Robbie Robertson

Robbie Robertson in Hall of Fame Did He Write Those Songs

The songs may have been written his band mates without attribution or compensation

By Stephen Pate – “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.” Hunter S. Thompson Actually Hunter S. Thompson did not say that about the music business, although most people think he did.

Robbie Robertson was recently Robertson inducted into Songwriters Hall of Fame. Robertson’s songwriting fame comes mainly from his work with The Band.

Update – Rock musician Levon Helm passes away Remembering Levon Helm

We loved The Band and their music. Guitarist Robbie Robertson is credited with writing most of their songs but according to band-mate Levon Helm Robertson stole them.

Before The Band, Robertson wrote no songs of any enduring interest. Most of the songs that made The Band famous were influenced or written by Bob Dylan, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson and Levon Helm, although Robertson claimed ownership in most cases.

The Band petered out as a creative force by 1972 largely due to their self-admitted excesses with alcohol and drugs. The Band broke up with The Last Waltz filming in 1976. Robbie Robertson went on to a lucrative career writing movie scores for his friend and director Martin Scorsese.

His solo CDs in the past few decades are highly forgettable, with weak melodies and even weaker lyrics. While it’s not unusual for artists to have a short term flash in the pan with creativity, the story with The Band and Robertson goes deeper.

The Band BWThe Band were known for fusing Southern American, swamp rock and an oddball lyric sensibility.  The oddball lyricism and story telling was learned in West Saugerties and Bearsville, New York while they hunkered down with Bob Dylan in 1967 and 1968.

Listen to The Basement Tapes which were recorded from those freewheeling sessions and you can hear Music From the Big Pink and some of their early and best writing.  Dylan taught them how to construct a story from folk myths and American folk roots.

Those weren’t Robbie Robertson’s roots. He’s a Canadian with native and Jewish ancestry. The songs like The Weight, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, and Up on Cripple Creek came from Levon Helm. That’s Levon’s culture and history going down, not Robbie Robertson.

The closest Robertson comes to authenticity is Acadian Driftwood and even then the real impact of the song is Cajun not Acadian, again from Levon Helm.

Helm claims the opposite in his 1993 autobiography, “This Wheel’s On Fire,” in which he claims that Robertson ripped off his bandmates by claiming the lion’s share of songwriting credits in The Band (he could not be reached for an interview): “I even confronted Robbie over this issue during this era,” Helm wrote. “… I cautioned that most so-called business moves had [destroyed] a lot of great bands and killed off whatever music was left in them. I told Robbie that The Band was supposed to be partners … Well, it never quite worked out that way. We stayed in the divide and conquer mode.” Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune

Robertson responded in Kott’s article “Who did the work? I tried, I begged Levon to write songs or help me write songs — all the guys. I always encouraged everybody to write. You can’t make somebody do what they don’t want to do or can’t do, and he’s not a songwriter. With The Band he started to write one song, `Strawberry Wine,’ the whole time and couldn’t finish it, and I helped him finish it. And there were some other songs that I wrote and he was there when I was writing them, and just because he was being supportive, I gave him credit on a couple of songs. He didn’t write one note, one word, nothing. What he’s saying now is the result of somebody thinking about their financial problems. I wrote these songs and then 20 or 30 years later somebody comes back and says he wrote the songs? It never came up back then, and it’s preposterous that it’s coming up now.” Greg Kot.

We’ll never know if Robertson wrote those songs by himself or just appropriated them from his band mates. The Band weren’t managed as well as John Lennon and Paul McCartney who split their songwriting credits no matter who wrote the song.

Personally, I believe he did and broke faith with The Band when they promised to form a band of equals with no one taking centre stage. Apart from the legalisms, Robertson didn’t write those songs in a vacuum but seems to be keeping the credit all for himself.

ITunes carries the complete catalogue of The Band.

Also available from The Band and in Canada.

Or course, awards and award shows are the BS of life. The songs were great and we love them. For more on Big Pink, see Richard Goldstein’s ‘Big Pink’ Is Just a Home in Saugerties. Featured image Richard Lautens / Toronto Star.

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  • PSB

    Sorry, but first look at the credits on Band albums. Songs co-written were credited. Levon Helm has released six solo albums. On those six albums there’s like two songs he co-wrote and one of those was a traditional song that was adapted and arranged. Playing on a song, contributing to an arrangement, is not writing.

  • RLP

    Most writers who deem their opinions worthy enough to publish try to do at least a modicum of research before they mouth off. You quote a newspaper article that quotes Levon Helm’s book. Nothing like striving for balance. Let’s run though your drivel.

    1) Robertson was hired by Ronnie Hawkins because RR had a penchant for writing songs. He don’t Love you and The Stones I Throw are great examples of pre-Band writing.

    2)Levon Helm was not present at the Basement Tapes. He had quit the Dylan tour and didn’t return until the Fall of 67. If as you say they all learned how to write from Dylan, where did Levon pick it up?

