Testimony

Narrated by: MacLeod Andrews
Length: 18 hrs and 38 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (665 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

New York TImes best seller

On the 40th anniversary of The Band's legendary The Last Waltz concert, Robbie Robertson finally tells his own spellbinding story of the band that changed music history, his extraordinary personal journey, and his creative friendships with some of the greatest artists of the last half-century.  

Robbie Robertson's singular contributions to popular music have made him one of the most beloved songwriters and guitarists of his time. With songs like "The Weight", "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", and "Up on Cripple Creek", he and his partners in The Band fashioned a music that has endured for decades, influencing countless musicians. 

In this captivating memoir, written over five years of reflection, Robbie Robertson employs his unique storyteller's voice to weave together the journey that led him to some of the most pivotal events in music history. He recounts the adventures of his half-Jewish, half-Mohawk upbringing on the Six Nations Indian Reserve and on the gritty streets of Toronto; his odyssey at 16 to the Mississippi Delta, the fountainhead of American music; the wild early years on the road with rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks; his unexpected ties to the Cosa Nostra underworld; the gripping trial-by-fire "going electric" with Bob Dylan on his 1966 world tour and their ensuing celebrated collaborations; and the formation of The Band and the forging of their unique sound, culminating with history's most famous farewell concert, brought to life for all time in Martin Scorsese's great movie The Last Waltz

This is the story of a time and place - the moment when rock 'n' roll became life, when legends like Buddy Holly and Bo Diddley crisscrossed the circuit of clubs and roadhouses from Texas to Toronto, when The Beatles, Hendrix, The Stones, and Warhol moved through the same streets and hotel rooms. It's the story of exciting change as the world tumbled through the '60s and early '70s and a generation came of age built on music, love, and freedom. Above all it's the moving story of the profound friendship between five young men who together created a new kind of popular music. 

Testimony is Robbie Robertson's story, lyrical and true, as only he could tell it. 

©2016 Robbie Robertson (P)2016 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Robbie Robertson's Testimony is a book of memories and wonders, a personal testament of a magical time in American music from someone who was there, at the center of it all, playing and casting spells and writing songs that helped define those great lost years." (Martin Scorsese)
"Well, once I started, I couldn't put it down. It is such a well-paced, well-structured narrative. Robertson's voice is powerful and strong. He has harnessed vivid language to a clean, elegant, writing style, and the sense of honesty, openness, and completeness makes it so very compelling." (Jann Wenner)
"Nobody tells a story like Robbie Robertson. I can't think of a memoir that is more compelling, fascinating, or rich in history. Across every page you can feel his love, passion, and musical genius." (David Geffen)

Editor's Pick

A bio with the stripped-down directness of a blues riff
"The Band's music is populated by mythic figures, strange encounters, and a singular vibrancy that, for me, borders on a kind of magic or form of time travel. It envelops and transports. Robertson's memoir is no different. His storytelling puts you on the road with the incomparable rockabilly swagger of Ronnie Hawkins, on stage with Bob Dylan during his jeer-filled, ‘Judas’-taunting electric tour, and the wild, winding backroads of upstate New York where rock 'n' roll classics Music from Big Pink and The Basement Tapes came to life. It's fitting that a group whose work is so defined by the coalescing of its members' unique tastes and voices gets a narrator as good as Macleod Andrews."
Doug P., Audible Editor

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Narcissistic testimony

This book was decent, but after a while it got old hearing Robbie talk about how good he is and how every song was his idea, and how their demise was all his band mates fault, etc.
Also, I find it convenient that he waited until Levon passed away before he wrote it, and Garth is the only other surviving member, and because of his personality, it’s unlikely that he will say anything.
I’m reading Levon’s book now to see what his take was. This story was okay, but again, the narcissistic tone gets old after a while.

3 people found this helpful

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One of the best autobiographies I've ever read!

Great story, better than fiction! Narration is superb. Awesome ride, start to finish, the kid meets anyone who was anyone in the sixties and early seventies.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

you think you know The Band.

I found this audiobook book to be inspiring as a tale one could share with a family member or even a classroom. there is so much detail and depth written in these passages that one is taken back to a time of freedom that has never existed since. the band was part of the dramatic changes in America but the individuals of the band lives, like everyone else, was hard. their musical genius bought together by a one-of-a-kind story, tale produced The band that most people shouldn't but do disregard. The length of their prior story lines before they even became famous is a testament to what made them great in the end. I enjoyed this every step of the way this history lesson offered you the reader. thank you Robbie Robinson for sharing your story and your mates.

