later, also sad death – or on Helm’s late-life renaissance as a wise man of the Americana scene. As if those absences aren’t enough, this is just badly written. There’s a flatness throughout, a tendency for Robertson – whose lyrics show a capacity for real poetry – to depend on inert adjectives rather than sustained insight. By way of two examples among many, far too many: there’s his description of his wedding night, “On that special night, we got pregnant.” Or, as he contemplated the L.A. drug scene around David Crosby and Stephen Stills, “Trouble was brewing, and we couldn’t wait to get a hold of it.” Not every music memoir will rise to the level of Patti Smith’s. Despite its dodging certain difficult topics, I enjoyed Willie Nelson’s very much for the way he managed to show a consistent self from his wannabe songwriter days, through his Outlaw country, to his standing as one of the major figures of American popular music. But this one, which could be so much more, seems flat. There’s little about the artistry behind this still-terrific music (though there are moments when Robertson gets interesting as he talks about harmonies, arrangements, and guitar parts). Instead, it seems the report of a fascinating man, not so much giving testimony, as contentedly smoothing out the rough parts to make it seem all more pleasant, a far more benign, than it must have been.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Paul Baker

    Robbie Robertson's autobiography of the The Band is by far the most complete testament to date on one of the hottest rock 'n' roll bands ever. There's certainly enough out there on The Band that one could argue the world doesn't need another Testimony, but Robertson's is by far the most in-depth memoir available and it has the advantage of giving us a point of view from one who was not only in the center of things, but one who had a fairly clear head during that time and a razor-sharp memory. Many Robbie Robertson's autobiography of the The Band is by far the most complete testament to date on one of the hottest rock 'n' roll bands ever. There's certainly enough out there on The Band that one could argue the world doesn't need another Testimony, but Robertson's is by far the most in-depth memoir available and it has the advantage of giving us a point of view from one who was not only in the center of things, but one who had a fairly clear head during that time and a razor-sharp memory. Many fans previously had to rely solely on Levon Helm's slim memoir This Wheel's on Fire for inside-the-band information and most of us were left to ponder whether Robbie Robertson, in effect, "stole" the songs which had been written by The Band as a group. While Robertson does not address Helm's charges per se, he does offer a detailed report of how each song was written and by whom. It is no coincidence that his assertions match up with authorial credit on the records. Given Helm's absence (on an oil rig) during the time when most of the songs included on Music from Big Pink were written and considering his intense involvement with drugs during much of the songwriting, I'm inclined now to believe Robertson's detailed version. Following that first album, Helm, Richard Manuel, and Rick Danko were all at times battling heroin addition and withdrew from songwriting duties. The inside information on Robertson's relationship with Bob Dylan is epic. He goes into laborious detail on their working relationship at Big Pink, the authorship of the songs contained in The Basement Tapes and their ongoing relationship over the years. Since Dylan has not written about this time, this detail is truly welcome. The book covers the time period from Robertson's childhood growing up in Toronto and visiting the Six Nations Reserve as a child (his ethnicity is half Mohawk and half Jewish--talk about a potent combination) all the way through The Last Waltz. His perspective on that enormous concert, providing the best rock 'n' roll film of all time, is as detailed as the rest of the 494 page opus and is again extremely welcome in the annals of rock history. My personal disappointment is that the book ended there. Robbie Robertson's career after that final concert with The Band is nearly as legendary as band itself was--meteoric solo albums, producing, developing film music, and working with various Native American musicians to create an incredible fusion of musical styles. I am also interested in his family, his induction into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, his friendship with Martin Scorsese, and his final album (to date) How to Become Clairvoyant. In other words, the second half of a full, creative life is missing. I sincerely hope that he will be moved to write that story. I highly recommend this book to everyone, teen to adult.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rod Horncastle

