In honor of his passing, the Broken Record podcast has re-released their episode with guitarist, songwriter and singer Robbie Robertson.
Though best known for his songs, Robbie Robertson never particularly planned on being a songwriter. It was something he’d experimented with since the age of sixteen, he told podcast host Rick Rubin, but it wasn’t until 1963 that the Hawks (which would become The Band) officially gave Robertson the title. “I was the only one that thought about songwriting in the group at that time because I had written songs before,” he explained. “It was kind of like, ‘Okay, I guess someone's got to do it. I gotta do it right.’ And so I started writing some things then.” Now reluctantly in the role of primary songwriter, things were beginning to go well when the Band was suddenly interrupted. As if smirking, Robertson told host Rick Rubin, “And then just as we were getting a record deal and starting to do something, this fella named Bob Dylan came along and asked if we would help take him electric and be his band on a world tour.” If The Band had to have a hiccup, touring with Bob Dylan would be well worth it!
While an offer from one of the greatest songwriters of all time seems like a welcomed surprise for most bands, it first began as an offer for only Robertson. “In the beginning, when I first met with [Dylan], he was trying to hire me away from the group to play guitar with him and some other musicians,” he told the podcast. Robertson decided to stay with The Band, and eventually, they were all brought on board for the Bob Dylan World Tour 1966. “I had to say, ‘No, no, I'm with a group. We’re a brotherhood’ So [Dylan] was fine with it… he came around.” As it turns out, having a band that already knew how to communicate and play with each other was hugely beneficial, despite the overall tour being known as a painful flop.
Even though Robertson said he believed Dylan was on, “the crest of changing music forever and writing songs like nobody's ever written before,” he still felt the need to create something for himself and his Band. “Every night we get booed and we get through this whole thing alive,” he recalled, “so after we got through it alive, then it was really time for me to start thinking about writing songs. Because it was like, we've done the experiment with Bob Dylan. Now we got to get back to doing our own thing.” Their ‘thing’ became a new sound that the group was wildly excited about, and enough so to change their name from the Hawks to the now famous The Band. With hits like, “Up On Cripple Creek,” “The Shape I’m In” and “It Makes No Difference,” Robertson described their songwriting process as a rather lucky search for something that, “adds up for you inside.”
“All of these things are way up in the air and [we had] no idea really,” he explained, “and then when you hear it all come together and those pieces of the puzzle actually fit, that's when you say, ‘Yeah, I knew it all along.” To hear more of their compelling conversation, listen to the re-released Broken Record podcast on the free Audacy app. RIP Robbie Robertson.