The Band’s legendary songwriter Robbie Robertson talks ‘The Last Waltz’ in Calgary

Robbie Robertson was in Calgary for a sold-out event at Wordfest Wednesday night, sharing his personal story about his musical journey and experiences as the guitarist and lead songwriter in The Band.

Global’s Nate Luit caught up with him for a one-on-one interview after the presentation, when he spoke about his new memoir, Testimony.

Looking back at his entry into the music world, he said at 15 years old, he didn’t know if he could write a song for Ronnie Hawkins, but he thought he could try.

“I just took a shot,” he said. “I was trying so hard to get close to that world—this world of music that came from the deep south—the real rock ’n’ roll, rockabilly. It was so authentic and I thought, ‘if I have to come in this door, that door, whatever it takes.’”

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He said he wrote two songs and took them to Hawkins.

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“He listened to them. And he said, ‘well I’ll be darned, son. I’m going to record both of those songs.’

“So I tried to act like, you know, ‘oh good that’s nice to hear’ but inside it was like an earthquake going on. And obviously I was thrilled to pieces.”

READ MORE: Robbie Robertson pens book about music icons

Robertson grew up in Toronto and the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford, Ont., before he joined Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks in Arkansas.

He said after hiring Rick Danko and Levon Helm, that group was the first time they felt like it was “something.”

“We were getting better, growing in musicality. We kind of outgrew the rockabilly world,” he said. “We had to move on and left Ronnie. We went on our own, played … the circuit down south and the same places in Canada up until we hooked up with Bob Dylan.”

Watch the interview above for more on his relationship with Hawkins, what it was like for The Band before and after The Last Waltz and his future plans for records, TV and films with Martin Scorsese.

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