    I didn't know that Robbie wrote almost all the great Band songs. Wow! I have a whole new respect for him. (and that he had his Last Waltz guitar bronzed... that's just fun) I remember an old buddy I had back at Summercamp (1987?) telling me I just had to get into the BAND. "That Was REAL Music". In many ways - he was totally right. The Band made timeless music that affected endless other musicians on their journey. Personally, I demanded MORE guitar solos... But eventually I got around to watchin I didn't know that Robbie wrote almost all the great Band songs. Wow! I have a whole new respect for him. (and that he had his Last Waltz guitar bronzed... that's just fun) I remember an old buddy I had back at Summercamp (1987?) telling me I just had to get into the BAND. "That Was REAL Music". In many ways - he was totally right. The Band made timeless music that affected endless other musicians on their journey. Personally, I demanded MORE guitar solos... But eventually I got around to watching the Last Waltz Concert movie. Robbie Robertson held his ground with Eric Clapton very nicely. I became a fan. This book may be a bit more than the truth. (we guitar players do love to exaggerate on occasion). WE do have Duane Allman gossip/lore stating that Robbie was his favorite guitar player. Maybe? Sure, why not? I've read a Ronnie Hawkins biography, A Band biography, now THIS. The other books don't mention Robbie being the man who got all the hard work done. Is that bit true? Well, we know what happened to the band and its members after Robbie moved on - mostly very little. Therefore I tend to agree with Robbie's tale. I recall always hearing from Levon Helm that Robbie ruined the Band...and the last Waltz. But now we have a very different story: Robbie did everything he could to try to inspire Rick, Richard, Levon to actually show up and do some work. They were too busy destroying their health, and marriages, and musical gifts. Only Garth seemed to have a serious work ethic to match Robbie's. So YES, The Band really died about 3 years before the last Waltz concert. The band was just too stoned to notice. Robbie had no choice but to move on. And He did: making solo albums, producing, being involved in movie soundtracks. So my only complaint with this book is that it ends just a few days after the Last Waltz event. And sadly, we may never get a "REST OF THE STORY" from Robbie. Apparently he just recently divorced his wife of many decades. I want to know more about his guitar collection and performing at Eric Clapton's Crossroads event. But this is a great music biograghy: tons of info about guitars, amps, recording, song-writing, jamming, gigs, The Dylan years, and the debauchery of Rock N Roll. Almost 500 pages and still too short.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    An enthusiastic musical child-prodigy of Haudenosaunee-Jewish lineage and Canadian heritage, Robbie Robertson shines as a storyteller. Testimony is an exciting read. One can hear Robertson’s voice. Laughing sometimes. Melancholy sometimes. Robertson points the finger at absurdities, like going on the electric tour with Dylan in '66, and getting booed/attacked by peaceniks. He jokes about time on the road with vastly talented compatriots Helm, Danko, Manuel and Hudson but he worries. At any secon An enthusiastic musical child-prodigy of Haudenosaunee-Jewish lineage and Canadian heritage, Robbie Robertson shines as a storyteller. Testimony is an exciting read. One can hear Robertson’s voice. Laughing sometimes. Melancholy sometimes. Robertson points the finger at absurdities, like going on the electric tour with Dylan in '66, and getting booed/attacked by peaceniks. He jokes about time on the road with vastly talented compatriots Helm, Danko, Manuel and Hudson but he worries. At any second a dangerous lifestyle can snap out the life of another musician, perhaps one of The Band’s own, a la mode Joplin, Hendrix and Jim Morrison. The Band members are young. Helped by performance-stress and personality-type, they let themselves get sucked into the “cool” drug culture of rock ‘n’ roll. Easy access to cocaine and heroin and other mood de-stabilizers is no help but through it all The Band makes fabulous music, which penetrates deep into the public’s forever consciousness. We all know The Weight. Ophelia. The Night They drove ol’ Dixie Down. Evangeline. Thanks to Scorsese’s brilliant movie The Last Waltz we can access the glory days of The Band—and hear Mitchell and Hawkins and Van Morrison and Waters and Diamond et al. As we watch the movie or read Robertson's account of the era we are there. We marvel at the Band’s sensational arrangements and Robertson’s evocative songwriting. A Canadian boy understands humility. In Toronto Robertson finds his feet nailed to the ground. Dylan and The Band get an ungracious reception in the old hometown. As late as the 60s the group has come up against English Canada’s frustrating neo-platonic disdain for the arts and local artists, where cynical side-sniping critics have a loud voice (see Robertson’s comments on Toronto). A nervous trend-conscious public does not know what to think. The Massey Hall audience cannot simply trust itself to believe in the magic of one of its own. In fine style--as one would expect--Robbie Robertson tells his tale, and takes a page from Jack Layton’s book. Love is better than hate.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Tony Nielsen