    3) The song credits on Music From Big Pink are properly assigned and don’t all go to RR. Did Richard Manuel rip everyone off when he “claimed” to write In A Station or We Can Talk? Of course not. The whole group knew Richard had written those songs and deserved credit for them. How about Rick Danko with This Wheel’s On Fire”? Another rip-off?
    How about Dylan? Didn’t 4/5 of the Band add their distinctive talents to the Basement Tapes songs? Dylan shared credit with Richard Manuel and Rick Danko in what emerged from the same clubhouse atmosphere. Why no gnashing of teeth there?

    4) Robertson spent a lot of time in the south and read tons of southern literature. He soaked up all kinds of images and put words and chords together to bring those images to life. It is ridiculous to say someone can only write a song about the Civil War if they are from the south. Using your thought process, you would argue RR had to write Acadian Driftwood since half of the song is Canadian and half is cajun–which Levon most assuredly is not.

    5) If you investigate the contemporaneous literature, you will see that the members of the Band looked to RR as their main songwriter. No one said anything about how the song writing credits were distributed. This is an issue that came up first 15 years after the fact when the Band reformed without RR. and did not see print for another ten years.

    6) Great example of the Beatles. Weren’t George Harrison and Ringo Starr in the group? They received some publishing credits for LM songs but not equal shares.

    7) Whose self admitted alcohol and drug problems caused the creative “petering out”? Did some members not have alcohol and drug problems? How did the clean ones view the not-so-clean ones? Was there a breaking of the brotherhood bond when the clean ones kept things together and the not so clean ones didn’t? Gee, think if you had looked into that angle.

    8) To smugly dismiss RR’s output since The Last Waltz tells me you are hopelessly partisan on this issue and should perhaps pull your article.

  • Scotty

    I agree this article should be pulled…. I have never read so much BS in my life. Where do you get your “facts” from? Robbie Robertson wrote these songs and probably a lot of Dylan’s songs he never received credit for. Before you write crap do a little research. I am surprised there isn’t a slander suit against you.

  • Stephen Pate

    Read This Wheel’s on Fire, then look at the songwriting credits before and after their Dylan exposure. It pretty well peters out by the early 1970s. Movie scores aren’t songs and none of what Robbie Robertson has written since then is worth downloading, let alone purchasing.

  • cate

    Oh come on……………..Obviously you know nothing about Canadian history and culture, Acadians and Cajuns, and your knowledge of Robbie Robertson and The Band is nonexistent.

    Cajun is simply the southern American pronunciation of Acadian, the name of the Canadian French speaking group the song was written about. The Acadians were deported from maritime Canada (mainly Nova Scotia) by the British during the French and Indian Wars of the eighteenth century, and many were transported to Lousisiana where their name was pronounced “Cajun”.

    Song writing credit was given wherever it was due in the Band’s time, and there is simply no basis for stating that songs listed as having been written by Robbie Robertson were actually written by Levon Helm, except that is for Helm’s saying so.

    The second part of “Acadian Driftwood” is sung in French – Canadian Acadian dialect at that, and where Levon Helm would have picked that up, I don’t know.

    This article should be removed as a piece of scurrilous and poorly researched crud.

  • Stephen Pate

    Levon Helm makes the claim, all the band members wrote the songs in his autobiography This Wheel’s on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band

  • Bill Voss

    Trying to trash Robbie Robertson with this article is very poor judgement based on one man’s regrets and unsubstantiated claims. The facts have been pointed out by many comments posted and Robbie Robertson’s solo work is great and that alone would make Robbie well recognized in the music industry.

  • J. B. Guillory

    While everyone bitches over who REALLY wrote those songs, let’s look at another accusation leveled by Levon in the book, i.e. that the rockamentary, “The Last Waltz”, which I own and have watched many times, CLEARLY spotlights Robertson more than the others, which I assumed at the first viewing was due to Scorcese’s “roommate in college” connection with Robertson. The spoltlight on Roberston is clear and convincing evidence that Scorcese intended that Robertson be the “star” of the movie and the front man for the group. I also noticed something else: Without exception, when each guest finished performing, it was LEVON they immediately approached and thanked/shook hands with, and NOT Mr. Robertson. Eric Clapton made Robertson’s guitar-playing prowess look amateurish, and I suppose Robertson claiming solo writing credit for all the songs was an attempt to make him into something he is not, and never has been: A credible musician and singer.

  • Stephen Pate

    All these comments are wonderful, interesting but none of us were there. Nor was Robbie Robertson’s daughter. So her letter is worth zip.

    Levon, Robbie, Rick, Garth and Richard were there. Robbie says he wrote the songs. Levon said they wrote them in collaboration.

    Levon said, in his autobiography, that The Band was about no one person – one for all and all for one. No one suspected Robbie was copyrighting them. according to Levon. The music business is full of sharks and musicians have been ripped off regularly. This story rings true.

