Robbie and Eric: “Farther Up the Road”

Robbie Robertson turns 75 today, and, sadly, is one of only two remaining members of The Band along with Garth Hudson. (The other three died of drug abuse, tobacco abuse, and suicide.) There are many songs I could post in his honor (I’ve put “The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down” on Twitter), but here I’ll put up a rocking blues number he did with Eric Clapton and the Band, “Farther Up the Road.” It’s from The Last Waltz, the greatest rock-concert documentary ever made.

Clapton and Robertson trade solos, and while I think Clapton is marginally better, Robertson does a fantastic job. What a concert that was! And where is this kind of instrumental playing in today’s rock?

66 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted July 5, 2018 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    What wonderful music this morning!

    Vinyl copies of The Last Waltz are a little hard to come by these days. It was on my daughter’s “want list” for years but $50 a pop was more than she could justify. Then one day she spotted it in rural Maine for $15. Bingo.

    I could have saved her a lot of money if I had not rid myself of all my vinyl albums years ago. I got tired of moving them. Of course, having unloaded them I ceased moving and have remained in the current abode since ’83.

  2. Posted July 5, 2018 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    This sort of virtuosity seems to be a thing of the past, sadly, and I’m not sure why. Do youngsters have a favourite guitarist these days? I know we all used to compare and contrast back in the seventies.

    For British viewers a Clapton documentary, Life in 12 Bars, was recently broadcast and is still available on iPlayer. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b95q4f

    • GBJames
      Posted July 5, 2018 at 9:05 am | Permalink

      Guitars are instruments of the past, I’m afraid. Hip-hop and computers have replace them in the music of the young. A Washington Post story on the subject.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted July 5, 2018 at 9:29 am | Permalink

        Yes, the music changes with every generation. The way it’s made, the way it is sold, everything. Hip Hop or Rap is not for me but then who cares.

      • Christopher
        Posted July 5, 2018 at 9:53 am | Permalink

        It is impossible to play guitar while making repetitive finger and hand gestures while a nearly naked woman gyrates her barely restrained buttocks against your leg. And besides, why bother learning any instrument when you can just pilfer riffs from people who alread did?
        Does that make me sound old? 18 year old me was even more vehemently against that type of music. If anything, I’ve e mellowed. The last few hundred years have produced some wonderful music, but all things must pass, I suppose.

    • darrelle
      Posted July 5, 2018 at 10:16 am | Permalink

      No, guitars, virtuoso guitar players and inspired guitar solos are not a thing of the past. They are, sadly, much less popular in pop music but there is still plenty of good, new rock music being made. It can be hard to find though because it is under-represented in radio play and because there is so much music being made these days that it can seem like trying to find a needle in a haystack to find what you like.

      And much of this is subjective I think. People who grew up listening to artists like The Band and Eric Clapton, or any particular era, are much more likely to rate that music highly. For example there are plenty of people that would rate a band like Tool, for example, higher than The Band. Many commenters here probably never heard of Tool, a couple of eras later than The Band, and probably wouldn’t like any of their music. It depends on what you like and on what technical aspects you favor.

      • GBJames
        Posted July 5, 2018 at 10:19 am | Permalink

        Bah! A true guitar aficionado would recognize that “much less popular” = “a thing of the past”!

        • darrelle
          Posted July 5, 2018 at 10:39 am | Permalink

          🙂

          Eric Clapton once wrote the following about a young upstart. (my emphasis)

          “In the the eighties, I was out on the road in a massive downward spiral with drink and drugs, I saw Purple Rain in a cinema in Canada, I had no idea who he was, it was like a bolt of lightning!…
          In the middle of my depression, and the dreadful state of the music culture at that time it gave me hope, he was like a light in the darkness…
          I went back to my hotel, and surrounded by empty beer cans, wrote Holy Mother….”

    • BJ
      Posted July 5, 2018 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      If you go on Youtube, you’ll probably find 1,000 guitarists more talented than Clapton, but they can’t get traction today. Rock like this isn’t popular enough to make producers gobs of money anymore.

