Special To The Spectator



In 1994, ROBBIE ROBERTSON embraced his Native heritage with the documentary soundtrack album Music For The Native Americans.

He continues the exploration of his roots with his latest album, Contact From The Underworld Of Red Boy -- released this past Tuesday -- but says that this album is much more personal.

"It isn't a sequel to me, because I really had two different objectives going on here," an animated Robertson said Tuesday while relaxing in a chair in a Toronto hotel room.

Sharply dressed in a navy blue suit, the former BAND leader was in his hometown to promote the new album and for an appearance at the Aboriginal Achievement Awards, which will be taped tonight (Thursday) and aired on the CBC March 26 at 8 p.m.

"For Music Of The Native Americans, I was really honored to be asked to do that. It allowed me to open this door, and go to this place in a dignified way, but I had to make it emotionally work to that documentary.

"It struck me that although it was a great experience, there were more confinements and stipulations. With Contact From The Underworld Of Red Boy, there are no stipulations. I really got to do what I wanted to do: to go much deeper into the bush, and reach much higher into the sky, go further into the underground. I felt I really had a chance to pull out all the stops of what I've been carrying around with me my whole life."

Much of his early life centered around infrequent visits to the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford. That was where as a boy Robertson, now 54, fell in love with music and learned to play guitar from the relatives on his mother's side, the MYKES. It was where Robertson returned for inspiration.

"I started the process by going back to Six Nations," said Robertson." I went over the mountain there, and that just kicked things off for me.

"I just wanted to see everybody that I could. I wanted to visit, pay my respects, and even get a blessing for going into this project -- feel where this all began for me. I thought it was the right medicine for going in and doing this record.

"After I did that and I left, I thought, ` I'm ready!' And that's a good feeling!"

Robertson also brought a film crew with him this time as well, and last summer's visit was immortalized in the upcoming PBS documentary Robbie Robertson: Making A Noise, scheduled to air later this month.

"This time I went back and I met with all the chiefs, and I went to social things, and there was a ceremonial going on at the time," recalls Robertson. " They did an honor dance for me. I saw my relatives, old friends, and I visited the old haunts."

It also gave Robertson the opportunity to thank relatives HERB, DOUG and FRED MYKE for the guitar lessons. Eventually his six-string prowess earned him a spot in RONNIE HAWKINS' HAWKS in 1960, setting the stage for the eventual formation of The Band in 1965 and an innovative musical legacy that continues with the new album.

But it all began with the Mykes at Six Nations.

"It was great to go back and acknowledge them, right to them, on film, that they were the people that turned me on. My cousin Herb talks in the documentary about when I was a little kid, me trying to play the guitar and him saying, `He's not very good, you know? But he was trying,'" Robertson laughs.

He also says he had another mission in recording Contact From The Underworld Of Red Boy: he wanted to shine the spotlight on his culture.

"There's something about it being 1998, that it's just more open now," Robertson explains. "That whole world isn't quite as private, or secretive, or sacred.

"In this music, a lot of things that I'm inspired by on this record are pieces of memories and sounds I'm using. This is the real underground music of North America. It's always over behind that hill, or behind those trees, or down in that canyon or something. It's never been in the forefront. So I feel this obligation -- a good obligation -- that I just want to push this to the surface a little bit, turn some people on."

Robertson, whose array of special guests for Contact include SADIE BUCK AND THE SIX NATIONS SINGERS as well as CHIEF JAKE THOMAS, also incorporated the rhythm expertise of British DJs HOWIE B. and MARIUS DE VRIES into the appealing mix of traditional and contemporary.

"I chose Howie because of musical instincts," he says. "For a few years now I've been hearing stuff he's done, and there's something about my experience and my ear that told me that I thought he would have the right sensibility.

"This is part of my heritage, and I have to be very respectful and try to do something enlightening. I didn't want to pretend this was something from some other time. I wanted to present it right in the light of today, because that's the most honest way I could do it.

"So him and Marius De Vries and this young guy, TIM GORDINE, I chose them because they got it. They knew where I wanted to go with this thing."

Robertson says Contact From The Underworld Of Red Boy is a gift to be shared.

"In Indian country, when somebody gives you a gift, your job is not to hoard it. Your job is to share it with other people and pass it on. So I've finally understood that, I've finally learned how to do that, and that's what I'm doing."




1968 -- Music From The Big Pink -- Capitol

1969 -- The Band

1970 -- Stage Fright

1971 -- Cahoots

1972 -- Rock Of Ages

1973 -- Moondog Matinee

1974 -- Before The Flood (with Bob Dylan)

1975 -- Northern Lights, Southern Cross

1975 -- The Basement Tapes (with Bob Dylan)

1976 -- Best Of...