  • Jean

    Non of us were there, that’s right!
    But how come – as someone points out – didn’t the other members of The Band do anything about this, during a career that ran over many years??
    Personally, I believe this is a case where people – many years after – believe being part of the arrangement etc should entitle them to a songwriting credit, but of course I don’t know exactly how the band came up with each song.
    That RR is the main architect behind the songs that he is credited for (alone) I believe is very likely.
    And what’s that about his solo cd:s not worth buying? I only have the fist two, but there are amazing songs on both of them (“Broken Arrow”, i.e., became a hit for Rod Stewart). On the Band’s albums after RR left (and LH’s – rest in peace, you fantastic musician – solo albums) there aren’t many original songs.

  • Jean

    …also, on RR’s solo albums: I guess RR could have easily copied his stuff from The Band era, but he wanted to do something new, so you shouldn’t really compare them. C’mon, a “The Weight no 2” – released solo in the end of the 80:s – wouldn’t have been fresh.

  • Stephen Pate

    Not uncommon for artists to product their most creative work when they are younger. The Band peaked creatively withing 3 years with “Stage Fright.” The first album is the easiest since bands have 10 years of road songs saved up – their very best material. The next two albums were getting progressively better. By the 4th album they were scrapping the bottom of the barrel. Success had allowed them to over-indulge in drugs and alcohol, which Levon admitted in his autobiography. Much of The Band’s appeal came retrospectively, especially after “The Last Waltz” which presented their material at its best. In the end it’s he said / he said.

  • Rob

    I thought about not commenting on this article but I think there are a few things worth noting about Robbie Robertson’s solo career that Mr. Pate does not appear to be informed on.

    Robbie Robertson’s self-titled solo album was 77th on Rolling Stones 100 best albums of the 80’s

    His latest effort is 10th on Rolling Stones 50 best albums of 2011

    He co-wrote Eric Clapton’s song It’s in the Way that you Use it.

    His album Storyville was nominated for two Grammies.

    No matter how you feel about his music personally, I think there is enough evidence to decide unequivocally that he is an accomplished song-writer and creative force in his own right.

  • Stephen Pate

    He is OK but nothing he did compares with the best of his work with The Band and he shoulda given his band members their share. Thanks for your comment and the links.

  • Jean

    Well yes, Stephen, I agree that the success of The Band was to a large extent due to the way the whole group treated the songs that (I believe) Robertson wrote, but still he wrote those songs, and I’m not so familiar with how royalties worked in the US in 40 years ago to say if there was a way for RR to be credited as the sole song-writer AND at the same time give bart of the royalties for the songs to the others by adding them as arrangers of the songs.

    An amateur songwriter myself, I belong to a Scandinavian rights association, and I believe that (at most) 17% of the songwriting royalties for a song can be given to the ones that arrange it.

    There are of course bands – mort notably U2 – that from the beginning have split the songwriting credits four the music four ways regardless of who came up with the song, but I feel that U2 songs are often created very much during studio jamming, more so than Band songs did.

  • Jean

    Sorry for typos: “PART of the royalties…” and “MOST notably…”. A bit hung over here… :)

    And btw, Storyville (RR’s second solo album) is really good, and some stuff from his solo career I personally find fantastic. It’s not The Band, and why should it be? It’s solo stuff.

    (And he also wrote the beautiful “Nobody’s Child” with and for Maria McKee)

  • Stephen Pate

    Thanks Jean for the comment all the way from Scandinavia. I have a friend hiding out in Norway and they say my mother was Norse (Norman French to the English South-West Coast to Newfoundland) so we’re connected.

    Royalties can be split anyway the copyright holder wishes them to be split. I didn’t know that about U2 but it makes sense. Bono has enough of a swelled head and The Edge has his own ego but even-Stephen on the money can keep the love alive. Send us a link to your music.

    The Band’s manager Albert Grossman was a master at deals that got him more than 50% of the royalties. Bob Dylan fought with Grossman and eventually got control back for his songs.

    In his autobiography, Levon said The Band was supposed to be all-for-one and one-for-all. Robbie Robertson obviously feels differently. The odd thing about life is that you can cheat and gouge your fellow man all you want, but in the end we all met Death the great leveler. Better to be fair now in my opinion.

  • Jean

    Still, Stephen, if we where in a band and I was hitting the bars and shooting 8-ball while you were sweating in your room, writing The Weight and The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down, one would imagine you would be a bit reluctant to hand me half of the songwriting royalties (and honour), no matter how brilliant my singing and playing on the recording was.

    If I wrote The Weight and you wrote The Night… I guess we might happily agree to put (Stephen-Jean) as the songwriting team for both (like Lennon-McCartney did).