      • Posted July 5, 2018 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I agree. Not only are Clapton and other greats still making music, there are lots following in their footsteps. They vary in talent, of course, but some of the newer ones are as talented as the older ones.

        It is a matter of popularity. The music industry has sort of destroyed itself. It would be hard for a Clapton to make it big today. On the other hand, anyone with a few bucks can make a home studio and make some amazing music. I’m sure wonderful music is out there but you have to work harder to find it.

        • Posted July 5, 2018 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

          Clapton’s talent is his exquisite feel – that’s why other musicians love his playing. A rare gift.

          rz

  3. Mike
    Posted July 5, 2018 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Great music,there’s a Band i recently came across called The Refreshments, they’re Swedish, put it is pure Rock n Roll. Clapton is definitely one of the great Guitarists, but i prefer Mark Knopfler, he has a much more relaxed style. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJwJ11-pmxg

    • GBJames
      Posted July 5, 2018 at 9:06 am | Permalink

      Oh, yes, Knopfler is one of the great ones!

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted July 5, 2018 at 9:11 am | Permalink

      I would like to agree on this one but cannot really find anyone better than Clapton. I think Knopfler and Clapton did a few things together also. Best to say they were different.

      • GBJames
        Posted July 5, 2018 at 9:14 am | Permalink

        They still are! 😉

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 5, 2018 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      Yeah, two of the absolute living greats. If we’re gonna include those who’ve crossed the River Styx, I’ma go with Jimi and Stevie Ray.

    • Posted July 5, 2018 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

      That was superb, thanks! I noted several riffs as homage to other guitar players.

    • BJ
      Posted July 6, 2018 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      Knopfler playing with Atkins seems like it should result in a black hole of greatness that destroys the universe. So beautiful. No two guitarists ever had a better feel for the music than them.

  4. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted July 5, 2018 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Even with a very limited background in music at age 14, I knew that their first album “Music from Big Pink” was something unique and different.

  5. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 5, 2018 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Great traditional blues tune. I know it’s usually credited to Joe Medwick Veasy, but I suspect he struck a deal with the devil for it at the crossroads.

    • GBJames
      Posted July 5, 2018 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      !

    • darrelle
      Posted July 5, 2018 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      One of the first CD sets I ever bought was Clapton’s Crossroads.

  6. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 5, 2018 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Hard to imagine there ever being more talent on stage at one time than at the culmination of The Last Waltz concert when all hands got on deck to sing “I Shall Be Released”:

  7. BJ
    Posted July 5, 2018 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    I own every Cream and Derek & The Dominoes album, and many solo Clapton albums, but — and I’m going to say something that may get me doxed and murdered — I don’t think he’s even in the top 50 best well-known guitarists from the 60’s to 80’s era. He was great, no doubt, and his work with Cream was revelatory (a word that Google Chrome doesn’t recognize). When Cream started, maybe he was one of the best on the scene, but rock guitar evolved very quickly. Still, when it comes to speed, technique, creativity, etc. he was outdone by many others. The only category in which he can really compete with others is soul/rockin’ out like a boss, which is certainly just as important and the reason his music is still great.

    He rocked hard and I still love his music. He’s still a classic. But he was never the best player.

    Obviously, this post is only addressing the common statements that “Eric Clapton is God” or “is the greatest guitarist of all time.” I do not find a statement like “Eric Clapton is awesome and his music is important and he belongs in the pantheon of rock guitar” at all contentious.

    • BJ
      Posted July 5, 2018 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      I immediately regret posting this and possibly starting a conversation about it 😦 Some arguments are better left unargued.

    • Posted July 5, 2018 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

      I think there’s a big difference between technical brilliance and the aesthetic dimension. There are many guitarists that are technically more capable than Clapton but he has a certain personal style that ranks him highly with many, myself included. It’s apples and oranges.

