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On Its 40th Anniversary, Robbie Robertson Looks Back at ‘The Last Waltz’

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Martin Scorsese, director, and Robbie Robertson of The Band (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
Director Martin Scorsese and Robbie Robertson of The Band. (Jim Spellman/WireImage)

 

The Band knew how to say good-bye. They played their final concert on Thanksgiving in 1976 and invited some friends along for the occasion, including Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Neil Diamond, and many, many others. They ensured the whole thing would be remembered too by getting a filmmaker who’d just turned 34 to document the whole thing. That filmmaker, of course, was Martin Scorsese and the resulting work was the classic 1978 documentary The Last Waltz.

SAN FRANCISCO - NOVEMBER 1976: Van Morrison, with Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson of The Band, performs during The Last Waltz at Winterland on November 25, 1976 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ed Perlstein/Redferns/Getty Images)
Van Morrison, with Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson of The Band, performs during The Last Waltz at Winterland on November 25, 1976, in San Francisco, California. (Ed Perlstein/Redferns/Getty Images)

 

On its 40th anniversary, guitarist and songwriter Robbie Robertson is looking back on the legendary gig, which he notes featured his group backing artists “from Muddy Waters to Joni Mitchell.” Of course, they were used to providing support: they got their name because they were known as the band backing up Bob Dylan. (Hence The Band.) Robertson blames their ultimate breakup on addiction, particularly singling out drummer/vocalist Levon Helm: “Heroin will make you lie. And he did, and it really bothered me.”

Guitarist Robbie Robertson
(Harvey L. Silver/Corbis via Getty Images)

 

Deciding to play one last gig and abandon touring, the final concert kept expanding and expanding as they invited more and more guest artists to join them. Indeed, it ultimately became a farewell not just to his group but to an era of music. (It also marked a complete end of The Band, as they stopped recording as well as the road.)

To read more, click here. Below, watch an obliterating performance of Van Morrison’s “Caravan.” A the bottom, see the trailer for The Last Waltz.