1977 -- Islands

1978 -- The Last Waltz

1989 -- To Kingdom Come

1995 -- Live At Watkins Glen



1989 -- Robbie Robertson - Geffen

1990 -- Storyville

1994 -- Music For Native Americans (with the Red Road Ensemble)

1997 -- Contact With The Underworld Of Red Boy


1990 -- Various Artists, Decade I -- A Musical History

1996 -- Various Artists, Oh...What A Feeling! (also with The Band)

1998 -- Various Artists, Patch Adams (with The Band)


1960 -- Ronnie Hawkins, Mr. Dynamo

1960 -- Ronnie Hawkins, The Folk Ballads Of Ronnie Hawkins

1964 -- Ronnie Hawkins, The Best Of Ronnie Hawkins

1964 -- Ronnie Hawkins, Mojo Man

1965 -- John Hammond, So Many Roads

1965 -- The Charles Lloyd Quartet, Of Course, Of Course

1966 -- The Barbarians, Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl?

1966 -- Bob Dylan, Blonde On Blonde

1967 -- John Hammond, I Can Tell

1967 -- John Hammond, Mirrors

1968 -- The Bengali Bauls, The Bengali Bauls At Big Pink

1970 -- Bob Dylan, Self Portrait

1970 -- Various Artists, You Are What You Eat

1970 -- Jesse Winchester, Jesse Winchester

1971 -- Various Artists, The Music People

1971 -- Various Artists, Nuggets

1973 -- Ringo Starr, Ringo

1973 -- Peter Yarrow, That's Enough For Me

1974 -- Bob Dylan, Planet Waves

1974 -- John Hammond, The Best Of John Hammond

1974 -- Joni Mitchell, Court And Spark

1974 -- Carly Simon, Hotcakes

1974 -- Ringo Starr, Goodnight Vienna

1975 -- Hirth Martinez, Hirth From Earth

1975 -- Carly Simon, The Best Of Carly Simon

1976 -- Eric Clapton, No Reason To Cry

1976 -- Neil Diamond, Beautiful Noise

1977 -- Rick Danko, Rick Danko

1977 -- Neil Diamond, Love At The Greek

1977 -- Levon Helm & The RCO All-Stars, Levon Helm & The RCO All-Stars

1977 -- Libby Titus, Libby Titus

1984 -- Various Artists, Firstborn

1985 -- Bob Dylan, Biograph

1985 -- Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Southern Accents

1986 -- The Call, Reconciled

1988 -- Eric Clapton, Crossroads

1988 -- Various Artists, Scrooged

1989 -- Various Artists, New York Stories

1990 -- Emmylou Harris, Duets

1990 -- Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks, Best Of Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks

1990 -- Van Morrison, The Best Of Van Morrison

1990 -- Ryuichi Sakamoto, Beauty

1990 -- Various Artists, Nobody's Child

1991 -- Bob Dylan, Bootleg (Vol. 1-3)

1991 -- Various Artists, The Big Chill

1992 -- Neil Diamond, Greatest Hits 1966 - 1992

1992 -- Roy Orbison, King Of Hearts

1992 -- Various Artists, Best Tour Of Duty

1992 -- Various Artists, Weird Nightmare -- Meditations On Mingus

1993 -- John Hammond, You Can't Judge A Book By Ihe Cover

1994 -- Various Artists, The War

1995 -- Bob Dylan, Greatest Hits Vol. 3

1995 -- Ronnie Hawkins, The Roulette Years

1995 -- Various Artists, Winter, Fire & Snow

1996 -- Neil Diamond, In My Lifetime

1996 -- Emmylou Harris, Portraits

1996 -- Martin Page, In The House Of Stone And Light

1996 -- Kashtin, Akua Tuta

1996 -- Joni Mitchell, Hits

1996 -- Various Artists, For Our Children Too

1996 -- Various Artists, Larger Than Life

1996 -- Various Artists, Oh What A Feeling!

1997 -- Howie B., Turn The Dark Off

1997 -- Little Wolf, Wolf Moon

1997 -- Various Artists, Prefontaine

1998 -- Bob Dylan, Bootleg. Vol. 4 "Live At Royal Albert Hall"

1998 -- Various Artists, Patch Adams

1999 -- Levon Helm, The Ties That Bind 1975-96

1999 -- Willie Nelson, Teatro  (Longform Video)

1999 -- The Wild Magnolias, Life Is A Carnival



1971 -- Jesse Winchester, Jesse Winchester

1976 -- Neil Diamond, Beautiful Noise

1984 -- Various Artists, Carny

1992 -- Various Artists, The Color Of Money

1995 -- Various Artists, Casino

1996 -- Various Artists, Phenomenon


1978 -- The Last Waltz

1980 -- Carny

1980 -- Raging Bull  (score)

1982 -- Visiting Hours

1983 -- The King Of Comedy (score)

1986 -- The Color Of Money  (score)

1994 -- Jimmy Hollywood  (score)

1995 -- The Crossing Guard


1989 -- Induction, Hall Of Fame (with The Band)

1989 -- Juno, Album Of The Year -- Robbie Robertson

1989 -- Juno, Male Vocalist Of The Year

1989 -- Juno, Producer Of The Year (with Daniel Lanois)

1994 -- Induction, Rock 'N Roll Hall Of Fame (with The Band)

©1998, 1999 Nick Krewen, Octopus Media Ink.

THANKS: Doug Foley, Beth Waldman


Robbie Robertson '94

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