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The Band, a Canadian-American band known for songs including “The Weight” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” lost guitarist and primary songwriter Robbie Robertson on Wednesday at the age of 80, according to his manager.
He passed away on Wednesday in Los Angeles after a protracted illness, according to a statement from his 34-year manager Jared Levine.”Robbie was surrounded by his family at the time of his death,” the statement continued.
Jaime Royal Robertson was born in Toronto on July 5, 1943. His mother, Rosemarie Dolly Chrysler, was a member of the Mohawk and Cayuga tribes of Canada. She wed Jim Robertson, a Canadian Army recruit.
Later on, Robbie Robertson discovered that his biological father was Alex Klegerman, a Jewish man who he described as a “card shark” and who died in a hit-and-run on a highway before Robertson was even born.
When Robertson was a young lad, he was inspired by his visits with family members on the southwest Ontario Six Nations Indian Reserve. According to him, “everybody there could play, sing, dance, or do something with music,” he said in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Metro Morning” in 2017. “It gave me chills to see someone sitting next to you in a chair, to hear their fingers moving on the instrument, to hear them breathing when they were singing.”
Early on, Robertson developed a passion for the guitar, and while playing for the Hawks, he developed a reputation as a guitar hot shooter. He finally reached No. 59 on “Rolling Stone” magazine’s 2015 list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists.” His distinct guitar playing was demonstrated to
Robertson left his Toronto home at the age of 16 to chase his rock and roll aspirations.
Robertson, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, and Richard Manuel were among the four Canadians who made up The Band, which was led by Arkansas drummer Levon Helm.
Originally known as The Hawks, they achieved notoriety backing Bob Dylan on his “Going Electric” tours in 1965 and 1966. They were originally formed as Ronnie Hawkins’ rockabilly backing band.
After changing their name to The Band and relocating to Woodstock, New York, they rose to prominence as one of rock’s most revered bands.
Martin Scorsese’s 1978 film “The Last Waltz” was inspired by their last performance in San Francisco in 1976.
The chemistry in The Band was special. They featured three superb singers, including Helm, Danko on bass, and Manuel on piano, and were well known for their vocal harmonies. Garth Hudson, a multi-instrumentalist and organist, was also essential.
The Band influenced the likes of Eric Clapton, Elton John, the Grateful Dead, the Beatles, and generations of later musicians who played music that was by then called “Americana.”
Their music harked back to an earlier America, reflected in such song titles as “Across the Great Divide,” “King Harvest (Has Surely Come),” “Up on Cripple Creek” and “The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show.”