THE BAND'S 'STAGE FRIGHT'
GOLDMINE|March 2021
GUITARIST ROBBIE ROBERTSON SUPERVISES THE REISSUE OF THE BAND’S THIRD ALBUM, STAGE FRIGHT, AS IT HITS THE 50-YEAR MARK.
RAY CHELSTOWSKI

Stage Fright, the third studio album by The Band, has grown over time to be regarded by some as their most impressive studio release. But at the time, it was often misunderstood by those in the media. It was recorded in 1970 at the Woodstock Playhouse after a concert the group had offered to host as a peace offering to the town fell apart. They decided to take the batch of songs they had intended to debut at that show and record their next album, on the Playhouse stage, without an audience. At this point the brotherhood was being tested. The musicians were no longer living together in Big Pink, and the demons that would ultimately undo some of them began to emerge more often. To make the recording process more complex, they also decided to take a breather from John Simon, who had produced the first two albums, and take those duties on themselves. That meant bringing in Todd Rundgren and Glyn Johns to engineer and mix the record. Those results were uneven, and in the end, band member Robbie Robertson jumped in to save the day and preserve a record that truly is one for the ages.

Now as Stage Fright turns 50, Robert son and collaborator Bob Clearmountain have revisited the record, remastering it, resequencing its tracks and adding stunning live material from the Calgary Hotel and from the stage at the Royal Albert Hall in London. In total, the package presents a musical moment that defines the group’s inherent greatness and opens a view into how remarkable their musical connection to each other really was.

Goldmine had the great opportunity to once again sit with Robertson to talk about the challenges in recording this record, the brilliance in how The Band approached these powerful songs, and the legacy that they now leave. We also got a peek into what else he has been up to and what we might expect next from this incredibly prolific artist.

GOLDMINE: Stage Fright has emerged as one of The Band’s most highly regarded albums. But it certainly seems as though it required a lot from you personally to get it across the finish line.

ROBBIE ROBERTSON: This one was recorded at The Woodstock Playhouse. And, like The Band recording at Sammy Davis Jr.’s place, it was a “thing” where I thought that if could just get these guys into our own sanctum, in our own space, and if we could together really concentrate and focus what we could do with these songs I was writing, it would become something special. We could do something that needs to be done.

This experience was the beginning of hard times in dealing with the guys in the band. People were too intoxicated. We weren’t in that collective that I dreamt of and that I knew worked. I knew with Big Pink we could do this thing. I had dreamt of the “clubhouse” setting. With Stage Fright, we weren’t living together. We were all in Woodstock, but by then madness had kicked in big time. So it was a bit of a balancing act. A lot of it was trying to get to a place of being effective with this table of five legs. If one or two of them was kind of weak, the whole thing could tip over. It was difficult if not impossible. And it really affected my enthusiasm, excitement, creativity and imagination in writing songs. That put things in a little bit of jeopardy, and I was doing my best to ignore it, to avoid what possibly could go wrong.

At the same moment, we were having an incredible musical time, rejoicing in these songs. Although some of them were more reflective of us and there was a self-indulgence that I wasn’t completely comfortable with. I was always trying to be the storyteller, but some of it started to seep uncontrollably into this record.

GM: This 50th edition has a song order that varies from the original album. That seems to make everything flow much better and allows the record to properly unfold.

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