  • Stephen Pate

    Not to argue with you – Lennon and McCartney were one of the greatest teams and notwithstanding who wrote the song it was always “Lennon and McCartney”. Even “Yesterday” which Paul wrote by himself was L&M and later Yoko wouldn’t change that no matter what Paul wanted. In actuality, a band is a group of people. Paul bounced “Yesterday” off the group many times before he put the final lyrics to the song. In the end, it’s he said he said and I’ll believe Levon simply because he is the more authentic voice on the songs. “The Weight” was about a joint band experience when long haired musicians met the good Pennsylvania Dutch people of Nazareth who gave them the cold should on the surface. You have to go the Nazareth and feel the chill to understand. I had a girl friend in the area back in 1966 and it was weird how they disliked me for bell bottom hounds-tooth trousers. Cheers.

  • Jean

    RR read a lout about the South, and I guess talked with Helm about it also.
    Having experienced something first hand is in no way a guarantee that you can create great music and/or lyrics about it yourself. Sometimes it can be better to have a more mythological approach, like RR probably did.
    Remember, Kafka who wrote “Amerika” never went to America.

  • Jean

    Check yout this obituary, that is very balanced in my opinion:

    “Things were not all storybook. Levon did himself no favors with his rancorous memoir from 2000 or his ridiculous claims (30 fucking years later!) that he and the other boys helped to write those dang songs, too. Like a lot of folks, I reckon, I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard that Mr. Robertson had visited Levon in the hospital this week.”

  • Stephen Pate

    Thanks for the link. Nice remembrance in The Village Voice but too much drama versus fact.

    The Band wasn’t really that popular in the beginning – more of a cult following. It was “The Last Waltz” movie that put them into the spotlight and years of hearing “The Weight” which only made it to #8 on the charts when it was released. By the time they were almost creatively exhausted with “Stage Fright” the following had grown enough to give them a #5 album. The Band was like great wine that aged better than opened young.

    Peter Gerstenzang dismisses the 80s. Levon was one hell of an actor which went strong from 1978 to 1983 but still had an acting thing in the 1990s. The reunion bands were a sort of flat but the Cate Brothers gigs were awesome. By now we’re all sick of RR’s up stroke lead parts and mood music. Nobody cites RR as their guitar god. Tons of drummers learned from Levon.

    I believe Levon’s claim – Robbie Robertson couldn’t have done it without Levon. It was not his world.

    The autobiography was very telling. Everyone was running around in the rock press praising the “love affair” of “The Last Waltz”. After the book, it was easy to see Levon was right that Robbie Robertson was a grand-stander who couldn’t sing. As for Robbie being the sober one, he was stoned in the interviews. So much BS churned out by the millionaire RR and his Hollywood friends.

    The love of money is the root of all evil. Robbie loved the money more than The Band which was supposed to be a group ethic.

    U2 have a group ethic. Levon thought he was getting that but got snookered.

    Barry Sloan wrote as a comment on the VV article – “I have always thought that if Levon filled Robbie’s head with the stories, characters, and “taste and feel” of this environment and mileau, then it might be said that he had participated in the writing of the songs. Technically you may be correct and accurate as to the “letter” of the ethics involved, but as a matter of “spirit” I think that you lose the larger picture. It is a murky issue, and to call his claim “ridiculous” is to diminish the validity of the claim, whether you agree with him or not. It is also an open question as to whether Robbie Robertson would have taken such a tack had he not come under the influence of the (some believe to be ogre-ish) Albert Grossman. I have no doubt that Robbie had the most business acumen of any member of the Band, and I also do not dispute Robbie’s son’s claim (during a discussion with me on Facebook) that Robbie lent much money to every other member of the Band, but for him to become a millionaire while two other members had to declare bankruptcy somehow leaves a bad taste in my mouth.” VillageVoice

  • Jean

    “I have always thought that if Levon filled Robbie’s head with the stories, characters, and “taste and feel” of this environment and mileau, then it might be said that he had participated in the writing of the songs.”

    Well, maybe, but in a traditional sence of songwriting I would say the anwers is no. Noone disputes the fact that The Band war, err, a band – but if we look at the songwriting I still believe that by any traditional. intelligible understanding of what “songwriting” means RR wrote those songs.
    And most of their songs feel like traditional “songwriter’s songs” – of course then arranged by the band. I we compare to U2, I don’t think Bono och The Edge would have come up with a song like that if it was not boult through jamming och soundchecks (that I believe U2 always record, in case they fins a good groove).

  • Stephen Pate

    In actuality much of what U2 created owes its existence to producer Daniel Lanois, as do two of Dylan’s albums. Creativity is never a singular process. Producers often take raw material and turn it into something that is worth recording.

    I want to state that it is no my intention to take anything away from Robbie Robertson who is a great artist in his own right. Sometimes in these comment discussion, we take one side or the other and I’m not immune to that.

    As I said before, Robbie Robertson says he wrote them by himself. Levon wrote a book and got it published refuting that. On the balance of probabilities, in my mind, I agree with Levon Helm. He never retracted what he said despite strong criticism from many people.

