When Good Albums Happen to Bad People: Robbie Robertson, “Robbie Robertson”

Robbie Robertson’s recorded output with his legendary band — that is, The Band — and his solo career would seem like different beasts on the surface. While The Band was known for its exploration of the various forms of American roots music — folk, country, and rhythm and blues — his solo recordings have aimed for a more expansive sound, incorporating electronic instrumentation, prog-rock arrangements, and even dance remixes. But beyond that, Robertson’s solo career actually follows a similar level of output as The Band: two good albums (or in the case of The Band’s first two, great albums), followed by a few more middling works, and then absolutely nothing for at least a decade. Eleven years passed between The Last Waltz and Robbie Robertson, and it was ten years this March that Robertson’s most recent record (Contact From the Underworld of Red Boy) came out. Don’t expect that drought to be broken any time soon: The only times in the last few years that Robertson has been attached to music was to help oversee The Band’s 2005 retrospective box set, and to make an abbreviated appearance at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads guitar festival last year.

Robertson’s solo career also follows a similar pattern as to his time both within The Band, and after their breakup: the pattern of being thought of as a flaming jag-off. How much a jerk you believe Robertson to be is usually inversely proportional to how much you like his former Band-mate, Levon Helm, since most of the more juicy tales about Robertson are tied to the decades-long feud between the two men.

-Both seemed to blame the other for the suicide of The Band’s Richard Manuel. Robertson loathed the road, seeing it as a killer and “a goddamn impossible way of life“, and apparently blamed Helm because Helm supposedly dragged Manuel along on the sans-Robertson incarnation of The Band, putting more pressure on the depressed and alcoholic Manuel until he got to the breaking point and hung himself in his Florida hotel room during a 1986 tour. Helm blames Robertson for breaking up The Band via his unilateral decision, and leading Manuel to be in no financial position to to afford proper treatment (since Robertson controlled almost all the songwriting and publishing royalties), and contends that re-forming The Band actually allowed Manuel to survive longer, regardless of his tragic end coming on tour. Robertson would eulogize Manuel on the opening track of his first solo album, “Fallen Angel” (download).

-As for the issue of royalties, while most of The Band’s songs — especially after their first album — are listed as Robertson solo compositions, Helm says that there was much more of a group dynamic to the musical construction of the songs, but that due to some boilerplate in their recording contract, Robertson ended up able to claim full credit for both the lyrics and music after a certain point. Helm says that this became more and more a point of contention as The Band continued on, especially when other artists started covering Band songs. On top of that, the other four members of the band had seemingly no power to renegotiate the contract, nor was their any desire from Robertson to help his other band members out. This argument continues to this day, as just last year Helm sued Cingular Wireless for using “The Weight” in one of their commercials. Apparently, they got consent to use the tune from Capitol Records and Robertson, but didn’t bother talking to the other two living members of The Band (Helm and Garth Hudson) before using the original recording in the commercial. Helm’s statement to a journalist on the ad — “It was just a complete, damn sellout of The Band; its reputation, its music; just as much disrespect as you could pour on Richard and Rick’s tombstones” — seems to also say that someone (hint: initials RR) cared so much about making money that he couldn’t be bothered asking what his former bandmates wanted, and in doing that, he was basically pissing on another two men’s graves. [2012 update: Helm lost the lawsuit.]

-As to the breakup of The Band, it generally seems to be accepted that it was Robertson’s unilateral decision that The Last Waltz was the end of the line, though Robertson has also said that he had wanted the group to continue on as a studio unit, like what The Beatles did after Revolver. Even if that was Robertson’s original notion, it didn’t hold true, as he became more interested in living a Hollywood lifestyle afforded by both his exposure in the film and his Band royalties: hanging and partying with his new best friend Martin Scorsese, being musical “selector” for films, taking copious amounts of cocaine, and spinning off his leading-man good looks into the occasional acting gig. Helm, meanwhile, has disassociated himself from The Last Waltz, calling it a disaster, what with the WTF? appearance of Neil Diamond, and nary a shot of Richard Manuel throughout the film. More than that, though, it promoted the false mythology that Robertson was a true leader/director of the band, and the other four were really his backup. Helm talks of seeing the completed film at a preview: “For two hours we watched as the camera focused almost entirely on Robbie Robertson, long and loving close-ups of his heavily made-up face and expensive haircut. The film was edited so it looked like Robbie was conducting the band with expansive waves of his guitar neck. The muscles on his neck stood out like cords when he sang so powerfully into his switched-off microphone.”