2 people found this helpful

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Takes you right there

Well written well spoken with spot on accents of the characters. The last chapter of love expressed for Garth, Richard,Rick and Levon is as good as it gets. That all Robbie's influences are so clearly expressed are amazing. How blessed we are to revisit the extraordinary period of time detailed in this book. Thank you

8 people found this helpful

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love the history love the band

I love everything about the book until the ending I wish he had addressed and talked about Richard Manuel and Rick Danko and Levon.

5 people found this helpful

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Believable?

i love the Band but this tale seems too self aggrandized by Jamie Robbie Robertson.
He is no doubt a talent and was the driving force behind the group but he's really grasping hard to tell his version of what he believes is the truth. Who am i to judge but he comes off as unbelievable. I'll read Levon's book now.

10 people found this helpful

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AT LAST!

I have waited years for this man's story, and I am far from disappointed. I laughed, cried and remembered my youth?

This is autobiography is very well written. I do find it a little hard to believe that Robbie Robertson is that nice. There is no bashing, anger, or finger pointing...I felt it was honest.

MacLeod Andrews is an awesome narrator. At first I was angry that Robbie didn't narrate his story himself. Now I'm glad he didn't. Mr. Andrews had the accents down pat, and I thought Levon was actually speaking.

Good job all the way around, and thank you.

4 people found this helpful

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Amazing! In every sense .

Besides it being one of the best Rock n Roll stories ever told, MacLeod Andrews narrative is perfect in every way possible. His character voices for everyone was amazing! From Marlon Brando to Martin Scorsese! But especially the boys in The Band. The Band is dear to my heart. And Robbie Robertson is one of the best guitarist and songwriters ever. Add great storyteller to his list.

4 people found this helpful

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Robbie Gump

Full disclosure: I'm a Levon guy. I associate with some of Levon's people (will refrain from dropping names). I go to Levon's Barn. I read Levon's autobiography (5 stars). I believe there is good reason the main road into Woodstock is called Levon Helm Boulevard.

That said, I like Robbie Robertson too. They may have ended up on opposite sides of a feud, but as a fan of The Band, and despite my connections to Levon, I like Robbie, his songwriting, his guitar work. So I had no qualms about diving into his lengthy memoir. Although I was admittedly curious about hearing his side of the Levon story.

For the first few hours, I was rewarded with an excellent recounting of Robbie's youth, how he came to be a member of The Hawks, how his guitar playing evolved in his early days. And it was still pretty cool to hear about how he connected with Dylan and brought his band mates in to be Dylan's backing band. It's so often true of Rock memoirs that the early years are the most interesting, which makes sense since we know less about them before they became famous.

Then things go downhill. The second half is all about name dropping -- except for one name that isn't dropped as much as it's raised to dizzying heights, that name being one J. Robbie Robertson (or maybe should be Robbie Gump because he's always there, even helping discover Jimi Hendrix!). The thesaurus is utterly exhausted of its supply of superlatives to describe every name he drops (except for Rick, Richard, and Levon) and all of his accomplishments (which apparently Rick, Richard, and Levon had no hand in, although Garth always garners praise).

As for his dispute with Levon over a) Robbie quitting The Band after The Last Waltz and b) Robbie getting all the royalties after buying out the others' publishing rights: he claims both these things happened with the blessing of the others, even at their instigation (although he never explains how he got Levon's rights). This contradicts Levon's claims that a) their future was hotly discussed and disputed, and b) his publishing rights were ripped off or at the very least shortchanged.

Maybe Robbie will write Volume II at some point. Not sure if I'll read it. If you're interested in further detail on some of the above, I have a full review on Good Reads.

1 person found this helpful

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A Fascinating Life, Blandly Recounted

Robbie Robertson has an incredible story to tell. It’s not enough that his mother is a Choctaw Native-American or that his father was a Canadian Jewish gangster who died in an accident (possibly an “accident”) before he was born. And it’s not enough that he was on the road as a member of Ronnie Hawkins band when he was only 17, that he provided some of the most important electric guitar in Bob Dylan’s first electric period, or that he was on the scene for most of the rock excess of the mid-1960s to mid-1970s.

Above all, it should have been enough that he was an integral part of The Band – its lead guitarist and chief songwriter – which is, arguably, one of the handful of the greatest rock bands in American history.

That last point needs a little defending, but hear me out. British rock is mostly about great bands: Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks, Oasis, and name your favorites. It’s rarely about major solo artists; even Brit rockers like Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton worked to create new bands before abandoning their band success and going out as individual front men. American rock tends to go the other way. Our stars, from the start, have been front men: Elvis, Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and, again, name your favorites.

