Robbie Robertson, a Canadian, like fellow Canadians Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, helped define a unique rock style in the late '60s and early '70s. Robertson and what was to become The Band first began playing together in 1960 with the obscure rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins; by 1964, The Hawks (including Rick
Danko, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, and Levon Helm) were out on their own, and attracted the attention of Bob Dylan in Greenwich Village.
Robertson was in the infamous electrified backup band that performed with Dylan in Forest Hills, N.Y. in 1965. The Hawks, minus Helm, toured the world backing Dylan during '65 and '66, playing some of the greatest rock 'n' roll ever (as evidenced by various bootleg recordings).
Settling near Woodstock
in 1966, The Hawks and Dylan recorded in informal settings including the basement of the group's rented house, which became known as Big Pink. Some of those recordings were later released as The Basement Tapes.
By 1967 the group, minus Dylan but including Helm, began to be known as simply The Band. In
addition to recording with Dylan, The Band began to release albums on their own, and guitarist
Robertson soon became the chief song-writer in a band that celebrated rural life and
working-class values. Music From Big Pink (1968), The Band (1969), and Stagefright (1970)
are The Band's best albums from this era.
On Thanksgiving Day in 1976, The Band called it
quits with a huge blow-out concert, immortalized in Martin Scorsese's documentary, The Last
Waltz. The Band regrouped in 1983, but Robertson refused to rejoin; he has scored several
movies and released a pair of excellent solo albums, 1987's Robbie Robertson and 1991's Storyville. Robertson composed the soundtrack to the six-hour documentary, The Native
Americans, released in 1994. He is currently working on an album. Other birthdays: hip-to-be-square cool-cat Huey Lewis and Prince Raheem
of the Wu-Tang Clan.