Robbie Robertson on why the Band bid the road goodbye

Robbie Robertson saw many reasons for he and the Band to give up life on the road.

Recognizing the perils of life on the road, a change in plans leads to The Last Waltz

Robbie Robertson on the hazards of life on the road

44 years ago
Duration 2:22
Robbie Robertson talks about the hazards of life on the road and how they factored into a decision for the Band to stop touring.

It was a natural question to ask Robbie Robertson: Why end something that had worked so well?

The Band had seen so much success playing together for many years. So why, as they say, break up the band — or in this case, the touring life of the Band?

They had their reasons.

"We kind of grew up on the road — you know, it's 16 years on the road that we had spent together," said Robertson, as he started off his answer, when speaking on CBC's 90 Minutes Live in 1978.

"It became so it wasn't progressive for us any longer," he added.

Getting 'ahead of the game'

In particular, Robertson said he and his bandmates also saw the dangers of continuing to live this kind of life indefinitely.

"I'm talking about what this way of life does to you and what it's done to a whole lot of people," he said. "We were fortunate enough to find out, or sense this, before it was too late. We thought we were ahead of the game."

Robbie Robertson, seen in a photo taken in 2006, celebrated his 75th birthday on July 5, 2018. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Plus, to keep on doing it for the money might not be worth it.

"The only reason that we would really have to do it, more and more, would be for financial reasons and the Band has never operated very well in that area. We were never able to do things for that reason," said Robertson, who was born in Toronto and whose mother was raised on the Six Nations reserve.

'We didn't want it to be a down thing'

But the Band didn't want to leave the stage without a proper goodbye. Hence the plan to put on a special farewell concert, which took place in San Francisco on American Thanksgiving in 1976.

"Just to play our last concert wasn't enough. We wanted to do something. We didn't want it to be a down thing, a funeral," said Robertson. "We wanted it to be a celebration."

That show would feature not only the Band, but guest performances from many other top musicians, including Canadians Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters and Neil Diamond were some of the others to take the stage that night.

Martin Scorsese was there, of course, to direct the film captured that night that became The Last Waltz

Martin Scorsese and Robbie Robertson are seen in France in May 1978 -- about a month after the two appeared on CBC's 90 Minutes Live to discuss The Last Waltz. (Associated Press)

Robertson would go on to have a successful career as a solo artist. He also worked on film projects — on a few occasions as an actor, but much more frequently on the music side of things as a composer and producer. 

The Band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.