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Monday, January 26, 2015

Rock and Roll Highway: The Robbie Robertson Story, written by Sebastian Robertson and illustrated by Adam Gustavson. Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2014. $19.99 ages 12 and up

"Summers, holidays, and many weekends were spent at the Six Nations Indian Reservation where Robbie's mother had been born and raised. Robbie and his mom would take a two-hour bus ride from Toronto up to the reservation. It was here that it all began; it was here where the rhythm, melodies, and storytelling of Robbie's First Nations relatives captured his imagination."

In an enlightening homage to his father and his successful career as a hardworking Canadian musician, Sebastian Robertson begins by sharing a note about The Band's final stage performance in 1976 in San Francisco. Only then does he take readers back to the beginning and chronicle the path that took Jaime Royal Robertson from a crib in Toronto to the world stage.

Influenced by his Mohawk heritage, his love for the storytelling of the elders, and his family's musical expertise, Robbie soon had a guitar in hand and a teacher who could not keep up with his need to know more than he was being taught. He took charge of his own learning and spent countless hours working at improving his skills. Encouraged by family, music became his life. He formed his first band at 13 and never looked back.

At sixteen he had written two songs for Ronnie Hawkins, and was on his way to making his mark on the music world. His belief in himself and his abilities led him on a journey that would change his life. Always willing to hone his craft, he took advice from Buddy Holly and Bob Dylan. The music scene at the time was changing.

Taking up residence in Woodstock, the Hawks worked at developing their own style and were known to the locals as 'the band.' The name stuck! The release of Music From Big Pink marked a real departure from much of the music of the day:

"Its roots were deeply embedded in the American landscape but the music was entirely unique - a mix of mountain music, Delta blues, rhythm and blues, Canadian folk, and rockabilly. There wasn't a name for it then, but there is now. It's called Americana Music, and The Band was instrumental in its creation."

The fresh and realistic oil paintings done by Adam Gustavson give readers a chance to see the world as seen from Robbie Robertson's perspective. They ensure that we are aware of time and place. I loved seeing the almost photographic images of some of the famous people Robbie met on his musical journey on the 'rock and roll highway.'

The timeline included is filled with useful information and rife with archival photos. An interview between father and son is a very special addition in which Sebastian encourages readers to do what he did - interview your parents! You will never be sorry that you did.

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