  • Jean

    Well yes, I agree that creativity is a complex process, and I read a book about U2 where they actually talked about songwriting credits, because apparently (and not surprisingly) they have been an issue with Lanois and Eno. Someone in the book (which I believe is authorized) said that U2:s manager for a long time did not accept adding Eno and Lanois as songwriters, cause that could actually make them earn more than the band and beacuse it was the band that still were the ones who in the end decided what the songs should sound like and it was in their name that they are released. But at least on the last album Eno and Lanois do share some credits.

    I guess it also depends on the tradition and who is involved: If you take the same (imaginary) creative process, one group of people could end up sharing the songwriting credits and the other one not. Still, I do think RR’s songwriting was old school in the sense that RR presented pretty finished songs – but that is my guess. And the thing is there is really no explanation why a group such as The Band should remain quiet for 20-30 years about one member “stealing” songwriting credits….

  • Jean

    And this is what Rick Danko said in an interview. Does not necessarily mean that RD did not have any problems with it before, but it doesn’t exactly sound like he things he co-wrote “The Weight” either…:

    There are other issues related to songwriting, in disputes you’ve had with Robbie Robertson over sharing credit for much of the Band’s repertoire.

    I don’t have a problem with any of it, you know? I’m a very thankful person. Whatever publishing I’ve shared with people, whatever songwriting credits I’ve shared and whatever payments I’ve gotten, I’m thankful. I could have ended up having to get a real job. I’m thankful for what the Band has represented and what the Band has done. I’m not gonna sit here and tear the Band apart.

  • Jean

    Putting the discussion about songwriting aside for a minute, here’s a great obituary by Elvis Costello:

  • Wazz

    Let’s not forget that a song is not just the lyrics. If RR did write most of the lyrics for the songs, do you think that the music just magically appeared? Of course not! What Levon tried to explain in his book is that all of the members should be credited with writing the song, including the music. The quietist of the band members was Garth and he was most likely the most gifted musically. Where does RR credit Garth with any song writing? Answer: nowhere. Does anyone think that the Band’s songs would have existed without Garth’s contributions? Or without the others’ musical (and lyrics) contributions? This is what Levon wanted the world to know, and this is why Levon was critical about RR hogging the song writing credits and monetary windfall.

  • Jean

    Of course I can a understand that, but the obvious question is of course why the rest of the band, all full-time professional musicians, would let this go on for 10 years… Are there any indications in any interview while RR was in the band that the others didn’t see him as the principal songwriter?
    I’ve seen people that seem to know 100 times more than me about The Band say that interviews from the era show that the others saw RR as the main songwriter, but maybe they are wrong…

  • Jean

    I mentioned U2 earlier. Here’s a two page discussion about Lanois’ and Eno’s input in the recording process, and at what point their input might become actual songwriting.

  • Wazz

    Apparently the others never thought about it much, and didn’t pursue the matter. Don’t forget that RR was being influenced by Grossman who knew the ins and outs about songwriting credits and residuals and surely instructed RR on how to get full credit. Levon probably had a slightly better understanding of this, but he also probably did not pursue it further until later on when he finally realized that RR was shafting the others. It was too late to do anything about the misjustice, and so the only other way to confront it was to express his feelings in his book. These are just my opinions about your question.

  • Jean

    Well, yes, I’m just guessing here also, but my point is that these are complex matters, and I find it hard to simply trust what one part claims in a book 30 years or so after it happened. The band got their living from being in The Band – it was their occupation – and that the four others wouldn’t have stood up as one man after the first record if there was something really fishy I don’t find that believable. Songwriting credits aren’t THAT complex.

    What I find believable – and similar things have happened in other bands – is that long after the band’s career, someone, in hindsight, starts thinking that their contribution – may it be a drumbeat or a bassline or an organ intro – should have been counted as songwriting, especially if you are in finacial trouble and you hear the song played on radio.

    But I guess there really are no definite way to decide what qualifies as songwriting, well other than go to court.

    As someone, who claims to be a musician and producer, in the U2 discussion says about producers:

    “A producer can do alot to a song; come up with the groove, basslines, suggest chord changes, suggest melody inflections, do the keyboard/extra guitar parts, mix the thing, get the sounds for various instruments, etc., and still not be credited as a writer.
    If a singer/songwriter or band comes into the studio, as long as they’ve got a lyric with a melody, and some chord changes, they are credited as being the writers of the song. Even if the initial version of said song winds up drastically different in the end product.”

    I guess similar things can be said about other members of a band, other than the one stepping into the studio with the lyrics and the melody and the overall chords. Of course different bands can have different takes on this.

    Another thing: At least if you take a song like “The Weight” I find it highly unlikely that the lyrics and the music were written separately. It’s just not that kinda song.

  • Jean

    (What I mean when I say that “songwriting credits aren’t THAT complex” is that even if it might be debatable which members of a band should get credit for a song, the whole IDEA of songwriting credits, and that they are an important source of income, is not hard to grasp, and cannot come as a surprise to someone who’s been a professional musician for years.)

