Robbie Robertson finally tells his own spellbinding story of the band that changed music history, his extraordinary personal journey, and his creative friendships with some of the greatest artists of the last half-century
Robbie Robertson's singular contributions to popular music have made him one of the most beloved songwriters and guitarists of his time. With songs like ‘The Weight’, ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’ and ‘Up on Cripple Creek’, he and his partners in the Band fashioned a music that has endured for decades, influencing countless musicians.
In this captivating memoir, written over five years of reflection, Robbie employs his unique storyteller's voice to weave together the journey that led him to some of the most pivotal events in music history. He recounts the adventures of his half-Jewish, half-Mohawk upbringing on the Six Nations Indian Reserve and on the gritty streets of Toronto; his odyssey at sixteen to the Mississippi Delta, the fountainhead of American music; the wild, early years on the road with rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks; his unexpected ties to the Cosa Nostra underworld; the gripping trial-by-fire of 'going electric' with Bob Dylan on his 1966 world tour and their ensuing celebrated collaborations; the formation of the Band and the forging of their unique sound, culminating with history’s most famous farewell concert, brought to life for all time in Martin Scorsese’s great movie The Last Waltz.
This is the story of a time and place - the moment when rock 'n' roll became life, when legends like Buddy Holly and Bo Diddley crisscrossed the circuit of clubs and roadhouses from Texas to Toronto, when the Beatles, Hendrix, the Stones and Warhol moved through the same streets and hotel rooms. It’s the story of exciting change as the world tumbled through the '60s and early '70s and a generation came of age, built on music, love and freedom. Above all, it’s the moving story of the profound friendship among five young men who together created a new kind of popular music.
Testimony is Robbie Robertson’s story, lyrical and true, as only he could tell it.
“Robbie Robertson’s Testimony is a book of memories and wonders, a personal testament of a magical time in American music from someone who was there, at the centre of it all, playing and casting spells and writing songs that helped define those great lost years. There’s history here, and anecdote, regret and reminiscence, a long fond look back at the trials and triumphs of finding your voice then holding your ground. The tone is easy, conversational, like reminiscing with a friend about things you never realized you were part of too. Robbie brings you along with him, keeps you right by his side first to last, just the way his songs do, drawing you close, spellbound by his easy sorcery. You can feel the music in every word.”
“[An] elegant, evocative memoir … Robertson was particularly suited to a supporting role, happiest pulling the strings in the background. It’s the perfect vantage point for a memoirist, and he makes the most of it … The first half of the book is a hugely atmospheric song of the road … Midway, Dylan hits the narrative like a firework tossed through a window … Robertson brings the chaos vividly to life … He tells it with style and affection, showing a keen eye for detail.”
Mail on Sunday
“An entertaining and valuable description of a rock’n’roll apprenticeship punctuated by encounters with such historic figures as Sonny Boy Williamson, Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters. He casts light on a vital phase of Dylan’s career and, of course, on the history of the Band.”
“For real insight into a musical unit’s workings, it would be hard to beat the Canadian guitarist and songwriter Robbie Robertson’s Testimony…packed with fascinating anecdote.”
Neil McCormick, Telegraph
“'We’re deep into the golden age of the classic-rock memoir … Testimony ends when its author was still relatively young, but it is packed with incident … His memoir is confident and well oiled. At times it has the mythic sweep of an early Terrence Malick movie … Mr. Dylan blows into this memoir like a blazing tumbleweed … [Robbie Robertson's] writing is wonderfully perceptive.”
New York Times
“Well, once I started, I couldn’t put it down. It is such a well-paced, well-structured narrative. Robertson's voice is powerful and strong. He has harnessed vivid language to a clean, elegant, writing style, and the sense of honesty, openness and completeness makes it so very compelling. The personal and the historic that he bears witness to is, of course, extraordinarily special. One of the best documents of our times. And one of the best books on rock 'n' roll ever written.”
Jann Wenner, co-founder and publisher of 'Rolling Stone' magazine
“Nobody tells a story like Robbie Robertson. I can’t think of a memoir that is more compelling, fascinating or rich in history. Across every page you can feel his love, passion and musical genius.”
“His strong point of view is offset by the tenderness he shows, and his stress on his own experience is set within a craftsman’s effort to tell the story whole . . . The voice comes through loud and clear … He keeps clear of big ideas and period clichés. Instead, he offers his story — his side of the story — in scene after scene . . . There’s so much sound and colour here that the self-exculpating scenes fit right in, vivid and convincing . . . Testimony is high-spirited, hugely enjoyable and generous from start to finish.”
The New York Times Book Review
“Robbie Robertson fancies himself as a storyteller, with good reason. His ability to conjure a mythic America on such songs as the Civil War-inspired ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’ testifies to a remarkable imagination ... As with many music autobiographies, it is the formative years that are the most revealing. The on-the-road tales with The Hawks are a rollicking read, full of youthful exuberance and a sense of discovery ... The fledgling Band members – musical equals at this point – are larger-than-life characters ... The style is fluid and pacy, with a cinematographer’s eye for detail. He also enjoys telling a thousand tales with an ever-expanding cast list. There are funny vignettes involving Bo Diddley, Roy Buchanan, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Tiny Tim, Salvadore Dali, Edie Sedgwick and Richard Pryor, to name but a few ... At the very moment you fear Robertson might be losing sense of what makes his story so important, he retrieves the narrative threads and provides a sustained and gripping account of The Band’s collaboration with Dylan during the recording of The Basement Tapes at the Big Pink house in West Saugerties. This is riveting stuff ... He has too much class ever to fall into kiss-and-tell mode and is understandably protective of his reputation ... He closes the book...with a eulogistic account of The Last Waltz. It is a great, uplifting finale.”
Johnny Rogan, Irish Times
“In Testimony the voice is not in question. Robust, wry, gritty and wise to the vicissitudes of a career in rock 'n' roll, it is just what the reader wants ... Mr Robertson captures the rhythm of rock's mystery train, even in its final lurch to the terminal ... Mr Robertson bears witness to his life in music ... A steel-trap memory and a muddled childhood and you have the makings of a Dickensian bildungsroman ... A bible of road lore, a lurid coming-of-age story that veers wildly between the sweet and the brutal and a how-not-to guide to running a band ... As for Mr Dylan, a key attraction, the book offers a refreshing account ... Here is by far the fullest first-person account of the early electric tours of Mr Dylan ... The account of Mr Dylan's 1966 motorcycle accident is refreshingly lucid, as is that of the subsequent making of The Basement Tapes ... Here Testimony becomes a testimonial, and the effect is redemptive. Generosity suits him, and whatever the truth, Testimony is a graceful epitaph.”
Wall Street Journal
“It’s a flat-out beautiful ending. Be glad Robertson has written this, there won’t be many more musical lives like it.”
“The spellbinding, long-awaited, behind-the-scenes memoir from the legendary Canadian who, with The Band and Bob Dylan, created a new popular music that lit up the world and has endured for decades.”
“[An] elegant, evocative memoir.”
Mail on Sunday
“It’s engagingly written [and] stuffed full of amusing anecdotes.”
Andy Childs, Caught by the River
“Engaging and accomplished.”
Big Issue in the North