      • BJ
        Posted July 5, 2018 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

        Agreed, but among those who have both the technique and the feel, you have people like Knopfler. To your point, I would much rather listen to Clapton than Joe Satriani. Satriani might have amazing speed and technique, but his playing is boring and has no feeling.

      • BJ
        Posted July 5, 2018 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

        Also, I don’t think Clapton’s playing in this video actually demonstrates what made him good. In this video, he’s playing fast riffs and peaks for the sake of them, rather than building to anything. I’ve always contended he did his best work in the unfortunately brief time of Derek and the Dominoes. Duane really brought out the best in him.

        • Posted July 5, 2018 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

          Yes, I agree. I also liked his work with Cream and Blind Faith. The latter gets an undeserved bad rap as far as I’m concerned.

        • darrelle
          Posted July 6, 2018 at 9:42 am | Permalink

          Tales of Brave Ulysses (Cream) is still to this day one of my favorite rock songs.

          • BJ
            Posted July 6, 2018 at 10:32 am | Permalink

            Me too 🙂 I think that was their best album (Disraeli Gears). Doesn’t have White Room on it though.

  8. phoffman56
    Posted July 5, 2018 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Amusing how a post about Robertson produced a discussion almost entirely about Clapton, and some kind of athletic contest commentary.

    I think Ronnie Hawkins is still alive, in Ontario, Canada somewhere, not unconnected to this history. Robbie Robertson, a Canadian of partial indigenous extraction, has a fairly recent book, “Testimony”, with his viewpoint on the history of the Band etc. See

    I’m a bit older than Robertson. We went several times to bars in the early ’60’s in Toronto where Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks were playing, this around the time Robertson connected with them, I think.

    Saw the Band again in the ’80’s here. No need for a hearing aid for anybody! Well before that, I’d begun preferring Gustav Mahler and Johann Sebastian Bach, and similar, by a wide margin. When I was a child, etc….

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 5, 2018 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      “Can’t promise you much money,” Ronnie told The Hawks when they were just startin’ out, “but you’ll get more pussy than Frank Sinatra.”

      • Martin Levin
        Posted July 5, 2018 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

        I’ve written about The Band several times, including a long magazine piece on Richard Manuel. Reviewed ‘Testimony’ for The Globe and Mail in Toronto (attached). And yes, The Hawk lives here, and has for about 60 years.

        https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/book-reviews/review-in-testimony-robbie-robertson-looks-back-on-a-remarkable-musical-career/article33047775/

        • revelator60
          Posted July 5, 2018 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

          I’d be interested in reading the piece on Manuel—which magazine is it in?
          I thought “Testimony” was a fun, atmospheric read but would have liked more sections on song writing and fewer stories about scoring pot. In any case, I hope the book will effectively counter the mostly baseless accusations Levon Helm made against Robertson.

          • Martin Levin
            Posted July 5, 2018 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

            I think you can find it online, maybe at The band’s Website. Here’s a link for text only, sans artwork from Toronto Life.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted July 5, 2018 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

          Thanks for the link, Martin.

        • BJ
          Posted July 5, 2018 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

          Very cool! Thanks for linking this.

    • BJ
      Posted July 5, 2018 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

      I was complicit in only talking about Clapton, but my reason is really a compliment toward Mr. Robertson: songwriting is much more subjective than guitar when it comes to skill and, furthermore, I consider Robertson and The Band to be among my top songwriters/bands of all time.

  9. revelator60
    Posted July 5, 2018 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Robbie Robertson’s most terrifying and dmeonic guitar work is on Ronnie Hawkins’s version of “Who Do You Love, from the early 60s:

  10. Mark R.
    Posted July 5, 2018 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this…terrific stuff.

    Check out Steven Wilson if you’re interested in contemporary rockers who know how to play their instruments.

    • Flamadiddle
      Posted July 5, 2018 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      Indeed. Wilson is an immensely talented songwriter and producer, both as a solo artist and when he was with Porcupine Tree. He has even managed to make prog cool again – no mean feat! For those interested in blisteringly epic guitar solos, check out Wilson’s Drive Home (Youtube), featuring the fretboard wizardry of Guthrie Govan.