This is a feud for the ages which nothing has or likely will ever lessen: not Manuel’s death, not the induction of The Band into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (Robertson, it seemed, didn’t want to perform on the same stage as Helm at the induction concert, and played instead with a session drummer and the other two (at the time) living members of The Band), and not through either Levon’s throat cancer, or the pancreatic cancer that nearly fell Ronnie Hawkins, who The Band fronted before they went on to backup Bob Dylan. These dudes just hate each other. It would not be surprising to discover that the opening salvo of Robertson’s “Showdown at Big Sky” (download) was based not just on Robertson’s view of American history, but his history with Helm, the only American in The Band: “Soldier of fortune / He’s a man of war / Just can’t remember / What he’s fighting for.” [2012 Update: Robertson finally visited Helm in April 2012 as Helm was about to succumb to his cancer.]

Who to side with? Should this post actually be about Levon Helm and his comeback album Dirt Farmer (the second-best album I heard last year)? Perhaps, but the tiebreaker, for me, is how both the general public and former colleagues tend to view each of the men, and on that basis, Helm comes out on top. Even Bob Dylan, in his autobiography Chronicles, Vol. 1, has negative words for Robertson, while on fan sites for The Band and guitar-related chat boards, people praise Robertson as being a great guitarist and good composer….in spite of him being an asshole. Meanwhile, nary an unkind word is to be found about Helm from the same crowds.

Finally, that great social arbiter Google has this to say: search for the phrase “Robbie Robertson is an asshole” and you get four exact matches. Search for “Robbie Robertson” with either the word “asshole” or “jerk” nearby, and you get a few more matches about him being one or the other. Do the same searches, but using “Levon Helm” instead: nothing.

  • ozarkmatt

    Hey, I live in NW Arkansas. It's a no-brainer whos side I'm on.

  • Malchus

    I loved… LOVED Robertson's second solo album, “Storyville” when it was released. “What About Now” continues to move me. Enjoying Robertson's music is definitely a case of looking past the artist (ala The Eagles) and just listening to their music.

    I recall seeing a documentary about Robertson shot sometime in the mid 90's. The interviewers had set up a scene for Robertson and Scorsese to tell stories of their time living together. Scorsese almost seemed embarrassed and didn't say much while Robertson dominated the conversation. Can you imagine that? Scorsese left speechless!

    From the first album, which is essentially Robbie Robertson trying to be U2 and Peter Gabriel, I always loved “Somewhere Down That Crazy River”. What a mood that song has; though, that could have more to do with Daniel Lanois than Robertson. I once mused to a friend “What would it sound like if Springsteen ever recorded with Daniel Lanois?” He responded, “Probably Robbie Robertson.”

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy


    I wonder if Robertson okayed Weezer's awful cover of “The Weight” or just wiped his bum with the residuals.

  • Russ

    Funny how these publishing rights fights – Beatles, Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, The Band – all swirl around the late 60's Capitol Records roster.

  • http://www.bullz-eye.com DavidMedsker

    I have always loved this album. Now, however, I feel like I shouldn't. Thanks, Bolin.

  • Jason

    Google … “Robbie Robertson is an asshole” and you get four exact matches.

    Five, now that this post is up!

  • Thierry

    Having been down at Helm's Woodstock barn last month for what was one of my all-time great musical experiences (nearly 3 hours standing no more than 5 feet away from LEVON F'ING HELM as he played and sang his heart out on everything from Rag Mama Rag to Atlantic City to Dirt Farmer's Anna Lee), and seeing all the love for Levon that seems to pour out of his bandmates and the people who surround him, I firmly place myself with Team Levon.

    Sidenote: Even though I hate the jerk, I'll still rank his solo on King Harvest as one of the Top 5 best I've ever heard.

  • http://daslob.blogspot.com/ Pico

    Dirt Farmer was on my '07 year end “best of” list; so rustic, so real, and so defiant of the present. Helm's voice sounds remarkably well, too.

