Robbie Robertson - did he rip off The Band?

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by glenecho, Dec 6, 2012.

  1. glenecho

    glenecho Forum Resident Thread Starter

    OK...did a search for Robbie Robertson and found nothing so I created a new thread. Sure it's been discussed but I couldn't find it (is the search working properly?).

    Here's the deal, I've read 0 books on the subject and have only leafed through some articles about the subject. I'm not an expert on the inner workings of The Band but I do know that the fortunes of Robbie Robertson vs. the rest of The Band were two very different things. I also believe that several lawsuits have gone down about this.

    However my opinion is strictly a musician's view as someone who has written songs by myself as well as collaborated with others on creating music.

    I find it very hard to believe that Robertson wrote all those songs on his own. My reasonings are PURELY hunches based on experience. Some arguing points:

    1. How is it that Robertson had this unbelievably fruitful period of songwriting from 67-75 but since then has written very little and what he has written, in my opinion, is VASTLY inferior not to mention very very different from The Band's material? The output from Robertson since 1976 really doesn't seem to point to the fact that he wrote that material. I don't hear many stylistic similarities.

    2. Where did all of the southern aspects of this music come from? All but Levon were from Canada yes? But lo and behold Levon happened to be from the South. Hmmm....

    3. Why does the first Danko solo album sound way more like The Band than anything Robertson has done?

    4. Robertson has been sued several times for this, or am I wrong? Haven't Levon and others claimed that songwriting was a group effort?

    5. This is pure conjecture and opinion, but it really creeps me out the way Robbie behaves in The Last Waltz. We have 4 other Band members who visibly have mixed feelings and Robertson sitting there smiling from ear to ear. I find the movie extremely uncomfortable to watch for that reason. I've always viewed this as Robbie laughing all the way to the bank and I don't like it.

    6. Again purely opinionary, but the rest of the guys in the Band were ACE musicians. However, to me, Robbie was barely a passable guitarists. His squeaky, squaky pinch harmonic laden solos are a burden to listen to. I know I'll find disagreements, but it seems odd to me that the worst musician (by far) in the group happened to be the guiding light and central force in The Band. He also didn't sing, or didn't sing well.

    So there it is. I've read too much over the years about how Levon, Garth, Richard, and Rick's lives had been full of such turmoil and financial disaster. In my opinion, for their musical contributions ALONE these guys should have been set for life. And if they weren't, the right thing to do would have been for Robbie to help them out. I feel that the unbelievably hard struggles the remaining members have had to be one of the truly great tragedies in rock history.

    Please keep in mind that I spend 10x more time listening to the music than I have reading about it. I'm more interested in what forumite's opinions are, not Google searches.
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  2. spice9

    spice9 Forum Resident

    New York, NY
    My one opinion on this -- Robertson wrote his songs, music and lyrics. If one or more of the Band members helped him here and there with a chord change or whatever, well, that's what they do in bands. Let the others write songs from scratch and I'm sure Robby woulda helped them out back in the day. Whoever creates the music and lyrics owns the song. Period.

    p.s. To say Robertson wasn't/isn't a great guitarist is silly.

    p.p.s. Robertson was the frontman for The Band. It worked fine all those years they were together. He and Scorsese conjured up The Last Waltz. Robertson had some business acumen back then. It wasn't a charity. Band members got paid for concerts and playing on albums. Without Robertson there would have been no The Band. Any of the others could have been replaced.
  3. glenecho

    glenecho Forum Resident Thread Starter

    It's purely an opinion and yes there are many guitarists who are worse. But personally I can't stand his lead all. It's like an icepick to the forehead both tonally and technically...IMO. But yes I don't expect many to agree and I expect flack for my comments.
  4. Electric

    Electric The Medium is the Massage

    I don't know much about all of this either except that I like Robertson's distinctive guitar playing, and dislike his having Neil Diamond play in the Last Waltz. That's the one thing that ruins the film for me and has always kept me from buying the DVD.
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  5. glenecho

    glenecho Forum Resident Thread Starter

    I love Neil Diamond's music (well most of the 60-70s stuff). I grew up with it and I'm a big fan.

