Robbie and Eric: “Farther Up the Road”

July 5, 2018 • 8:45 am

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 thoughts on “Robbie and Eric: “Farther Up the Road”

  1. 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. 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

      1. 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.

      2. 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.

    1. 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.

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

        1. 🙂

          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….”

    2. 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.

      1. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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”:

  6. 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.

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

    2. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. I agree on Satriani and the many like him. Knopfler is very good and has a unique style. I am awed by a guitarist that uses only his fingers to pluck the strings.

      2. 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.

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

  7. 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

    https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/02/books/review/testimony-robbie-robertson-memoir.html

    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….

    1. “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.”

        1. 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.

          1. 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.

              1. Thank you for that excellent and harrowing article. How sad to see a gifted man destroy himself. “He had a voice like a hug”—how right Arlie was.

    2. 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.

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

  9. Thanks for this…terrific stuff.

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

    1. 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.

  10. “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.

    1. 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.

  11. 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

  12. 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

  13. 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.😢😢

      1. 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.

          1. 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.

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

  14. 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”.

    1. 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.

  15. 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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