When it comes to American bands, though, there are only a handful that have endured without splitting off lead singers or guitarists somewhere else. (I recognize I’m oversimplifying, but still…) At first blush, I can think of only a few American bands that have reshaped mainstream music, have been balanced rosters without a clear front man/woman, and have endured: The Dead, Jefferson Airplane, R.E.M., maybe Pearl Jam, and The Band.

And if you don’t think The Band have endured, give a listen to their music, and then try on something by the Avett Brothers, Conor Oberst, the Felice Brothers, the Lumineers, or any of a dozen bands working in the Americana vein right now. Dylan and Neil Young may be the grandfathers of Americana, but the genre runs right through The Band. They are the fathers of this new sound, and – since I’m biased in thinking it’s the richest source of contemporary rock going – I think they still matter.

So, digression ended, this ought to be a great story. It ought to be an account of how this group of disparate musicians – four were from Canada and one an Arkansan – came and stayed together. It ought to be the story of how drummer Levon Helm mentored Robertson into a musician capable of hanging with Dylan and how time with Dylan matured him into one of the great songwriters of his era. (“The Weight,” anyone? And there are 12-15 more great ones where that came from.) It ought to be about the full story behind the way Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Helm had as rich a trio of singers as any band this side of Fleetwood Mac in their prime.

And then it ought to be an answer to the complaint levied by Helm and some of his supporters that Robertson sold out The Band by acquiring all the publishing rights to their songs, leaving himself a playboy pal of David Geffen and relegating the rest of them to the lives of working musicians.

But this book is barely any of that. I hung on throughout it because, as I expect I’ve implied, I’m a big fan of The Band. Instead, this is a succession of things that happened to Robertson, a sometimes mixed up account of his life leading up to The Band and culminating in their memorable Last Waltz break-up concert.

It opens in awkward fashion, starting with the day he took a train south from Canada to join Ronnie Hawkins band in the U.S., but immediately flashing back to a disorganized series of anecdotes about learning the guitar and getting to know Hawkins.

After Robertson straightens out his account – which also doubles back to, and then makes overly complicated, the story of his Jewish gangster uncle’s involvement with the Toronto mafia – it becomes a series of scenes that never quite culminate in a larger narrative.

He must know that there are Levon Helm fans (and likely Danko and Manuel too, with the many fans of Garth Hudson blissfully disinterested in the business side of it all) who resent him, who see him as the guy who made millions off their shared work. Instead, we get perhaps a paragraph in which he reports that the other band members asked to sell him their song rights – even Levon – even after he triple-checked to make sure they knew what they were doing. So they were all strung out on heroin and booze at the time; he was the sober one who thought to take out a loan to buy the rights and give them ready cash.

And all of this ends surprisingly. For a memoir that gives only surface reports of the character of the other Band members, it ends with The Last Waltz. I’d have liked to see more; Robertson did go on to a commercially successful (though, to my ears, largely unlistenable) solo career, and he did become an important soundtrack composer. And the other Band members, the wonderfully unruffled Hudson aside, have all died in ways that I’d like to see him reflect upon. Throughout the second half of this, he expresses concern for Manuel’s substance abuse; I’d like to have heard what it was like to see that deeply talented man kill himself years later – or to have him reflect on Danko’s later, also sad death – or on Helm’s late-life renaissance as a wise man of the Americana scene.

As if those absences aren’t enough, this is just badly written. There’s a flatness throughout, a tendency for Robertson – whose lyrics show a capacity for real poetry – to depend on inert adjectives rather than sustained insight. By way of two examples among many, far too many: there’s his description of his wedding night, “On that special night, we got pregnant.” Or, as he contemplated the L.A. drug scene around David Crosby and Stephen Stills, “Trouble was brewing, and we couldn’t wait to get a hold of it.”

Not every music memoir will rise to the level of Patti Smith’s. Despite its dodging certain difficult topics, I enjoyed Willie Nelson’s very much for the way he managed to show a consistent self from his wannabe songwriter days, through his Outlaw country, to his standing as one of the major figures of American popular music.

But this one, which could be so much more, seems flat. There’s little about the artistry behind this still-terrific music (though there are moments when Robertson gets interesting as he talks about harmonies, arrangements, and guitar parts). Instead, it seems the report of a fascinating man, not so much giving testimony, as contentedly smoothing out the rough parts to make it seem all more pleasant, a far more benign, than it must have been.

1 person found this helpful