    Since the outrageous success of Keith Richards tell-all autobiogaphy back in 2010 an avalanche of musicians have tried to emulate his sales figures with their own versions of a rock or pop biography. Not many have come anywhere near Richards, but Robbie Robertson's A Memoir comes pretty close, given that his fame as such can but hold a candle to Keef. I have been a huge fan of Robbie's group The Band from the get-go. Their debut album Music from the Big Pink remains one of my all-time favourites. Since the outrageous success of Keith Richards tell-all autobiogaphy back in 2010 an avalanche of musicians have tried to emulate his sales figures with their own versions of a rock or pop biography. Not many have come anywhere near Richards, but Robbie Robertson's A Memoir comes pretty close, given that his fame as such can but hold a candle to Keef. I have been a huge fan of Robbie's group The Band from the get-go. Their debut album Music from the Big Pink remains one of my all-time favourites. The telling of their long road to best-selling album and gig status was a long one, and Robbie Robertson provides us with an insiders perspective that makes for persuasive reading. They started out as the Hawks, backing up rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins, the individuals that would make up the Band, gradually joining together as Hawkins road band. From there they graduated to Bob Dylan as he went from acoustic folk singer to full-on rock based poet. They were there when he was almost booed off the stage at the Newport Festival. Together they all graduated to upstate New York's Woodstock, long before it became famous for the Festival that was held nearby. The Big Pink was the name of the building where they rehearsed with Dylan while also starting to create their own highly individual sound. The Music from the Big Pink was an instantaneous success, followed by tours and albums over the early Seventies, before leading up to their decision to split up which became famous through their final show called the Last Waltz. One of the big problems that cursed their individual relationships was the amount of illicit drugs that some of their were ingesting in ever increasing amounts. Robertson, while a party to this, was more interested in forging ahead with their music career. In the end it was all over on November 11, 1976 with the historic farewell concert. While some members of the Band are no longer with us, Robbie Robertson has continued to perform as both a solo artist and with others. The Memoir however is mostly about their early days and then as the Band achieved a relatively short but successful career which ended 40 years ago. Its a GOOD book, and to my mind probably beats off the competition from Brian Wilson, Bruce Springsteen and Jimmy Barnes for the title of best rock biography this year.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ronson Brown

    In high school, it was a teacher who suggested I check out The Band and to give The Last Waltz a real watch. Prior to then, I only knew a handful of their songs and never really thought twice about them. Boy, did things change after I watched The Last Waltz nonstop for about a week straight. I was completely drawn into their one of a kind music. As soon as I saw this memoir had come out, I bought it the same day, eager to read how Robbie wove together his journey as a musician. Robbie has a way In high school, it was a teacher who suggested I check out The Band and to give The Last Waltz a real watch. Prior to then, I only knew a handful of their songs and never really thought twice about them. Boy, did things change after I watched The Last Waltz nonstop for about a week straight. I was completely drawn into their one of a kind music. As soon as I saw this memoir had come out, I bought it the same day, eager to read how Robbie wove together his journey as a musician. Robbie has a way with words, a very artful, specific, and enthralling way with words. This Autobiography really exemplifies how excellent of a wordsmith and storyteller he is. There is a flow here that really keeps you reading. My only qualm with this was that I felt like it ended a little sooner than I would have liked. We all know about the allegedly controversial end to The Band and this moment in their history feels a little under explained in comparison to the great detail given previously. Some accounts paint it one way and this is just another view on the five sided die that is the real story. Whatever the case was, Robbie and The Band made wonderful music and this is a delightful telling of his story in music.

  16. 4 out of 5

    David

    According to his memoir, Robbie Robertson has never made a mistake, never done anything he regrets, never slighted a friend or business partner. This, of course, is contrary to alternative accounts of the events he describes, and also to our understanding of what a 'life' is generally comprised of--that is to say, at least 80% mistakes/regrets. Despite this, Robertson's stories are worth reading, the people he describes worth celebrating. Dylan, in Robertson's memory, seems more like a real, hum According to his memoir, Robbie Robertson has never made a mistake, never done anything he regrets, never slighted a friend or business partner. This, of course, is contrary to alternative accounts of the events he describes, and also to our understanding of what a 'life' is generally comprised of--that is to say, at least 80% mistakes/regrets. Despite this, Robertson's stories are worth reading, the people he describes worth celebrating. Dylan, in Robertson's memory, seems more like a real, human person than in other accounts. And I do feel that I now 'know' (at least a little bit!) the other members of the Band. I greatly miss Richard, Rick, and Levon, but I am grateful that we still have Robbie, and that he took the time to write down his story. I guess he's entitled to tell it however he wants to tell it.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Steve Peifer

