Robertson wrote scores for Scorsese, too, and feared his buddy had betrayed him when he plugged his unfinished musical sketches straight into “The Color of Money.” This was just Robertson riffing motifs in his studio. He was hopping from instrument to instrument and humming melodies. Scorsese felt this rough noodling matched the film’s gritty aesthetic to a tee, and Robertson agreed.
Robertson’s work syncs up well with the film’s poolhall needle-drop, which mashes up blues classics from Willie Dixon and B.B. King with Warren Zevon’s all-timer “Werewolves of London.” I don’t know who selected what track, but it stinks of booze and bad choices. It’s sleazy perfection.
Robertson lived that life early in his career. He heard it on the radio, sought it out, and brought it to us with a Canadian inflection. He wasn’t a good singer, and maybe wasn’t the best bandmate on a personal level, but, goddamnit, he was a great musician and a genius aficionado. He was as much a teacher as a musician. I grew up listening to The Band, and, trust me, I wouldn’t have become obsessed with Muddy Waters were it not for the bluesman’s indelible performance of “Mannish Boy” in “The Last Waltz.” Robertson made that happen and inspired one of the greatest filmmakers in the history of the medium to blow out his musical palette.
Robbie Robertson was vital. So throw on “The Last Waltz” tonight, and do as you’re instructed at the film’s outset — play it loud.