At 76, Canadian Robbie Robertson — lead songwriter of ‘70s group the Band and Martin Scorsese's favorite movie composer — is not slowing down a bit.
“I’m finishing up a new album, writing volume two of my memoir, and they’re doing a documentary on my first memoir, Testimony,” Robertson says.
He also has narrated the four-part PBS documentary Native America.
“Partly because of my heritage, the subject is something I’m drawn to,” says Robertson, whose Mohawk/Cayuga mother grew up on Canada’s Six Nations Indian Reserve. She taught him to “be proud you’re an Indian, but be careful who you tell.”
Robertson’s Six Nations musician relatives partly inspired his career. And he is, along with Jimi Hendrix and Jesse Ed Davis, one of the greatest popular guitarists with native ancestry.
Robertson has recorded two albums of his own Native American music.
“This story goes back 15,000 years,” Robertson says. Native America ambitiously covers the entire period, using oral history, DNA analysis and multispectral imaging to show how interconnected the culture has been as it spread to cover the hemisphere.
Even before working on the documentary, “I knew about the areas directly connected to my heritage,” he says. As a child, Robertson heard a Six Nations elder tell the story of the origin of the Iroquois Confederacy, which united the warring Haudenosaunee [“People of the Longhouse”] native tribes, forming the world’s oldest participatory democracy 500 years before the Declaration of Independence.