At The 2017 NAMM Show, legendary songwriter-musician and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Robbie Robertson (The Band, Bob Dylan) was presented with The National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) “Music for Life” award for his decades of musical contributions, which have influenced musical genres, songwriting and guitarists, as well as numerous film scores, compositions and even his own autobiography, Testimony.
The award was presented during the organization’s opening “Breakfast of Champions” session by NAMM President and CEO Joe Lamond, who introduced Robertson with acknowledgement of his illustrious career as a musical innovator: “Emerging from the melting pot of blues, jazz, folk and rock and roll, Robbie Robertson came of age during a time of great musical and social change which is still reverberating today. And with a seat at the table of some of the most memorable music moments of our lifetime, he has inspired countless to pick up an instrument and find their own voices.”
The theme of the morning was innovation and Robertson shared his perspective on what continues to drive him: “You are influenced by people you admire…No matter how long you’ve been doing something, you’re still absorbing, you’re still learning. You learn one thing and then something else comes along and it challenges you and it raises you to a new place. The challenges that make you want to wake-up early is one of the greatest gifts of life.”
The award recognizes Robert’s lifetime of contributions to music. At age 10, he picked up his first guitar and would later go on to perform with rockabilly frontman Ronnie Hawkins in his backup band, The Hawks. The band would back Bob Dylan during his trailblazing electric tours (1965-66), and also on the storied “Basement Tapes” prior to their name change to The Band. A co-founder of The Band, Robertson became a prolific songwriter, responsible for hits such as “The Weight,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” and “Up on Cripple Creek,” among many others. Once The Band played their farewell concert, immortalized in Martin Scorsese’s 1978 film The Last Waltz, Robertson expanded his range of musical endeavors. He has made several acclaimed solo records and has continued to work with Martin Scorsese on films, including Raging Bull, The Color of Money, Casino, The Departed and The Wolf of Wall Street, and Silence, to name a few.
In 1994, alongside longtime members Rick Danko (bass, vocals), Levon Helms (drums, mandolin, vocals), Garth Hudson (organ, horns) and Richard Manuel (piano, drums, vocals – posthumous inductee), The Band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Robertson would later go on to serve as a Creative Executive for DreamWorks Records and in 2011, release, How to Become Clairvoyant, a record inspired by a joint recording session with Eric Clapton.
In recent years, Robertson has focused on a different kind of storytelling, that of his autobiography, Testimony. Released in late 2016, the book documents the musician’s early musical formation on the Six Nations Reservation, life on the road, the counter-culture of the 1960s and ’70s, his extraordinary time with Dylan, the formation of The Band and his many creative endeavors. The critically acclaimed memoir was released in November 2016 and was complemented by the release of a companion CD Testimony, an anthology curated by Robertson and released on Universal Records, as well as the breathtaking 40th Anniversary editions of The Last Waltz on Rhino Records.
The “Music for Life” award is NAMM’s highest honor and recognizes individuals or organizations that exemplify NAMM’s vision of music making as a precious element of daily living for everyone. Past recipients have included business leaders, public officials and musicians, including Stevie Wonder, Yoko Ono, Henry Mancini, Smokey Robertson, and the 2016 recipient, Graham Nash. It is awarded each January during the global music products gathering, The NAMM Show, held in Anaheim, California.
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