When Robbie Robertson met Jimi Hendrix in New York’s Greenwich Village in 1966, Hendrix (then going by the name of Jimmy James) was intent on learning about a subject crucial to his future as an artist. “He only wanted to talk about songwriting,” revealed Robertson. “Because I was playing with Bob Dylan then, he thought I might know something about those secrets.” What was the best advice Robertson shared with Jimi? “If everybody is writing about one particular thing, then I would not go in that particular direction, because it’s crowded over there. Look for the story you can tell the best that’s not what other people are writing about. Avoid the obvious.”
I remarked that it seems like Robertson, the man most notable for being the chief architect of the Band, must have followed his own advice over the years. He chuckled. “Well, hopefully, we avoided the obvious.”
Er, Understatement Incorporated. Your honor, may I introduce into evidence 1968’s Music from Big Pink, 1969’s The Band, 1970’s Stage Fright, and 1978’s The Last Waltz, for starters? When the world was searching for the next psychedelic sunspot, Robertson and the Band looked within and went rustic, delivering a canon of songs that essentially changed the sound of rock & roll overnight. Robertson, 67, has kept that flame burning well after the original Band folded — in both his film-score and soundtrack collaborations with director Martin Scorsese and his own rich solo work. His C.V. is now further buttressed by a new electrified solo project, How to Become Clairvoyant (Bella Coola/429 Records). And the Band leader plays on.
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