If you don’t know the name of Robbie Robertson then there is a whole wealth of education to be obtained. One of the little known names of the same 1960s rock and roll scene that gave us Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell et al, Robertson fell victim to being so extremely talented that his work came before his name ever did. Of course, that’s not a bad position to be in.
As the leading man for The Band, Robertson’s first pivotal role was to act as the head for Bob Dylan’s backing band as part of his now-iconic electric tour. The string of dates would see the previously anointed folk god leave his acoustic guitar behind a pursue the sacrilegious joys of rock and roll. A huge moment for Dylan it may have been but it also gave Robertson the first taste of elevated rock stardom.
It was enough to encourage Robertson, and the rest of The Band to pursue their own fame and fortune — and they found it, too. Their album Music from Big Pink is still regarded as one of the finest albums of the decade. Containing their landmark song ‘The Weight’ it is widely believed to be the band’s crowning moment but Robertson hasn’t stopped creating.
In 2019, he crafted the critically lauded album Sinematic, and, unlike a lot of artists in their autumn years, it was still fresh enough to celebrate without any hint of glossy-eyed nostalgia or drifting look back at the songs that have been and gone. However, while the legendary musician was promoting the album, Robertson caught up with the Los Angeles Times to discuss his life in music via twelve of his favourite songs of all time. It offered up a whole host of different songs and feelings, including Robertson’s appreciation of Billie Eilish. But, given their connection, perhaps the most interesting was Robertson’s favourite Bob Dylan song of all time.
Nobody can predict somebody else’s favourite songs of all time list, but a track like Bob Dylan’s ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, the omission would be more surprising than its inclusion. “When Bob recorded the studio version of the song, I accidentally went with John Hammond Jr. to the studio,” Robertson commented. “He said, ‘Oh God, I forgot, I promised my friend I would stop in, he’s recording,’ and I was like, ‘OK, whatever.’ We went in and they were recording ‘Like a Rolling Stone,’ and I thought, ‘Whoa, this guy’s pulling a rabbit out of the hat — I haven’t heard anything like this before.”
Robertson would tour with Dylan on the infamous ‘Judas’ concerts that followed, but ‘Like A Rolling Stones’ was a rallying cry of defiance within every set, as he adds: “When I started playing with Bob, I didn’t know how so much vocal power could come out of this frail man. He was so thin. He was singing louder and stronger than James Brown. We were in a battlefield on that tour, and you had to fight back.”
For most listeners, Bob Dylan’s ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ is a song of pertinence and importance, it offers up a searing reminder of Dylan’s talent and artistry. For Robertson, the song acts as a wartime tale he can regale his friends with around the jukebox. Pure perfection.