  • RPL

    Firstly, I’d just like to mention that an article that lacks substantial evidence ( as Levon Helm’s book only highlights HIS side of the story) should be far more impartial than this.

    Furthermore,as the author of this article has stated above in one of his posts, only the members of The Band truly know who wrote those songs. Mr Pate, if you acknowledge this yourself, why does your article not consider Robbie Robertson’s side of the story?

    In response to one of the posters who touches on Garth Hudson’s musical abilities, I agree that the man is undeniably talented and possibly the most talented member of The Band, however that does not mean that he wrote a single word or note of Robertson’s songs. From my experience of being in a band, I’ve worked with musicians who are far more talented than I am, yet completely reluctant or even unable to put pen to paper and write songs, or even help me with mine for that matter.

    Finally, I agree with Jean on this subject: If The Band was meant to be a joint effort, and Robbie Robertson was simply to share songwriting credits on songs that he worked on alone whilst other members drank or partied, where would be the justice in that? Do you believe that someone who spends their evenings creating the songs that will bring the band success should give the other members songwriting credits for nothing?

    Mr Pate, please review your article more thoroughly next time.

  • Richard

    Robbie Robertson’s work and talent speaks for itself.
    It would appear that he is the only one out of that crew who had no problem carrying on in the music business after THE BAND.
    They all created a body of work which is timeless and truly original.
    Back in the day, it was Robbie Robertson, with his instantly recognizable original guitar sound, that I really wanted to hear. I was always struggling to figure out who was who and who sang what. There was not much music on television. As such, he was the only personality that I recognized.
    It is sad that this controversy has people who were not even born when this band was blowing up saying that Robbie’s contribution was much less significant. I suspect many parties do not know of what they speak.
    One more thing. Anyone who can write a song like “Acadian Driftwood” is a major and immense talent. My guess is that it was Mr. Robertson.

  • marcarc

    I think one comment sums it up, some people believe Levon simply because “I like him best”. As for personality, which of the two spent twenty years badmouthing the other? Who made it public that they unplugged Robbie’s mic so his voice couldn’t be heard? I’ve never heard RR say ANYTHING bad about his former bandmates.

    As for royalties, a lot of people have little knowledge of the music industry. Working on a song means nothing. Nobody would even hear Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” if it wasn’t for that famous bass line. That bass line came from a session musician who overdubbed the standup bass with an electric bass because they got paid twice as much for the session if they did overdubs (go watch the “transformer man” documentary on classic albums on youtube). What did he get for royalties: diddly squat. Who did ALL the music for Transformer Man-session musicians. Who gets the songwriting royalties:Lou Reed.

    Music is a business, not a charity. If I have five mates and they all chip in equally then I’d have no problem splitting the cheque five ways. If I do the lions share of the writing and suddenly they all think we are living in a commune, then that’s just delusional-and anti american.

    Like Neil Peart, Robbie admits to being a prodigious reader of anything and everything-something Levon feels the need to make fun of. So no surprise he can write songs like he does. His solo albums in my opinion are far better than anything The Band put out.

    As for the movie, OF COURSE he is featured in it. He knew the band was ending and like anybody with a brain he knew that his face had to get out there. I watched the movie quite closely, and NEVER is his face shown when somebody else is singing. And think of this, if that was a movie about ANY other band, how much camera time would the lead guitarist get?

    Finally, Eric Clapton himself talks about what a fantastic guitarist RR is. The guy is ranked in Rolling Stones top 100 guitarists of all time, and there are a LOT of guitarists. Levon Helms isn’t even in the top 100 drummers, NOBODY cites him as an influence except maybe country music drummers who are impressed just by the fact he could play in half time (which isn’t that impressive at all).

    The fact is that people will side with Levon because he seems like “a good ole boy” and Robbie is more solitary. I’m not defending Robbie Robertson’s personality, I’ve never met him. But if the songs were REALLY in contention, then thats what lawyers are for, and Levon only hired them once and lost that court case. If your a boozer, druggie and drinker, don’t whine because your broke. If everybody loved the guy so much, how come he couldn’t get a decent job to save his life?

  • rlpincus

    Levon Helm, February 1983

    DB: Well, you wrote a bunch of them. (Songs from The Band.)

    LH: Well, no, I’ve not written a lot. I’m mainly a player. I
    wish I were a writer. I’ve been there when Robby and when Richard and
    Garth and people have done some good writing, and I’ve got to be a part
    of it, but I’m just your basic member of the rhythm section.

    DB: Oh, you’re too modest.

    LH: No, this is the way it is. And I like it just like that.

  • Douglas Oliver Smith

    Just got a message from the Garth Brooks facebook page trying to buyback items from a storage facility in Kingston. He’s broke and 75. Who gives a rip about who wrote what, It could have been just nice to make sure some cash came down to the folks who collaborated on some of the best music for how many freaking years? 17? I don’t give a shit about how the music business is done, I know very well how people treat others like crap all the time and I am calling you on it and saying it is a shit deal.