    Did you know that Jimi Hendrix's favorite guitar player was Robbie Robertson? Me either, and even though Robertson tells us that story in this book, he says lots of stuff I don't believe in this self serving memoir. Beware the book where the hero always knows the right answer and solves the problem. You start to not believe anything. His years with Dylan don't produce any particular insights or anecdotes. Overall, a real disappointment. Did you know that Jimi Hendrix's favorite guitar player was Robbie Robertson? Me either, and even though Robertson tells us that story in this book, he says lots of stuff I don't believe in this self serving memoir. Beware the book where the hero always knows the right answer and solves the problem. You start to not believe anything. His years with Dylan don't produce any particular insights or anecdotes. Overall, a real disappointment.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Todd Stockslager

    Review title: The Last Waltz Robbie Robertson proves to be as effortless at writing his autobiography as he is at writing and playing some of the most iconic music of the last 50 years. From roots on the Six Nations Indian Reserve in Ontario to the downtown and suburban streets of Toronto, the young Robertson loved music and yearned to be part of that world. When second-tier rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins, well known to Robertson for his frequent shows in Toronto, needed a new guitar player, th Review title: The Last Waltz Robbie Robertson proves to be as effortless at writing his autobiography as he is at writing and playing some of the most iconic music of the last 50 years. From roots on the Six Nations Indian Reserve in Ontario to the downtown and suburban streets of Toronto, the young Robertson loved music and yearned to be part of that world. When second-tier rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins, well known to Robertson for his frequent shows in Toronto, needed a new guitar player, the 16-year-old kid took a train south to Arkansas and won the job playing venues he was too young to attend. And when he learned that he was also half-Jewish, his cultural outsider position was cemented, but Robertson's ambition and talent were too big to be derailed. As he came of age behind Hawkins, the shifting lineup of his band the Hawks brought Robertson in touch with Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Richard Manual, and finally Garth Hudson. While Helm always had a special place in his life as the "older brother" in music and life, the close-knit five survived 16 years as the Hawks, as Dylan's band during the momentous "plugged in" tour that produced the Judas concert at the Manchester Free Trade Hall, and finally as The Band creating a new kind of roots music from Woodstock, New York. Along the way, Robertson's account shows him learning about life on the road of a constantly-touring rock and roll band, dealing with relationships in tight quarters, finances in a cut-throat business, and sex and drugs in a chaotic culture. Robertson writes with the clear eye of an observer, and the detached, wry and sometimes winningly innocent eye of the outsider he remained. As Robertson and his Band mates grew up through the experimental eras with marijuana and LSD in the 60s,then heroin and cocaine in the 70s, Robertson is blunt in describing the effects of the pharmacopeia that threatened the health, music, and lives of all the members of the band. While all were heavy users of pot, amphetamines, and later cocaine, Hudson and Robertson steered clear of LSD and heroin, which threatened to derail Helm and Danko, while Manual was an addicted alcoholic that left him with DTs and mental and physical blackouts that endangered tour dates. At various times, Robertson and others, while still brothers in life and the studio, threatened to shut down The Band to preserve their lives and musical legacy. Along the way, Robertson records his role in great moments in music history, as he and The Band set up a basement studio in the house known as Big Pink, launched their blend of bluegrass, folk, country, Cajun, Acadian, gospel, jazz, and just plain rock and roll captured on the Basement tapes, toured with Dylan, played at Woodstock, Watkins Glen, and Isle of Wight, moved to Malibu, and made rock of ages while battling personal demons and figuring out life and relationships. Finally, in 1976, Robertson describes his idea to shut down The Band with one final concert known as "The Last Waltz", with guest appearances by some of the biggest names on rock music and captured in an amazing concert film directed by Martin Scorsese. Robertson's account of the planning and execution of that celebration wraps up his account on a high note, and if you own it or have access to rent it, a full-volume viewing of the concert with a good surround sound system is the perfect visual to conclude Testimony. The visual of the still young Robertson, just 32 years old after 16 years on the road but looking 10 years older, is a reminder of the price Robertson and The Band paid for their fame, and of the harsh consequences of addiction. All for what, just some popular music? Yes, just for that; listen to "The Last Waltz" and you'll understand it.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Chad Geese