      • Mark R.
        Posted July 5, 2018 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

        Couldn’t agree more.

  11. Ken Phelps
    Posted July 5, 2018 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    “And where is this kind of instrumental playing in today’s rock?”

    Mali! Listen to some Samba Toure songs, like Mana Yero Koy, or Chiri Hari.

    Not actually guitar hero stuff, but very tasteful with just a slight acid tang. More Mark Knopfler or Marc Ribot like.

    • BJ
      Posted July 5, 2018 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

      Mark Knopfler is much more of a guitar hero than most of what shows up on video games of the same name 🙂 He’s certainly one of my guitar heroes.

  12. Posted July 5, 2018 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Great guitarists. Wonderful music.

  13. Posted July 5, 2018 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    The Band was always my favorite group I went to day on the green and I was at the last waltz my seats were on the left side by the sound board. What a night. I just recently played Robbie’ s tribute song to Richard Manuel .My playlist has every song The Band ever recorded

  14. Posted July 5, 2018 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    I think Robbie Robertson absolutely smoked Eric Clapton!

  15. Andrea Kenner
    Posted July 5, 2018 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    Rock On!

  16. Michael Clement
    Posted July 5, 2018 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    Definitely one of the musical highlights in a great film!

  17. Dan Wawrzyniak
    Posted July 5, 2018 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    Eric has been an idol of mine since ive been in high school and im 59 although i love and play old country music but my heart is with blues and old rock i have played a Blackie guitar since they put them out i will always love the man and his achievements thank you Eric! Keep Crossroads forever

  18. Charles Helms
    Posted July 6, 2018 at 2:46 am | Permalink

    The Band were one of the greatest bands ever formed. Their music and abilities will be honored forever. At the “Last Waltz” we were able to see and hear some of the best music. It saddens me know that these GIANTS of music will soon be lost from us forever. RIP to all the members that have passed. The Band and the Greatful Dead were trailblazers in music. Their memories will live for a very long time.😢😢

    • Diane G
      Posted July 6, 2018 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      And yet they’re so seldom played on oldies radio stations. Drives me crazy.

      • BJ
        Posted July 6, 2018 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

        Right?!? It makes no damn sense. But at least we get to hear More than a Feeling and <Stairway to Heaven for the billionth time.

        • Diane G
          Posted July 6, 2018 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

          Yes!

          And even when they do play the Dead, it’s always Touch of Grey.

          • BJ
            Posted July 6, 2018 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

            Or Truckin’, but the studio version. Can’t play something live. Might end up going longer than five minutes, and the only songs allowed to do that are Bohemian Rhapsody, Roundabout, and the aforementioned Zep song.

            • Diane G
              Posted July 6, 2018 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

              For a while they’d occasionally play The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys, but no more. And I do miss that one.

  19. Posted July 6, 2018 at 5:12 am | Permalink

    Yes, and back in my day we respected our elders and the music had proper tunes!
    More seriously, yes–they are out there. What happens is that as we get older we stop caring enough to look hard for them–which means separating the tiny amounts of wheat from huge amounts of chaff. By way of example–Reb Beach is, by anyone’s estimation, a guitar virtuoso. However, very few know this because he plays for the widely (and rightly) mocked band “Winger”.

    • BJ
      Posted July 6, 2018 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      More important than age, I think, is the different environment in which most of us live once we reach adulthood. When we’re children, we might be introduced to various genres and bands by parents or siblings, and then we get all sorts of suggestions from friends in high school and college. Once you leave the world of education, you usually end up with a small and static circle of people, and there’s no longer much opportunity for learning about new music through social situations.

  20. Bruce Thomas
    Posted July 7, 2018 at 12:38 am | Permalink

    110% correct Robbie saved his ass when that guitar strap broke. Id put Robbie Robertson Randy Bachman Colin James And Mark Knopler up against old slowhand anytime


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