Robbie Robertson and Martin Scorsese

From the desk of Contributing Editor, Eli M. Getson–

Martin Scorsese was introduced to The Band’s Robbie Robertson by the producer of Mean Streets, Jonathon Taplin, who coincidently helped manage the legendary rock group.  Scorsese’s first impression of the guitarist was, “He was cool, far too cool.” This chance meeting and initial impression would turn into a creative collaboration and friendship that stretches on for the better part of four decades, and includes musical collaborations on at least eight Scorsese films.

By 1976 The Band were on their last legs, after more than sixteen years of non-stop touring the stresses of the road had taken their toll.  The members agreed to one last show, to be played on Thanksgiving 1976 at the famed Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco.  The show would feature several notable guest appearances by Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, Dr. John, Muddy Waters, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Hawkins, and Eric Clapton amongst others.  I have always found this ironic, given that Rock and Roll is big business today with the attendant merchandising and multi-media cash cow to feed, that a group like The Band that still had tremendous commercial appeal would just hang it up.  Times were less cynical I suppose.

Martin Scorsese, left, and Robbie Robertson traveled to the French Riviera in Cannes, France, in May 1978 to present “The Last Waltz” at the 31st Cannes International Film Festival.  –AP image

Scorsese was brought on to document The Band’s farewell show, largely because of Robertson admiring his use of music in Mean Streets.  The film, The Last Waltz, released in 1978 is a classic, and is the standard by which all concert films are judged.  It must have been a strange feeling after that show for Robertson, sort of like that feeling right after you win the championship-a great feeling to be sure, but now what?  Between the royalties from all the music he wrote for The Band and the concert cash he could afford to do nothing.  Scorsese, perhaps sensing a kindred spirit, invited Robertson to live at his place on Mulholland Drive and help him edit the reams of concert footage.  The house on Mulholland Drive was one of the 1970’s intersections for Hollywood’s young Turks, the literary set, Rock royalty, the occasional Kennedy, and the debauchery that accompanied it.  The 24 hour party scene, the people walking through the house on any given night and the conversations that must have been had…if the walls could only talk.

November 25th, 1976, San Francisco– Bob Dylan performs with Robbie Robertson and the Band at the Winterland Ballroom– The Last Waltz. –Image by © Neal Preston/Corbis

Through late night double features, all night listening sessions, and more than a little cocaine, Scorsese and Robertson forged a long lasting friendship and a creative give and take that would benefit both parties.  While the two played in different mediums– film and rock music– there was that intuitive understanding for both of them that the other got it, even if at times they did not know what “it” was.  As Robertson would later say about his relationship with the director and living through those times, “It was almost like having a war buddy.  We were in the trenches together and we got out alive and a bomb went off right beside us.  It’s that kind of feeling.  In the course of that, we became really, really good friends.”

1988– Robbie Robertson and Martin Scorsese –Image by © Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis

Scorsese often credits his friendships to Robbie Robertson and Robert DeNiro for helping him survive those times.  Sometimes you meet someone and you hit it off– he or she becomes that person you can count on, no matter what.  These guys were lucky to find each other, and but I think we are even luckier that they did.

–Eli M. Getson


  1. Only Robbie wanted to end The Band – so he could pursue a career as an actor/producer. The other guys pretty quickly reformed The Band and kept it going when Manuel killed himself then closed things when Rick Danko died. Levon has since released some fine solo albums – much much better than Robbie’s! – and has never forgiven Robertson for breaking up the band and hogging the publishing credits!

  2. ..”The members agreed to one last show”..Good article, except for that little misrepresentation, as the previous comments allude to.

    And, Levon coulda used some of those ‘royalties’ when had cancer and was on the verge of bankruptcy.

  3. Egomaniacal, narcissistic, cherry-popping, coke-head, abusive-to-anyone-who-wasn’t-them assholes, and with both individual and a collective god-complex to boot. Good times. Of course, the music and the movies were pretty good.

  4. I agree with all the comments so far. I think the other members collaborated on many of those songs, only to find that Robby was “writer” after publication.

  5. Just one note, …it was Robbie Robertson OF The Band, not Robbie Robertson AND The Band as described above. That’s the exact image he, and only he cultured. If anything, he was the least talented of the group. Sure he could play some rhythm guitar but as a singer, he was awful. As for his songwriting abilites and credits, …dubious at best. None the less, The Band’s body of work was both ground breaking for it’s time, and the stuff of legend today !