    I love reading your accounts of what huge assholes these musicians these are; I don't know if that says more about me than the subject matter, though ;-)

  • Jayzee

    Robbie Roberston-easily the most overrated guitarist in history. I've always been at a loss to understand what the fuss was all about. “Adequate” is the best I could say about his playing.

  • http://www.popdose.com Ted

    I absolutely loved Robbie's first solo album. Sure, the fact that U2 and Peter Gabriel were on it didn't hurt, but damn if that tape wasn't played in my car over and over that year. Storyville was good, but I couldn't get into it as much as the first record. And CDs he did with the Native American themes were quite good — or so I thought. I didn't know he was such an ass, but then again, being an asshole in the music biz is not a rarity.

  • http://aol.com kar

    Another voice chiming in that they liked this album. “Fallen Angel” with Gabriel was haunting. I listened to it daily for at least a year. Also less famous stuff like “Sonny got Caught in the Moonlight.”

    Also mentioned months ago that I preferred his version of “Broken Arrow.” The gravity and gravitas of his voice added a weariness that rang truer than Rod's over produced cover complete with a gospel choir.

    A lot of the impact was due to the great backing vocals by the late Rick Danko and Sammy BoDean. Same thing with “Storyville.” I couldn't believe that was Neil Young on my favorite track, Soapbox Preacher. For the first time, I could make out his singing.

    He may not have written/performed everything on “Music for The Native Americans,” but it was a decent album. Best track wasn't his, Akua Tuta,, but Ghost Dance and Skinwalker more than made up for crap like “Golden Feather.”

    Is he a moral ideal? Probably not, but Levon's got his own issues.

  • Ed A

    Having just finished a repeat viewing of The Last Waltz, I have to say that I can see both sides.

    Levon Helm is a terrific musician and Dirt Farmer is a great album. Still, if you'll notice, most of his songs are covers or standards. The same was true of his reunion with his former Band mates.

    Robertson, meanwhile, produced three albums of quality, original material, with lyrics that echo the tone and style of much of the Band's better work. He may well be an asshole, and I have no doubt , given the musicianship of the other four Band members, that the music they created represented a collaborative effort. Still, the fact that Helm has done mostly covers since the Band broke up strongly suggests that it was Robertson (and Dylan) who wrote most of the lyrics.

    I am not a musician, so I can't speak to RR's musical contribution.

  • Ed A

    Having just finished a repeat viewing of The Last Waltz, I have to say that I can see both sides.

    Levon Helm is a terrific musician and Dirt Farmer is a great album. Still, if you'll notice, most of his songs are covers or standards. The same was true of his reunion with his former Band mates.

    Robertson, meanwhile, produced three albums of quality, original material, with lyrics that echo the tone and style of much of the Band's better work. He may well be an asshole, and I have no doubt , given the musicianship of the other four Band members, that the music they created represented a collaborative effort. Still, the fact that Helm has done mostly covers since the Band broke up strongly suggests that it was Robertson (and Dylan) who wrote most of the lyrics.

    I am not a musician, so I can't speak to RR's musical contribution.

  • Norman

    Your facts are wrong. Levon refused to play with Robbie at the Hall of Fame induction.

  • mrflowers

    I don't think anyone here knows either Robbie Robertson of Levon Helm, who, if you look at their lives both have some baggage. But the issue with songs speaks for itself. How many great songs has Levon Helm written either in the band or out? Now tell me how many Robbie Robertson has?
    That's the nub of the issue and the only thing that counts. Everything else is bullshit, however much you may like one or the other of the men involved.

  • mrflowers

    I don't think anyone here knows either Robbie Robertson of Levon Helm, who, if you look at their lives both have some baggage. But the issue with songs speaks for itself. How many great songs has Levon Helm written either in the band or out? Now tell me how many Robbie Robertson has?
    That's the nub of the issue and the only thing that counts. Everything else is bullshit, however much you may like one or the other of the men involved.

  • daniel

    This isn't about the fact Robbie Robertson can write songs and Levon Helm cannot, its about whos the asshole, which is “im gonna go abandon the band for money and a luxurious lifestyle and then not even go to Richard Manuel's funeral” Robertson. Also, WHAT were Dylan's negative words for Robertson in Chronicles volume one?

