“There was this guy called Dan who worked for Martin Scorcese and myself and he died all of a sudden. Just died. Like acute meningitis, just one day. Him and I, in New York, we went to a bar and we were just having a beer and talking. Afterwards he went back to his apartment and he just died. All the time he worked for us, he always said it was temporary. He said, “I’m just passing through.” I always thought of Dan as being between trains.”Robbie Robertson (383)
“There was this guy, “Cowboy” Dan Johnson, who had worked for Scorsese for about five years and he’d worked for me at one time too. He was a strange combination of characters. He was from Kentucky, he’d been on the front line at ‘Nam, he was an excellent chef – you’d never guess it, ’cause he was a big brute. Anyway, I was in New York, working with Marty, and when I was leaving, this guy, Dan, asked if he could catch a ride up town with me. So he came and we decided to go into this bar and have a couple of beers. We talked for a few minutes. Then I drove him back to his place, I went to my hotel. The next day, I got a call and was told that Dan had died. He died of acute meningitis of the brain. There was no scandal. Here was a guy who just went home and died. It was so devastating to me and Marty. It just blew us apart. We talked about it and thought it would be a nice thing to write a song in memory of Dan. So I ended up doing that, instead of another one I’d originally done. So ‘Between Trains’ was about Dan and for him.
“I ain’t no cowboy/I just look like one/And I ain’t no prisoner/But I’m on the run from these chains/And I’m just between trains” – from ‘Between Trains’ by Robbie Robertson.
The first line of the song I stole from Dan. We were sitting at the bar the night before he died and this guy came up behind us, slapped Dan on the back and said, “Cowboy Dan.” Well he wheeled around on the guy and said, “I ain’t no cowboy, I just look like one.” And the guy kind of shrunk back and said, “Okay, sorry.” Dan was one of those people who was very nice, but he also had this thing, this glint in his eye, that made you think that, at any moment, he might just tear the place apart or something. He definitely had a touch of danger in his shadow.”Robbie Robertson (805)
Storyville (The Album)
“The album is based on a story I wrote. The story does not take place in Storyville [the red light district in turn of the century New Orleans – Ed]; there’s a piece or it that happens there, but it’s no more than the movie Chinatown took place in Chinatown. It has more to do with the spirit of what Storyville was in the beginning, which was kind of the beginning of hot music. People gave it different names: some called it rag time, some called it razzy-dazzy music, because nobody knew what it was. The instrumentation was unusual: there’d be a fiddle in the band, and people playing kettles and things; this was traditional jazz. Because of the ambience of the area, I think that it spirited something special to happen in the music, because it was all done under the shadow of something. And I loved this state of mind.”Robbie Robertson (806)
“Sort of Dante and Beatrice go downtown. For years, this thought of doing an album that had a thread, a centre that it could revolve around, was very appealing. Once I’d put together the story, the songs just started to grow. Making a record that incorporates the mystery and spice of New Orleans has been a dream of mine ever since I heard Smiley Lewis and Huey ‘Piano’ Smith as a kid in the ’50s. It’s not my job to make ‘a New Orleans album’ and it’s not my calling, but to let that help with the thread of the album seemed very natural.”Robbie Robertson (807)
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
“Well, it came out of an impression that I had. Because I went from Canada down to the Mississippi Delta. And it was such a [rich] period in my life. You know, I was 16 years old. And I was so impressionistic at the time, you know, that it just kind of…First of all, I was going to where rock ‘n’ roll grew out of the ground. And that was very impressive. Just the whole Southern thing, it just pushed a button in me. And then years later it came out in that song. And Levon’s [member of the Band, Levon Helm – Ed] connection to it was, things that when I went down there, things that he turned me on to. Just kind of showing me around and stuff, and bringin’ me up to speed on what was goin’ on in his “hood.” And I don’t know, really, where it had come from. Usually when you write songs, you write (a particular way) because it’s the only thing you can think of at the time. But it was something that I absorbed, and then years later it came out in a song.”Robbie Robertson (808)
“There was something fascinating to me of that thing, about that particular dilemma. That part of human nature, you know, that people will put themselves in that position where it scares you half to death, but you just gotta do it! It’s very scary and very exciting at the same time. And it was kind of a personal thing for me, as well. I certainly felt a connection to that, and it was just something that I felt like I needed to express.”Robbie Robertson (808)
Take Your Partner By The Hand
“Howie B had started working on some music for a thing he was doing for his record. And he said to me, “Would you see if you can think of something to write to the vibe of this track?” And because he had worked on my record, and was so respectful and devoted to what we were dealing with – something that had this connection to the native community, and my heritage. And he was so great in that. And I thought, “Well here’s a way for me to return the gesture, to a certain degree.” So I thought, “I’ll give it a shot.” And when I started to work on it, in my mind it was like a little movie. You know, just taking this journey. And Howie told me this story: he was talking about the world of “the club world.” And as he was telling me this story about it, it dawned on me that it’s kind of amazing that people go to clubs, go there and just get lost in the beats and the rhythm, and the smoke and dancing. Howie would say, “You go to a club, and sometimes you can spend three hours with somebody, with a girl, dancing in a club, hanging out – and you never talk. It’s too loud. You can’t talk. So there’s a different kind of communication going on.” And I thought, “There’s something so primitive about that: people just getting together and expressing themselves dancing and sweating, and getting lost in the rhythm.” And that it dates back thousands of years. People have been doing that same thing. So, with that in mind, I just wrote this little story and it became this song.”Robbie Robertson (808)