LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Robbie Robertson has just released his first album in 13 years, but the former guitarist/songwriter for The Band was far from a gentleman at leisure in that time.
The 67-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer worked as an executive at the now-defunct DreamWorks Records, composed movie soundtracks for his friend director Martin Scorsese, and oversaw various Band reissue projects.
For “How To Become a Clairvoyant,” his fourth solo album since 1987, Robertson collaborated with Eric Clapton on seven of the tracks. Steve Winwood, pedal-steel guitarist Robert Randolph, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello and Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor also put in appearances.
He spoke to Reuters about the album, playing guitar and his collaboration with Clapton.
Q: “In the past 13 years, Eric Clapton released about six records, John Fogerty and Bob Dylan each did about three. And you had a grand total of zero. Did it ever occur to you that you might want to release a few records in that time?
A: “Of course it crossed my mind, but I was really caught up in what I was doing. I didn’t say, ‘Oh my God, I’m sitting around gathering dust. I should be keeping myself busy.’ It was never like that. I really like the idea of making a record when I’m inspired to do so, not because I should or somebody else thinks it would be better.”
Q: Did (estranged former bandmate) Levon Helm’s recent creative burst, fueled by a Grammy-winning album, also spur you on?
A: “I didn’t think of it like that. I was just glad because I knew Levon had come through throat cancer and that he was making a record. I just thought it was great that he was able to do that and that he does good work.”
Q: Did you ever consider making this record a full-fledged collaboration with Eric, in much the same way he paired on albums with B.B. King and J.J. Cale?
A: “When we were working on this record we didn’t know if it was going to be an Eric record or a duet record, like what you’re talking about whatever they call those, or a Robbie record. We were just going to see what happened. I liked that idea too that there were no boundaries, nothing specific. Let’s see how it flows and where it leads us. And after we recorded these tracks in London, Eric said to me: ‘Well, you’ve done most of the songwriting and most of this direction where everything has gone. This should be your record. And I am really happy to be supportive and play on it or sing on it or do whatever I can do, whatever you want me to do.’ It was just the tremendous generosity of a great friend.”
Q: How would you compare and contrast your guitar styles?
A: “Eric has an extraordinary ability of whoever he’s playing with, he can adapt to that attitude in the drop of a pin. If somebody’s doing backflips with their guitar he can do that too, and will quickly meet you halfway. With me, when we were recording these songs in London we were sitting facing one another and singing at one another and playing at one another and it very much became like the guitars would just pick up where the voices left off and it was like talking guitars. And it was very quickly obvious that there was to be no acrobatics please. That’s not what we’re here for.”
Reporting by Dean Goodman, editing by Patricia Reaney