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  • Steve Ensing

    I can relate to Helm's viewpoint being a musician and a drummer.Most guitar players treat drummers and bass players like a pice of furniture to be moved whereever they like. I was in a band in the mid 80's that was similar to The Band in respect that we all contributed to the music. After we broke up the guitarist and singer copyrighted the material for themselves! Huh, go figure, I did however manage to copyright one song which I primarliy wrote, but they also did about 3 months after me. I side with Levon.

  • pooko

    “The only times in the last few years that Robertson has been attached to music was to help oversee The Band’s 2005 retrospective box set, and to make an abbreviated appearance at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads guitar festival last year.”

    This is a case of misinformation at its finest. It's so nice that reporters use what they want in order to spin their articles in the direction that most fits their agenda. I slight overlook that Robbie did the music for The Color Of Money, Casino, Phenomenon, Ladder 49, Jimmy Hollywood, The Departed discovered Nelly Furtado while working at Dreamworks Records for 5 years etc etc etc…

    I'm not interested in trying to change anyone's mind on any feud or anything like that. However I do believe that proper reporting should be expected.

  • pooko

    I just read through this a little more carefully and it is laden with falsities. Believe what you want people, but this is clearly a one-sided, poorly written piece.

  • John

    Far be it from me to defend Robbie, because I do think he is a pompous ass. However, I don't think he ripped off the other guy's in the Band on song writing royalties. There was no kicker in their contract that allowed Robertson to claim all credits. All of the Band albums except Northern Lights have credits for other members of the Band, including the last one they made together Islands. And if the other guys were such prolific songwriters, what happened when they reformed without Robbie? They got back together in 82 and didn't make a CD until 91, and there were only 3 songs with song writing credits from Band members, and all shared with outside writers. Their 2nd album without Robbie only had 2 crdits among Band members. Only Jubliation has a substantial amount of orginal songs (8), almost all shared with outside writers. That's not a lot of original songs for 16 years together in their 2nd incarnation. For all the praise being heaped on Helm's recent solo discs, there's still virtually no original songs. In Helm's book, he seems to be claiming that the other Band members instrumental contributions were so significant that they deserved song writing credits, which is pretty dubious. Ginger Baker has been saying the same thing about the credits on Sunshine Of your Love for 40 years. Putting an interesting beat on a song at the behest of a producer is not songwriting. Playing a good organ part is not songwriting. And Robbie didn't refuse to play at the R & R Hall Of Fame with Levon, Levon didn't show up for the induction. I think the article is a bit biased against Robbie.

  • Calypso61

    Maybe I’m against the grain here but what Robbie Robertson really done that’s so wrong. He left The Band because he was tired of 16 years on the road. So. He collected royalties for songs he created. Umm yeah.. that’s the way it works. Richard Manuel dies on the road? Lots of people have drink, money, relationship and all sorts of problems. Let’s put it on the table. In the end Manuel’s death was not down to Robertson or Helm. It was down to Manuel. So I guess he’s the great satan because he profited from his work and he made a personal choice to pursue happiness but its no different to what happens when any relationship ends and one side ends up doing better than the other.. anger and jealousy ensues. Whoever comes out on top is vilainized.

  • guest

    Not my favourite Robertson solo effort to be honest, its bitty and fails as much as it works. I find Storyville a far better and cohesive album.

    As for the RR is an asshole…

    I sympathise with Levon but I always got the impression that, when it mattered, Robbie was handling the business obligations and steering the band vehicle until he decided he had enough and got off. While life was a big party for the band, Robertson seemed canny enough not to get too embroiled in the drug culture or the typical excesses for a band in their position. He kept a clear head for business when it mattered and the others didn’t. They only realised 4 or 5 albums into their career he was actually getting the songwriting royalties. As the main writer, with Richard a way behind, maybe the democratic image/manifesto of the band could have included equal 5 way split of songwriting royalties – but not many people would willingly cut their salary when push comes to shove.

    I have been playing professionally for 24 years and from my experience, no band member wants to be sat in meetings or organising the the posters, transport, agent fees, etc. The one guy in the band that does, realises its a thankless task very quickly and tends to become jaded. If he also writes the songs its easy to see why he might bail out. The remainder of the group then tend to scratch their heads and wonder why the departure ever came to pass, before blaming him/her for being a prima donna or even an asshole.