    I knew absolutely nothing about "the band" other than them being Canadian, playing woodstock and hearing the song "the weight." I received this book as a gift for Christmas and started listening to them before even picking up the book to get familiar with their sound. In the last 3 months I've probably listened to (Music from Big Pink, The Band, Stage Freight and Cahoots) albums well north of a hundred times. After finally picking up the book I stopped to listen to Ronnie Hawkins to understand m I knew absolutely nothing about "the band" other than them being Canadian, playing woodstock and hearing the song "the weight." I received this book as a gift for Christmas and started listening to them before even picking up the book to get familiar with their sound. In the last 3 months I've probably listened to (Music from Big Pink, The Band, Stage Freight and Cahoots) albums well north of a hundred times. After finally picking up the book I stopped to listen to Ronnie Hawkins to understand more of what I was reading. It took me well over a month to finish this book from the standpoint I wanted to hear the songs Robbie was talking about throughout the book. I know there is some bitterness just from reading the reviews of this book on how Robbie went out or how the band dismantled but from my perspective of not being a huge fan of them I really enjoyed the rock history and story that went with it. If you're a fan of The Band this book is a must! But if you're a fan of music I think you can very much appreciate it.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    Rock n' Roll Royalty is an exclusive, closed circle. Few are accepted in the inner sanctum and an even smaller number are worthy. Robbie Robertson isn't a household name to most, but his presence has been felt for decades. Testimony documents his time at the start of Rock n' Roll in the late 50's to The Bands triumphant finale - The Last Waltz. Along the way, you'll be entertained with great stories and meet an amazing cast of characters that we already revere and love. One of the best musical b Rock n' Roll Royalty is an exclusive, closed circle. Few are accepted in the inner sanctum and an even smaller number are worthy. Robbie Robertson isn't a household name to most, but his presence has been felt for decades. Testimony documents his time at the start of Rock n' Roll in the late 50's to The Bands triumphant finale - The Last Waltz. Along the way, you'll be entertained with great stories and meet an amazing cast of characters that we already revere and love. One of the best musical biographies I've ever had the pleasure to read. Robertson truly deserves his place among the music gods.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Dean

    Great autobiography and very entertaining reading. If you like The Band, Bob Dylan and the music scene of the 60's to early 70's you will enjoy this book. I couldn't put it down. Robbie Robertson, a great songwriter also turns out to be a very interesting writer. Great autobiography and very entertaining reading. If you like The Band, Bob Dylan and the music scene of the 60's to early 70's you will enjoy this book. I couldn't put it down. Robbie Robertson, a great songwriter also turns out to be a very interesting writer.

  22. 4 out of 5

    William

    A waste of time. Just listen to "Music from big Pink" A waste of time. Just listen to "Music from big Pink"

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dsinglet

    Interesting book about rock and roll life as lived by a Canadian First Nations kid who goes on to be lead guitarist with the iconic Band that backed Bob Dylan. Robbie's career was very organic, no lessons just life on the road from the age of 16 yrs. He started with Ronnie Hawkins and eventually splintered off with Levon Helm, Rick Danko and others to form the Band. Despite years of drinking, drugs, girls he eventually settled in. He knew everyone in the business and tells stories about them all Interesting book about rock and roll life as lived by a Canadian First Nations kid who goes on to be lead guitarist with the iconic Band that backed Bob Dylan. Robbie's career was very organic, no lessons just life on the road from the age of 16 yrs. He started with Ronnie Hawkins and eventually splintered off with Levon Helm, Rick Danko and others to form the Band. Despite years of drinking, drugs, girls he eventually settled in. He knew everyone in the business and tells stories about them all. He ended up writing the Band's big hits like You don't know the shape I'm in, The night they drove old Dixie down,Evangeline and many others. He had a work ethic and led the group to pursue their specialness and talents.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rick

    I loved this book. I loved Levon's memoir "This Wheel's on Fire," too. And I'm certainly aware of all the animosity Band and music fans harbor toward Robertson, and I can admit that this book is definitely self-serving and a huge "Hey, look at me being a star" memoir, but I still loved it. This is the music of my times. I was 16 when Dylan went electric with the Band backing him, 18 when "Music From Big Pink " came out, 19 at Woodstock, 26 at the Last Waltz, so his story is a precious insight in I loved this book. I loved Levon's memoir "This Wheel's on Fire," too. And I'm certainly aware of all the animosity Band and music fans harbor toward Robertson, and I can admit that this book is definitely self-serving and a huge "Hey, look at me being a star" memoir, but I still loved it. This is the music of my times. I was 16 when Dylan went electric with the Band backing him, 18 when "Music From Big Pink " came out, 19 at Woodstock, 26 at the Last Waltz, so his story is a precious insight into the people and the times that mean a lot to me. I'm grateful for this book while realizing that there might other sides to these stories.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Heather Alderman