  6. Now this is just plain weird. I’ve been a voracious reader of this blog for over a year now, and it seems that we are sharing a brainwave or two. I’ve been obsessed with reading up on the Band over the last month and now you post THIS. More specifically I’ve been taking in the GREATNESS of Levon Helm, the Last Waltz, and the animosity that ensued. I’ve never really liked Robbie Robertson that much, and after reading about Levon’s take on the whole thing, and given everyone in the biz’s high opinion of Mr. Helm I have no choice but to believe that Marty and Robbie are as much the bastards that they were portrayed as in “This Wheel’s on Fire.”

    It’s still a fantastic movie, and the star power that they managed to pull in on that show could not be matched by any other single performer or band past, present, or future.

    Thanks again JP.

  7. If my memory serves me well ,,,,, ‘Marty ‘ had a great relationship with ‘Robbie’ but the covetous financial relationship that Robertson had with the rapacious manager Albert Grossman is the real story in that those two collaborated to screw the rest of The Band out of many millions of dollars in songwriting royalties.

  8. Sure Robbie was a dick, but musically, he was an unbelievable guitarist and songwriter. Don’t let his character and the publishing fiasco get in the way of the music. His style had an unbelievable personality to it. Easily one of my all-time favorites.

  9. Wow, “Music From Big Pink” was a favorite of mine growing up, and when I finally got a chance to see the “The Last Waltz” a few years ago, I thought it was amazing (of course, my lasting memory of it is that Levon Helm is the bomb, and that OMG Van Morrison a tiny man!). I had no idea that RR was such a jerk. I think I’ll look up “This Wheel’s On Fire” on Amazon…

  10. You all sounding off based on Levon Helm’s self-serving book. RR did not take credit for all of The Band’s songs. The song credits are on the internet. Some are credited to Danko, some to Manuel, one or too to Helm and many to The Band as a group. What pisses off Helm (and the Americans sounding off here) is that the Band’s best songs and certainly the best known are the ones written by RR. Second, Helm should be grateful for The Last Waltz. It has brought millions of new fans to The Band’s music because they’re Scorsese fans. What, Helm didn’t get enough attention on the Last Waltz? How much more screen time did he want anyway? I’ve heard some say RR got too much screen time on stage. This is a Rock ‘n Roll band. With all due respect to Garth Hudson, the lead guitar gets a lot of attention when you film a rock concert. Beside, Scorsese was trying to make an ineresting dynamic musical not document a concert. When I saw the film the first time, not even knowing the band, I never thought RR was necessarily the band’s leader. They all came across as strong individual musicians, including the bitter Mr. Helm, whom btw is my favourit singer in the band. Get over it, Levon.

  11. Only Levon and Robbie know what the truth is. The shame is that these two, who were like brothers, are no longer even friends. Fortunately for us they are both still making music.

  12. Levon was the gold. He was the glue, the inspiration, and the best voice behind The Band. Manuel’s voice had pain and soul, but Levon’s was THE sound of The Band. Its not a dispute that RR stole song rights from the rest of The Band, but where did that get him? One look/listen of anything Levon has done post Band and it puts a smile on your face and a tap in your foot.

    JP – You Run a style blog… Where’s Robertson’s style? One look at the Last Waltz and it should be clear (RR and his scarf?) Helm shits out more style in one day without trying than RR’s fake long scarf wearing ass has yet. Helm was not only the musical influencer of the group, he was the one with the most style, he didn’t try, he was himself. RR reeks of one who tries too hard, wants to be like, thrives on attention. Shit, his interviews are painful to watch, stroking his own over and over.

    A bit of research would be nice on these articles, seem to be more and more regurgitated stories that have been fed to you. As far as the band is concerned, who gives a shit about Scorsese?

  13. Robbie will be inducted into the Canadian songwriters hall of Fame this April. This is to KH and rest of the guys with man crush on Levon, if Robbie was the mediocre self-agrandizing hack you think of then how could he have broken up the band? It’s like saying Ringo Starr broke up the Beatles. But if he did “broke up” the band then he was indeed the main force behind the band. You can’t have it both ways. Also, why is it then Heml doesn’t dispute the songwriting credit behind say Wheels on Fire (Danko/Dylan) or Tear of Rage (Manuel)? Were they not collective works? Come on people, get real.

  14. Levon sure did make some great music after the Band… But he hasn’t written songs since. He plays covers. Robertson has written dozens (literally) of great songs after the Band.

    Now, I love the music, from both men. But if Levon wrote the songs while he was in the Band, why hasn’t he written anything since?

    Robertson wrote the lyrics. The proof is that he continues to do so in his post Band career.

    The music was a collaboration. The lyrics were from the songwriter: Robertson.

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