  • Jean

    Well to my understanding some money did, in the form of royalties for the arrangements. And then, I guess, we have money for shows and records sold as well. It’s not all just songwriting royalties.

  • Kathryn McElroy

    There are so many stories like this…where real music which is soul is stolen and robbed and raped by greed. Robbie got greedy and fucked levon over….everyone knows this. Fuck Robbie.

  • Kathryn McElroy

    Well you should give a shit how music business is done, BECAUSE IT’S DESTROYING MUSIC!

  • Kathryn McElroy

    I hope you’re kidding…..

  • Kathryn McElroy

    Robbie Robertson fucked over his friends for money……It’s okay, your days on earth are merely a record.

  • Jean

    Sorry, but everybody does not “know” that. I think there are plenty of evidence that the songwriting credits of The Band worked as in any other normal band.
    Btw, what is “real music”?

  • puppy

    I knew Levon – also I’ve had similar experiences – at the end of the day – if you are in a group with people who are your friends…there needs to be respect – it makes my heart sink when people get so territorial – I’ve done all the “work” at times – I don’t care – that’s not life is about … some things go without saying – i’m not saying this because I knew levon…but I have no respect for Robbie Robertson. I can’t understand it. I’ve been down the road. hard. I will never understand people like him. It’s a horrible personality type.

  • Namey Name

    Money ruins everything.

  • J.T.

    Even though he passed on, it’s difficult for me to respect Levon Helm for the way he spoke of RR, a man he was supposedly friends with, in his book. I read a portion of that venomous book. It only told LH’s side of the story, and it was co-written. A couple of years before his death, I saw LH live twice. He was a terrific performer, and I respect him as a musician, but I find him dishonorable as a man for trashing his one-time music partner/”friend.” Plus, the entire story about The Band, and who deserved/didn’t deserve songwriting credits, will never be known.

  • Liberty DiMarco

    I think Levon was pissed because, despite being the voice of The Band, it was Robbie who got the credit and the songwriting money. As others have pointed out, just looks at Levon’s solo work. Very few songwriting credits. Then listen to Robbie’s solo stuff. I mean, Somewhere Down the Crazy River sounds like Rick Danko should have sung it and “Showdown At Big Sky” sounds like it was written for Levon and Rick to sing. There are other songs that follow the same pattern. Regardless of what Levon claimed, their later recordings show pretty obviously who wrote the most of the songs for The Band.

  • mike

    Producer John Simon in an interview for analog planet spoke about Robbie writing the night they drove old dixie down. Larry Campbell on songwriting with Levon “What I can tell you is, I’ve written a few songs with Levon, and writing with Levon, my experience was, he wasn’t gonna do any labor where writing a song is concerned. The songs we’ve co-written, when it came down to constructing the song, that was my job. The thing is, though, like the song ‘Growin’ Trade’ on Electric Dirt, I had pretty much finished that song and brought it to him, to play for him and just get his opinion on it. And then we sat and had a discussion about the subject matter, and just by kicking the stuff around with him, a guy who came from that, from what I was tryin’ to say in the song, I went back and completely rewrote the song. And it was his input that made it a better song. So I had to make him a co-writer on it, because it was a better song because of his input. Now is this what happened with him and Robbie and a lot of those songs that he hadn’t gotten credit for? I don’t know. He seems to think so. He seems to think that his input was ignored in a lot of that Stuff”.

    This is from an interview published in i have been unable to to locate any statements from members of The Band backed up Levon’s claim. I’m not saying they didn’t, just that I couldn’t find any. Finally I found this definition of song writing and other musical credits

  • Frank

    This a great logical post. Of course Robertson’s Pr guys are going to shit all over it! The anon who says Levon wasn’t present during the basement tapes is a nut bar, Levon left the tour than resumed with the guys at Woodstock.
    Levon wrote three albums that won Grammy’s WHILE battling cancer and dealing with a lot of greif.
    Robertson keeping ALL the money for The Last Waltz is an example and so is him tweeting about a deathbed visit to Levon while he was sedated, of what a swine sociopath Robertson really was.

  • Mike Closs

    levon has 14 songs documented on ascap The good ones were part of the first incarnation of the band :)

  • Mike Closs

    Levon has one co-credit for songwriting on his 2010 studio album Electric Dirt. Dirt Farmer from 2007 is all covers

  • Stephen Pate

    The reality is that Robbie has earned more money from The Band than any of the other members. Levon had a parcel of money problems. Garth Hudson was kicked out of his homes in Woodstock for not paying rent – twice. If it weren’t for the tapes he saved, he’d be really broke at 77 years old. Richard gets dumped on for drug use. Did anyone think he was mentally ill and therefore cognitively disabled. He qualified for assistance but didn’t get any. Rick Danko’s life sunk into a drug haze they say.

