Robbie Robertson (real name: Jaime Royal Robertson) is perhaps best known for being the guitarist/principal songwriter of The Band, a highly influential group that were active mainly from 1968 to 1977. Robertson has also a solid reputation as a solo artist, film composer and producer.
As a personal memoir, Testimony does not go beyond The Band’s final gig viz. the concert album/film, The Last Waltz. In fact, it’s fair to say that there are three main milestones through which the memoir is connected viz. Robertson joining Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, Robertson (and the Hawks) backing Bob Dylan and of course, the transformation of the Hawks into The Band.
Along the way, Robertson writes about his childhood in Canada, his mixed parentage (his mother was Mohawk and his biological father was Jewish), his close friendships within the Hawks/The Band, Bob Dylan and David Geffen, his marriage to Dominique Bourgeois and the births of their three children.
Much of the memoir is delivered in a matter of fact manner, as Robertson goes from skinny teenage wannabe guitarist to hobnobbing with some of the biggest pop culture personalities of the 60s. For instance, Dylan of course, The Beatles , Marlon Brando, Andy Warhol, David Crosby (the Byrds) et al.
But the most intriguing sections relate to his time with Dylan as a collaborator and confidente, during the singer-songwriter’s ‘wild mercury’ years viz. Blonde on Blonde and the infamous UK tour, when Dylan (and his backing band) was booed and heckled for playing electric blues music.
Ironically, the portions relating to The Band itself and the special music made in that time are not quite so impressive, only merely functional. Also, the members’ wanton abuse of drugs and alcohol (whilst common for the times) sound terribly irresponsible now and ultimately lead to the demise of The Band.
Notwithstanding all this, Testimony provides an illuminating perspective to the glory days of rock ’n’ roll viz. the decade from the mid-60s to the mid-70s, and for that reason alone, is worth the time and effort.
Check out the companion album.
… still there’s more …