    I get the same vibes from Levon. I think life really was a carnival for many years, until he realised that Robertson had actually taken the money for his songs and left when the touring, partying and bickering got too much. I wonder if he hit out at Richard for collecting his song writing royalties?

    I am sure Robbie Robertson has been an ass but I do recall he kept out of the bickering and mud slinging, whereas Levon’s constant remarks and behaviour have lacked dignity in my opinion.

  • Adam Zero

    Just one song: “Chest Fever.” Did Garth’s magnificent introduction write itself? Does it not qualify somehow as original music? Or did Robbie write it down in notation for Garth to play?

  • Lawrence

    Hi Adam, that’s a fair question and a valid point of how RR has actually benefited from someone else’s input, and I’ll address that in a moment. Excuse the long and rambling reply :)

    The real issue for me has always been that such a private and united band should never fracture so publicly and air its dirty laundry. Levon and the guys should have got royalties for their part, but the industry doesn’t automatically recognise the difference between a band member or a session musician unless you make them. Robbie assumed the role of chief songwriter because he did write the songs. And the industry automatically recognises and rewards the song writer unless he makes them aware that it is a writing partnership. That makes Robertson the bad guy? It isn’t so straight forward.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeoNmojBZVY – Robertsons demo of Twilight shows just how comprehensive his sketches could be, both vocally and melodically, using the piano to great effect. (He does a very good job on the vocal here, considering he is the Bands 5th best singer.) Now I am not saying every song he brought to the table was presented as complete as This but it does show that he was able to produce more than a skeleton chord chart and some lyrics. This is a very competent songwriter at work.

    But on the other hand Chest Fever really was a collaborative effort. It should have Manuel and Helm added to the lyrics. Robertson used many of their ad-libs, when demoing the track, in the final draft. Hudsons’ intro is also cruelly under recognised.

    What we’ll never know is which one of the above examples was more commonplace. Obviously if Robertson

    Coming back to royalties – I feel this would have never been an issue if the band unity extended to the music royalties. Had all 5 got a credit for the music and the songwriter got a credit for the lyrics everyone would have been happy, or at least happier. Sadly that never happened and suddenly towards the end of the bands original timeline Levon realised it and it was already too late.

    Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays

  • M_alicia67

    If certain artists called Robbie Robertson an “asshole”, then what does that make them?

  • H20time

    They all caved to drugs and occasional poor judgement… they were human. Robertson caved to conceit, greed and foregoing friendship and trust… human also, yet also inhumane. Go to Lavon’s barn and hear the truth for yourselves. Just bring a plate to share with your new friends.

  • H20time


  • H20time


  • H20time


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  • Mggit

    You nailed it. The Band members likely deserved arranging credits (which could be substantive money) but Robertson was definitely the writer. 

    The only person in The Band who really seemed to have an issue with all this is Helm. I have met Levon Helm and was fortunate enough to jam with him. I can say he was a gentleman, funny and very giving and patient with all my “fan” questions (and he played HUGE grooves!). He is a great guy.

    It is only my opinion, but I think his hurt is clouding his recall…Robertson may well be an asshole, but not a thief.

  • RWillie

    Incredibly biased article.  Could have been written by Levon.  The essential debate is whether Robertson wrote the songs, or The Band wrote the songs.  Listen to anything The Band put out after Robertson left, and listen to the music Robertson put out after he left The Band, and the debate is over.  Even if Robertson is an asshole, it doesn’t mean that Helm wrote the songs.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/R5LO42A64YAJ2X6ORSEPIJAFYE Stan

    See above.

  • Arthur Thomas

    Having worked in the music industry  I have witnessed first hand how money can corrupt even the best intention-ed friends. this is the most unfortunate and distasteful part of the business end of music. However, just like in most businesses, deceit and greed usually rear their ugly head. In this case it reared and stayed reared and even now with Levon seriously ill it remains like a dark cloud over two of rock’s most beloved musicians.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/WFFYDDZX4N4DJEZIAC65EY6FA4 lee

    #1 – just because other members of the band have not written much original material since, doesn’t mean they didn’t write certain songs or at least contribute to them while in the band.  Some people, like robbie robertson, have a gift for pulling shit out of their ass and turning it into passable music.  Some people have a few moments where they get inspired and write a really great song and then never have that inspiration again.
    Some people can take the shit that someone like robbie pulls out of his ass and change from a passable tune to a really good, timeless song.
    Maybe robbie has written more original work than other band members since they split, but none of them are anywhere near as amazing and timeless as songs written WITH the band.

