Few artists have been present at as many turning points in rock & roll as Robbie Robertson. Long before he was a member of the Band, writing modern-day standards like “The Weight” and “Up on Cripple Creek,” he was writing songs, playing guitar, and touring with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks in the late Fifties. The Hawks later became the Band, placing Robertson at the forefront of Bob Dylan’s first electric tour, jamming at Big Pink, playing Woodstock, and the Martin Scorsese–directed concert film The Last Waltz.
Robertson’s story with the Band is the subject of a new documentary, Once Were Brothers, which opens in New York and L.A. on February 21st. The film will also get a wide release on February 28th. In conjunction with the doc, Robertson also wrote a song, “Once Were Brothers,” which appeared on his Sinematic solo album last year.
Since he was in the spirit of looking back, Rolling Stone invited him to our office to reminisce for our “First Time” video series. In the clip, he recalls the first time he fell in love with guitar, playing live with Bob Dylan, seeing Big Pink, stepping onstage at Woodstock, realizing he had a hit record, meeting Martin Scorsese, and meeting Eric Clapton.
The last story could also double as the “first time he broke up one of his favorite bands.” “It was after Music From Big Pink came out,” Robertson says, referring to the Band’s debut album. “We were introduced, and he said, ‘You know, this record of yours, I’ve been telling people all over about this record. I had one of the first acetates of it. And it affected me so strongly that I’ve decided I’m breaking up Cream. I’m leaving Cream.’ And I said, ‘Whoa, whoa. I kind of like Cream. I don’t want that responsibility.’ And he said, ‘Too late.'”