    But you are correct, Neil had no place being there.
  6. Tristero

    Tristero Touching from a distance

    It was an odd choice, but it's just one song. I don't find that it ruins the whole experience for me.
  7. MikeP5877

    MikeP5877 Non-essential

    My opinion is that while his solo career is not very prolific, I wouldn't call it "vastly inferior" to his work with the band. Different, yes. I consider most of the songs on Storyville to be the equal of his best work with The Band.

    Certainly his voice is an acquired taste - there was a good reason (three good reasons actually) why he sang lead on only a few songs (and why they supposedly unplugged his microphone at The Last Waltz).
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  8. glenecho

    glenecho Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Storyville isn't bad, by far the best Robertson solo effort in my opinion. However, I just don't hear any stylistic links that lead me to believe that this is the same guy who wrote those classic Band songs. It doesn't sound like the same songwriter.
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  9. John DeAngelis

    John DeAngelis Senior Member

    New York, NY
    The fact that Robertson's writing fell off doesn't mean he didn't write what he is credited with writing. The other members didn't write all that much after the Band broke up either. Robertson wrote the songs and the other members helped arrange them. Arranging a song is not the same as writing a song. When the others wrote something, they got a songwriting credit. Robertson begged Richard Manuel to write more, either alone or with him, but Richard couldn't or wouldn't. And I personally think Robertson is a excellent guitarist.
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  10. ginchopolis

    ginchopolis Forum Resident

    ginchopolis, usa
    Aside from the fact that Robbie had just produced his new record.

  11. glenecho

    glenecho Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Very good points including one I never considered (other Band member's output after folding). This is why I started this thread, thanks!
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  12. Guy E

    Guy E Senior Member

    Antalya, Turkey
    My own instincts and hunches suggest that other members of The Band deserved partial songwriting credits that were never offered. Robertson's response has been that the other guys "did what musicians do."

    There's a blurry line in the paradigm of a rock band. Back in the days of formal recording sessions with published songs, hired arrangers, sheet music, the role of musicians was purely professional. But when songs are developed collectively in a communal rehearsal environment, creative contributions are made by everyone. I've discussed this with some songwriting musicians who have said that when a song materializes in an ensemble situation, they always credit it collectively, regardless of the percentage one person or the other may have contributed. JRR took the opposite approach; everything was his.

    90/10% or 80/20% partial split credits probably would have been fair, but that never happened. Helm felt he'd been betrayed by a friend... "pencil whipped" was the phrase he used.

    Regarding JRR's limited work in the decades since... there may be many explanations. He needed The Band to express himself and he's done other things, soundtrack production, etc. He was part of the Dreamworks organization so he's been a serious player. It would have been nice if he was more inclusive and fair-minded, but that's life.
  13. MikeP5877

    MikeP5877 Non-essential

    Well, it did come out almost 15 years after he left The Band. Plus he wrote songs tailored to the guys who sang the songs. I wouldn't expect an album from 1991 or whatever to be like what he wrote decades earlier in another band. Scott Walker writes differently these days too. So do most songwriters I think.

    Do you (or does anyone?) have a link to information regarding the several lawsuits to which you refer in your first post?
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  14. lonomon

    lonomon Forum Resident

    aston, pa usa
    I think in Levon's book, he claims Robbie got the others to sign their rights to the Band over to him. All except Levon.

    Levon also claimed that Robbie put his name in for all the publishing in order for a group owned studio be built (what became Bearsville studio).
  15. glenecho

    glenecho Forum Resident Thread Starter

    No, I don't. It's simply what I remember reading here or there. If I am incorrect I will happily retract that.
  16. Hey Vinyl Man

    Hey Vinyl Man Another bloody Yank down under...

    It makes sense to me. His Bandmates were a creative catalyst for him, and with them out of the way of course his style changed. And there are similarities if you know where to listen for them.

    By Robertson's own admission, he got a lot of his inspiration from Helm's stories of life in Arkansas. "Somewhere Down That Crazy River" apparently got its start with Robbie casually recalling one of his own first visits to Helm's old stomping grounds - his producer simply suggested he set the monologue to music, and voila. Point being, perhaps Levon was simply his muse.