    Only Robbie was sitting pretty, playing accounting games with the money from “The Last Waltz” and all those re-issues so it went to him only. John Simon, in his autobiography, said Robbie cheated him twice out of his fees – on an album and on The Last Waltz.

    Robbie is a sharp business man who looks after himself but what he keeps is not what he made on his own. He made it with the others which makes him sort of creepy, despite being a great artist in his own right. That’s how I feel and it does not seem to go away. I do appreciate the dialogue and don’t think I know everything.

  • Mike

    Do you have link to the John Simon autobiography, because I just spent a fair amount of time searching for one and there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of it anywhere. Not on his web site or his facebook page. I messaged his website about it, so I will have to wait on the answer. In the meantime here is an interview where John speaks to his credits on albums for The Band and royalties he had not been getting and ended up getting when he was asked to work on The Last Waltz. He also speaks to how Robbie really did right the songs he’s credited with and the system that was agreed to.

  • Stephen Pate

    I read those articles as well. It’s not an autobiography although another source quotes it as one. I am preparing another story to cover this again in the coming week. Stay tuned as they say.

    May I ask what your interest is? Are you a fan, journalist or related in some way to people in this story? If you have anything to share or add, I would be interested to see it ahead of my story.

    While it’s easy to adopt a point of view or side, I’d rather stay impartial and report the facts without bias.

  • Mike

    I became a fan of Robbie when I heard his first cd. More recently I have become a fan of The Band, after I PVR’d The Last Waltz. I was aware of some of their hits when they came out, but the A.M. radio sound of the era simply didn’t do it justice. I have a friend that is purely team Levon, from reading his book I think. So I naturally started researching the subject in order to make my own judgement based on as many legit sources as I could find. Along the way I found all kinds of commenters bashing Robbie Roberston in the nastiest ways imaginable and most of them hadn’t even tried to find out what the truth was. They were just paraphasing other nasty trolls.

  • Jean

    Well, Stephen, isn’t it natural that RR earned more than the others, with him writing so many of the songs?
    Sure the others got performance (live and on recordings) royalties as well as, as I understand it, part of the songwriting royalties for arranging the songs as a band?

    The Band was such a successful group that I guess you should be able to keep food on the table with that money if you don’t start screwing with drugs etc. It’s of course sad that people lose their grip, and I’m not claiming to be an expert on economic situation of the ex members of The Band. But what should a guy like RR, who has moved on a long time ago, if he e.g. hears that a guy he played with 20 years ago has drug problems? Send him a huge cheque?

  • Mike

    Quoting Stephen Pate “I’ll believe Levon simply because he is the more authentic voice on the songs.” The guy whose only writing credit without help is Milk Cow Blues. Levon was a gifted singer, musician and arranger. Songwriter, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of that.

  • Jean

    Yes, and people say that Levon told stories of the South that RR turned into songs (or at least was inspired by). Well that’s the thing, I guess: RR turned them into SONGS.

    Our royalty system is about writing songs, not telling stories that might inspire gifted songwriters to write songs.

  • Mikael

    “I watched the movie quite closely, and NEVER is his face shown when somebody else is singing. And think of this, if that was a movie about ANY other band, how much camera time would the lead guitarist get?”

    This quote doesn’t hold up against the Woodstock performance of The Weight though. In that video sequence Robbie gets lots of screen time while leaving Richard Manuel out completely. You can’t see Richard at any time in the whole video. And when Richard sings his harmony in the chorus they film Robbie singing into his microphone. So I can’t really say I believe you to be honest. But feel free to share any proof that will stump me if you find any.

  • pacmech1

    Why yes, we should believe a guy that used the title of a song he didn’t write for the name of his book. Take a look at Levon’s songwriting credits. The only song that I have found where he is only credited songwriter, sounds an awful lot like a song recorded by Elvis Presley many years before. Milk cow boogie

  • rlpincus

    Nobody in the Band had anything to do with the editing of the Woodstock movie. Consider yourself stumped.

  • rlpincus

    Gee, both Richard and Rick did what you accuse RR of doing: claim they wrote songs by themselves. Does that make you sad too?

  • Jack Meov

    Baloney. Telling stories about the South is not the same as writing the lyrics, writing the music, and arranging it. Listen to Robbie’s solo stuff and you can tell he wrote the songs for The Band. Levon reminds me of a friend of my brother-in-law’s. My b-in-l, D, and I wrote about a dozen songs for a production. On some I did more of the work, on others he did, but all-in-all it was close to equal, so we shared the credit. One lady in the group, a friend of D’s, suggested adding some ohhs and ahhs and on another song suggested changing a word to “dream” instead of “leave.” For those major contributions she wanted co-writing credits. I’ve written multiple guitar parts for songs and never expected writing credits – I didn’t write the main melody or harmony, or any of the lyrics.