    #2 – The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down – can anyone really believe that the only american in the group had nothing to do with the lyrics in this song?  This is levon’s best, in my opinion, and the only person credited to this song is robbie.  Sorry, not buying it.

    #3- a guest posted that ” Robbie was handling the business obligations … Robertson seemed canny enough not to get too
    embroiled in the drug culture or the typical excesses for a band in
    their position. He kept a clear head for business when it mattered and
    the others didn’t.”

    sorry, but I’m pretty sure ‘the last waltz’ and all robbie’s major egotism was a direct result of the mass amounts of cocaine he was snorting over the years, and with martin scorcese while they edited the film.  Maybe he didn’t drink as much as the others, or maybe the cocaine counteracted the alcohol, and I’m sure he wasn’t the only one who did it (did any musician from that era make it through without trying cocaine a few times?  Even joni mitchell did it, you can tell she’s high on coke in the last waltz)  but robbie was definitely not the sober one of the group.  I don’t think any of them were ever truly sober.  And cocaine is notorious for turning people into cold-hearted, egotistical, back-stabbing assholes.

    That being said, while I do believe that robbie robertson took songwriting credits for more than his share of the work, that doesn’t mean he’s responsible for manuel’s death, or that levon was.  And it doesn’t mean that he didn’t write the majority of the band’s material (we all know there are many great song writers who can’t sing for shit, hell, look at dylan himself).  I just think that some of those guys had a lot more to do with the writing of specific songs than they got credit for.

    In my opinion it’s not about ‘taking sides’ or who was more of an asshole to who, or who took more drugs, or who handled the responsibilities of the band.  If you listen to the music of The Band while all five were active members, the songs don’t match the writing credits.

  • Browoowho

    Well, whoever Matthew Bolin is, I can’t see that he’s the definitive arbiter of truth in these matters.  He has passed on a lot of inuendo and not done to prove the points he wants to make. First I’ve ever heard that they blame each other for Manuel’s death.  Seems clear in retrospect, that touring, or not touring, Richard wasn’t going to last.  And everything else I’ve read has said it was Helm who didn’t want to show at the Hall of Fame, not to mention Danko’s funeral.  His book made it pretty clear what an angry guy he is, which is most unfortunate given what a beautiful music maker he is.

    Anyway, lousy article.  Fan the flames, idiot.

  • http://popdose.com MatthewBolin

    I quit writing this series because of responses like this. If you wish to disagree with what I’ve written, that is one thing. I expected a series with this title and this style of writing to be controversial, and to chaff fans of the artists being written about. But to attack me personally and call me nasty things because your opinions don’t match mine, well, that’s unfair.

    As to being the “definitive arbiter” on the subject, well, I simply have never claimed to be, so I don;t know why you state that. In fact, I’ve gone back over time and edited my articles in order to fall more in line, as it regards facts that have arisen over the years that have changed my perception of events.

    For instance, I remember that it was thought at the time of the RRHOF induction that Robertson had strong-armed the masters of ceremony into not letting Helm appear. That does not seem to have been the case. I have changed my wording since I first wrote down that information, but must reiterate that I have read newspaper articles that state that a reason given behind Levon not appearing were terms that Robbie wanted for a “reunion” to occur that Helm refused to meet. I can not give you time and date on when or where I read this. Only that I did research this, and found information to that regards in a pdf retrieved from Google News.

    Regarding “passing on innuendo” and “prov[ing] the points”, again I do not have a source right in front of me for every line I wrote four years ago, but the largest leaps I have ever done was to draw what seemed logical conclusions based on what others have said or written. But I have not set out to prove points: I am not a scholar, a reporter, or a biographer. And I was even less so when I first wrote the words in this piece.

    If you think I did a lousy job of writing, that’s your opinion and you are welcome to it. But I’ve already stated what I think about people who feel they know my intentions from reading the first piece of mine they come across, or figure it’s okay to call me an idiot because, hey, it’s the internet, and internet people don’t have feelings! We’re all just a bunch of trolls, right?