    I have liked The Band's music for many years and The Last Waltz is one of my favorite movies, but I didn't know very much about the members or the story of The Band, until now. This was a fantastic autobiography by Robbie Robertson about what brought The Band together and kept them going through an amazing career. So well written and interesting - it will make me see theirs and others music differently. Off to rewatch The Last Waltz with new lenses. I have liked The Band's music for many years and The Last Waltz is one of my favorite movies, but I didn't know very much about the members or the story of The Band, until now. This was a fantastic autobiography by Robbie Robertson about what brought The Band together and kept them going through an amazing career. So well written and interesting - it will make me see theirs and others music differently. Off to rewatch The Last Waltz with new lenses.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sir

    One of the best autobiographies by a musician I've read. One of the best autobiographies by a musician I've read.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    Has this ever happened to you? An acquaintance says, "Hey, you should read this book, you'll like it!" And you say "Eh, maybe," and they say, "no I will lend it to you so you can read it right away" and you say, "oh, please don't, I have plenty to read now, if I am interested later I will get it from the library," but they force it on you anyway, and then within a week they start asking "have you read it yet?" so eventually you commit to skimming it just to keep them quiet? Oh man, has that ever Has this ever happened to you? An acquaintance says, "Hey, you should read this book, you'll like it!" And you say "Eh, maybe," and they say, "no I will lend it to you so you can read it right away" and you say, "oh, please don't, I have plenty to read now, if I am interested later I will get it from the library," but they force it on you anyway, and then within a week they start asking "have you read it yet?" so eventually you commit to skimming it just to keep them quiet? Oh man, has that ever happened to me, and approximately 100% of the time I have not enjoyed the book and struggled to come up with neutral feedback (e.g., "I liked the jacket photo of the author!"). Very long preamble to say that boy did I not want to read this book. While I like the Band, Robertson has always struck me as one of the most pretentious, self-regarding men in rock n roll, and the notion of reading his memoir shook me to the core. But, as you have probably guessed by now, I really loved this book. Robertson is astonishingly humble, self-effacing, and gracious - there is no score-settling here. He is kind and empathetic about just about every relative, producer, manager, and bandmate he comes across. The memoir is confined to the Band years, from 1960, when a 16-year-old Robertson leaves Toronto to join the Band, to the "last waltz" concert in 1976, and this is a wise choice - Robertson knows this is what everyone is interested in, and he graciously obliges. A great view of the 60s rock scene, the music business, the business of music, friendship, marriage, fatherhood, and hanging out with Bob Dylan. I'll be sure to thank my friend for forcing it on me.

  28. 5 out of 5

    William

    Self serving trash

  29. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    As a long time fan of The Band I've respected Robertson as a songwriter for awhile. Having finished this book I now respect him as a memoirist. He's largely respectful of all he writes about and loving toward his family and friends. There are a lot of interesting twists and turns in the book and I will not spoil anything if I tell one anecdote. Early on when they were playing with Ronnie Hawkins they were booked in Fort Worth Texas by a club owner named Jack Rubenstein. Sometime later they discov As a long time fan of The Band I've respected Robertson as a songwriter for awhile. Having finished this book I now respect him as a memoirist. He's largely respectful of all he writes about and loving toward his family and friends. There are a lot of interesting twists and turns in the book and I will not spoil anything if I tell one anecdote. Early on when they were playing with Ronnie Hawkins they were booked in Fort Worth Texas by a club owner named Jack Rubenstein. Sometime later they discovered that he was Jack Ruby.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Prima Seadiva

    Audiobook, reader was okay. While I liked them a bit, I never was a big fan of The Band or their subsequent solo ventures. I never really followed their careers or lives in any detail. I picked this up out of curiosity and a touch of nostalgia for the past. It had a weird feel. For every supportive statement of someone or a group there also seemed to be an underlying criticism. I was surprised it ended with the The Last Waltz concert, film I have found to be underwhelming, and did not move furthe Audiobook, reader was okay. While I liked them a bit, I never was a big fan of The Band or their subsequent solo ventures. I never really followed their careers or lives in any detail. I picked this up out of curiosity and a touch of nostalgia for the past. It had a weird feel. For every supportive statement of someone or a group there also seemed to be an underlying criticism. I was surprised it ended with the The Last Waltz concert, film I have found to be underwhelming, and did not move further toward the present. Some of the events were interesting but sometimes the minute detail of events was too much. Our old memories are a bit suspect anyway.

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