    Because it was recorded either while they were still together or immediately after they broke up (and produced by Robertson), and Robertson's first solo album was recorded a decade later.

    I don't know about lawsuits, but yes, Levon has claimed that he and the others didn't get the credit they deserved for songwriting. That's what he said, but have you ever listened to their three '90s albums without Robbie? Some great songs on there, but Levon, Rick and Garth didn't write them! (The ones they did write, not so great if you ask me.)

    I agree. It is fairly well established that The Last Waltz was Robbie's idea and the others were none too happy with it. But he was holding the cards legally speaking.

    I wouldn't go that far, but I would have to agree that when I hear people refer to him as one of the best guitarists in rock history, I really don't see why. He's not bad, but I don't see what all the fuss is about. That he didn't sing well is beyond dispute.
  17. Guy E

    Guy E Senior Member

    Antalya, Turkey
    They were huge stars for a while, making huge money on the road. If concert earnings were split equally they all made good money and should have been set for life. Bad investments and high-living are probably to blame.

    JRR made a lot of money on publishing; a handful of Band songs were "covered" by many other artists. But he was probably a lot smarter with his money too. He was the shark of the group, no question.
  18. glenecho

    glenecho Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Actually, I haven't listened to them. I only "discovered" The Band a couple of years ago as I have been going back and listening to all the great older bands that I missed growing up. But you raise a good point, I haven't heard them and I probably should have listened to them before starting this thread. But, it is what it is.

    Thanks for your feedback, you make some really good points.
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  19. maxnix

    maxnix Forum Resident

    No where does it say that the well of creativity is bottomless. Hell, I'd be thrilled to be able to write ONE good song in my lifetime, let alone as memorable and groundbreaking a catalog as The Band's. To say he may not have written The Band's material solely because he hasn't written anything like it since (if I'm reading that correctly, apologies if I'm not) . . doesn't track for me.
  20. Martin Berghaus

    Martin Berghaus Well-Known Member

    I definitely believe Levon as as much if not more a contributer than Robbie. Levon Helm articulates the situation quite well in his book he wrote 5 or so years ago and his recollection of things is quite convincing. He talked about how Robby was simply more proactive on the business end of things and eventhough so many of the songs were a group collaboration, Robbie made sure "his" contributions were documented and to hell with the others who were more interested in drinking, drugs, the social scene, etc.. I see a lot of the same thing at my work. There are guys who work just as hard if not harder, but then the brown noser types end up getting all the credit because they documented every little thing and exaggerated on their performance review, know the deal.

    This doesn't mean Robby was a complete "no talent", just that he was probably (at the most) equal to the others. But history becomes what is "documented". Robby was also better connected with other musicians and influential people outside the Band which helped futher the belief that he was the sole genious (i.e. Brian Wilson) behind all the music.

    Just can't remember the name of that book??
  21. Guy E

    Guy E Senior Member

    Antalya, Turkey
    I think a better guage might be the evolution within The Band's catalog. I'm working from memory here, but when Helm and the others realized the publishing had been locked up by JRR (and manager Albert Grossman) the rest of the Band members became stingy with their contributions. This attitude started to creep-in during the Stage Fright sessions, but was entrenched with Cahoots. That fourth album is pretty stiff, and what followed? A double live set, the Moondog Matinee covers album and finally, after four years, the fine Northern Lights Southern Cross.

    You're right, the well of creativity is not bottomless. But the depth of character on those first three Band albums leveled-out pretty dramatically when the other four guys started holding their cards close to the chest.
  22. maxnix

    maxnix Forum Resident

    good point.
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  23. Arnold Grove

    Arnold Grove Senior Member

    Completely in agreement with this. You can look at John Fogerty for another example: Between 1968-1973, Fogerty wrote an incredible wealth of fantastic material. And since then, there have been some okay things, and a handful of very good things, but nothing close to what he did in those few classic years. So the well of creativity does have limits for most. Arnie
  24. James Glennon

    James Glennon Senior Member

    Dublin, Ireland

  25. Gene

    Gene Active Member

    New York, USA
    Disagree strongly. The talents of Helm, Manuel, Danko & Hudson could not have been replaced.

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