    I understand that people take their musical heroes and influences seriously, and it’s not nice to see the concept of the heroic poked holes in, but the point of this series was not to “fan the flames”. It was to point out that even if music could be argued as an amoral act, that it is created by artists who should be looked at (and often are not) as moral individuals, and that perhaps their behavior in their everyday lives may affect their wrong, and the quality of it. I have specifically focused on people who, in my personal opinion, have for the most part only had one really great album in their (solo) careers, and by mentioning some of the general incidents and behaviors in their lives that have led them to garner “problematic” reputations, to posit whether their outside the studio behavior has affected the quality of their work in the studio.

    Again, I knew this series would be controversial when I started it, and I have started and stopped it a number of times because of personal attacks on me by fans of the artists. While calling me an “idiot” is far from the worst thing I’ve been referred to, I still do not think it is fair.

    Okay, that’s all I want to say about this. Carry on.

  • http://www.facebook.com/douglasoliversmith Douglas Oliver Smith

    Don’t really care about who is the biggest asshole really, who gives a shit or knows a shit. Just freaking could have been nice to share some freaking money with guys you’ve been playin with like 17 years perhaps and really helped created some of the best music on the planet maybe. Just got a facebook message that concerns Garth Brooks trying to get help gettin his stuff out of storage since he is broke and 75. Yeah I’m real interested in all of these other assholes here trying to solve the mystery, what mystery, someone got all of the dough and the rest can go to hell. Selfish lousy business. I found this post cause i wanted to know how much dough Robertson had while Garth is trying to get a truck arranged to get his stuff back from storage and figured I would give a realistic update to this whole thing.

  • johnhenry3

    Thanks for the great read Mr. Bolin. So many people do not get why I just have no respect for RR. I grew up going to the best basement sessions or jams on the porch which The Band(some) would have with the old Vaudeville players. Levon taking me on river walks in the morning and just him being such a beautiful person. Robertson stopped The Band for one reason and that was Railroad Robbery of all the material, same initials. He had masterminded with the companies how to get the most songwriting credit realizing the impact that the first album had. Then after working on the third record he started belittling everyone about contributions to take more control and credit. Then he eventually split leaving everyone broke and the rest is history.

  • Wallsend

    I think you mean Garth Hudson. All the guys in the Band got paid heaps of money it is just that Robbie got paid more. Garth and Levon didn’t use their money wisely and ended up broke. That is not Robbie’s fault.

  • Wallsend

    If Robbie was such a bad guy, why was Levon so upset that he quit? I would have thought he would have been happy to see the back of him. Without Robbie in the band, the others would have been able to share out the royalties for all their new songs without someone stealing them.

  • johnhenry3

    Wrong, RR walked with about 85% of the rights and the songs that were in part with the other guys he completely bought from them in the early 2000′s outright, knowing they would give in. RR owns all The Band material now 100%

  • johnhenry3

    Levon and the others did not want to stop, it was Robbie that said I am done. I hope you’re being sarcastic here, because it is not really a funny situation. Business is also something every musician does not think about, you play and have big songs and think you will be okay cause your face is on there or it is your drum part, piano melody etc… The Band had no new material to move on with and the old material Robbie had registered as himself as principle writer and owned the publishing. When in fact we all know from listening that most of the song writing(except lyrics) was done as a collaboration and more than just arrangement wise. This was a common mistake made by players back then and even happens all the time today to artists. One must also think who their manager was, Albert Grossman, the king of defining one writer(Dylan, Robertson) and exploiting the song to the end of the world. The guy was a genius at doing this for Dylan and made Bob/himself millions, for instance who wrote “I Shall Be Released?” Dylan will even say it was Richard’s song but in those days my ‘people’ would only represent the song under a single name(I can’t directly quote it but there are 2 interviews).After the split everyone realized how much credit they did not have and it translated into nothing in royalties. Robertson finally purchased any remaining rights from the surviving members or estates throughout the 2000′s to own the material 100%. Levon never saw(proper) Robbie again until he was on his death bed. Levon did not show up at the RRHOF Band induction when all others did in 94′ and when Robertson spoke and claimed to have written every song in front of the crowd you could feel and see the reactions but the camera catches Clapton cringing in utter disgust and biting his tongue(I thought he would almost say something but it is Clapton the gentleman). RIP Levon, Richard, Rick

  • Guy Smiley

    And, of course, in Levon’s solo career and the reunited Band albums alike, there are not a whole lot of original compositions either. So, while I believe Robbie is an egotist and probably cut the other Band members out of royalties somewhat, I think it’s safe to say that he really did write most of the songs all by himself.

