Robbie Robertson Talks Clapton Collaboration, The Band Break Up and More

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Music legendRobbie Robertson is back with a new solo album after a decade-long break and joined Morning Becomes Eclectic to talk about the collaborations that formed “How to Become Clairvoyant,” his first song talking about end of The Band, and his work with Martin Scorcese.

Robertson is one of the most celebrated songwriters of all time, particularly as part of The Band, but takes his time with his solo releases, so each one is a treat.

His new record was born pretty much out of jam sessions with Eric Clapton in his LA studio. After realizing they had some good material, Robbie flew to London where they went into the studio (with Steve Winwood, Pino Palladino, and Ian Thomas) and recorded all the basic tracks.

After those sessions, Robertson shifted gears to work on the music for Shutter Island, a film from Martin Scorcese — his former housemate and, of course, director of The Last Waltz. “ He said a lot of the collaborations on this album were inspired by his work on the film.

“It was like casting a movie to me. Who could play these parts that I have in my imagination better than anybody in the world?”

He chose Angela McCluskey for background vocals on “When the Night Was Young,” where he reflects on his days with The Hawks, the band that would become THE BAND, as well as his time living at the Chelsea Hotel and his friendship with Andy Warhol muse Edie Sedgwick. In his song about “great guitar heroes” – “Ax Man” – he brought in Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine). Trent Reznor and Robert Randolph also make appearances.

This Is Where I Get Off” is a beautiful collaboration with Eric Clapton and the first song he’s written talking about his departure from The Band.

“One of the things that still intrigues me most about song writing is that you’ll sit down, have no idea what you’re going to do with an instrument… you go down the path until it reveals itself to you what you’re actually writing about. And this was a perfect case of that because I would have never thought in my life that I would write a song about my departure from The Band. And as I got deeper into it, it felt really good. It felt like, “I’m really feeling very good about sharing this.” And also talking about – nobody quit The Band. Nobody broke up The Band. It evolved in a certain direction and this is what happened naturally and there was no way to change that. And that’s what I discovered in this process.”

He also talks about recording that song with Clapton.

“It was a moment of just such emotion because Eric was always very attached to The Band’s music. And when we were in the studio recording this Eric and I were sitting in front of one another with our guitars and as I was singing this song I could see what it was doing to him emotionally – that it was going to that deep place. And then after the lyrics and then when I started playing a guitar solo, I’d play something and then he would answer me and in this almost want to make you cry kind of way. And it just – when we finished cutting this track we both were speechless – we couldn’t even talk after that. Because it was like the guitars – like talking guitars back and forth and just what the song is about and everything it dug deep.”

Robbie says the title of the record is really saying ” I wish I knew then what I know now.”

Don’t we all.

Check out the full interview in KCRW’s archives here.