Watch Robbie Robertson Play ‘The Weight’ With Ringo Starr and Musicians Across Five Continents
Robbie Robertson on the Power of ‘The Weight’ During the Pandemic. Powerful stuff here folks.
In 1968, the Band recorded “The Weight,” a song full of images and characters that Robbie Robertson said he had been storing in his imagination for years. Robertson admits in his autobiography, Testimony, that he struggled to articulate to producer John Simon what the song was even about, but it’s become the Band’s most well-known classic, and it still echoes loudly today. Playing for Change, a group dedicated to “opening up how people see the world through the lens of music and art,” recently spent two years filming artists around the world, from Japan to Bahrain to Los Angeles, performing the song. Robertson takes part, and so does Ringo Starr. Web traffic for the video has surged in recent days as the world confronts the coronavirus, and it has been a top story on RollingStone.com. READ THE INTERVIEW HERE.
“What key is it in, Robbie?” Ringo Starr, sitting behind a drum set, asks Robbie Robertson over the phone. Ringo nods. “F-demented!” What happens next is a joyous cover of “The Weight,” with Robertson reprising the recording’s soulful intro lick. A series of musicians from all over the world – Marcus King, Lukas Nelson, the Japanese guitar virtuoso Char, Congo soul singer Mermens Mosengo and more – all add their own flavor to the classic from different locations.
The project comes from Playing For Change, a group dedicated to “breaking down the boundaries and overcome distances between people.” That includes schools 15 music schools across 11 countries, documentaries and viral videos bringing artists from different cultures together; the group has released videos for “Redemption Song,” “What’s Going On” and more. “The Weight” was done on an epic scale, a year and a half of production over five continents. “We made it brick by brick, starting with Robbie,” says co-founder Mark Johnson, a Grammy-winning producer-engineer who’s worked with Paul Simon, Keith Richards and more. “That’s what makes this special. We could never have never assembled this group in the studio. You need to go there, and then when you go there, you’re where they feel comfortable. You hear that in the music.”
We spoke to Robertson, who called from his home in L.A., about the video, how he’s been self-isolating, plus other projects, including his work on the next Martin Scorsese film, a Stage Fright box set, and his recent appearance at a Last Waltz tribute concert in Nashville late last year.