    This is not to say the other Band members were merely a backing band. Not at all. Levon, along with Rick and Richard, were the voices of the group and all of them (let’s not forget Garth either) were all essential to The Band’s sound. No question.

    Although Levon, and the reunited Band, made some fine records post-Last Waltz, none of them were as good as The Band’s earliest stuff (same is true for Robbie himself). I think that shows they were ALL important to each other as a collective whole, but Robbie was probably the best, and most prolific, writer of the bunch.

    Levon had a right to be mad when Robbie wanted to call it quits, but Robbie also had the right to stop. I’m not sure how its Robbie’s fault that the others never had the same success, creatively or commercially, without him. I think Levon’s last studio albums (Dirt Farmer and Electric Dirt) were pretty great though. It would’ve been nice if Robbie had helped his old friends out a bit more, but it’s not like he was obligated to either.

  • Guy Smiley

    I won’t attack you personally, but since you’re doing that to the artists involved, can’t you see how others might feel the need to do that you?

    Anyhow, by the very title of this series, you’re taking a side and not really doing much to provide a more well-rounded view of things. Same was true with the John Fogerty article. Maybe your facts are right, I don’t fully know, but I don’t think most people (except those who were there) know the full truth. I find it sad that Robbie had a falling out with the others, and that he and Levon only reconciled somewhat with Levon on his deathbed.

    I’m sure Robbie’s got an ego the size of Canada, and he probably apes too much of the credit (certainly The Last Waltz — great as it is — plays up this notion), but this series has a slant and doesn’t even try to dig deeper than that. Public opinion seems to be that Levon was a saint (I love him, met him once, and I think he was a great man, but hardly a “saint”) and that Robbie’s a theiving asshole. I don’t think either is completely true, but all this article does is try to rehash the same old claims. Why bother if you’re not bringing anything new to the table? It’s best you ended this.

  • Guy Smiley

    “Helm, meanwhile, has disassociated himself from The Last Waltz, calling it a disaster, what with the WTF? appearance of Neil Diamond, and nary a shot of Richard Manuel throughout the film. ”

    Uhh… Richard is indeed shown in the film. Both on stage and in (barely coherent) interview segments. As comical as he seems in the interviews, it’s more sad given how things turned out for him. I confess that Richard, Rick, and Garth get short shrift in the movie, but none of those guys were as dynamic of personalities as Robbie or Levon. Hence, we get more interview time with those two.

    Levon probably wasn’t hot on making the movie or ending the band as a performing act, so it probably makes sense that Scorcese spent more time with his buddy Robbie. But Levon is in no way underrepresented in the film. I’d also guess that the movie and album made all of the Band members a fair chunk of change over the years. More to Robbie than the others, no doubt, but still.

    As for Neil Diamond, I thought his song (“Dry Your Eyes”) and performance was great. The film explains the Brill Building/Tin Pan Alley influence as a reason to include him. While Neil himself probably wasn’t an influence on the group, I get what they were going for. Diamond was still a link to that era. Of course, the movie makes no mention of Robbie having produced Diamond’s then-current album (Beautiful Noise, definitely one of Diamond’s best albums). Robbie, and one or two other Band members (not to mention Last Waltz participant Dr. John) played on the album, including “Dry Your Eyes,” so that’s *really* why Diamond was there.

    But I never had a problem with it, regardless of the reason. If anything, Neil left the sequins home and was a lot more restrained in dress than Van Morrison was that night (though Van was great too).

  • Wallsend

    The re-formed Band made a career out of playing Robbie’s songs, apart from Dixie of course which Levon refused to sing because he said it was an insult to the South. You still didn’t answer my question. Why was Levon upset that Robbie quit if he was such a bad guy? Also if it was only Robbie that wanted to quit, why didn’t the four other guys just carry on without him?

  • Wallsend

    They all got paid large performance fees. How do you know he bought out the others music rights? Are you Robbie’s accountant?