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Watch the historic footage of Robbie Robertson saving Eric Clapton before they go head-to-head in a duel for the ages

Captured by Martin Scorsese for the concert film The Last Waltz, Robbie Robertson and Eric Clapton’s guitar duel is a standout moment from two standout careers



Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1976. Farewell gigs are often celebratory affairs, but no one has ever bowed out with as much style as The Band. The Last Waltz was a finale like no other, with 5000 guests sitting down for turkey dinner before enjoying a star-studded set from extraordinary lineup of musicians, from Bob Dylan to Paul Butterfield, Neil Diamond to Neil Young, Joni Mitchell to Van Morrison, Ronnie Wood to Ringo Starr.

Highlights? There are plenty. Mavis Staples caught on tape whispering, “Beautiful!” as final notes of The Weight ring out, clearly entranced by the performance. Van Morrison’s fiery version of Caravan. And, perhaps best of all, the unplanned guitar duel between The Band’s late Robbie Robertson and Eric Clapton.

The two joined forces on a cover of Bobby Bland’s Further On Up The Road, with Clapton in relaxed form, soloing with energetic, elegant precision. But then it got interesting. 

“We had just kicked off the song, and Eric was playing his opening solo on it,” said Robertson. “When you look at the movie now you can see his strap is kind of folded over and it looks like it could come off at any time – and it does. It just slips off, so the guitar just falls down, and when that happened – just like you do when you’re playing music in a group – you just cover their back. 

“I just jumped in and tried to make so that it wasn’t an issue. So then he got his strap back on and came back in and the whole song turned into kind of a guitar dialogue back and forth. People refer to it as a ‘duel’ but it was more of a guitar conversation with a lot of passion.”

The pair’s conversation also featured on Clapton’s 1975 album No Reason To Cry, which starred every member of The Band, and they would reconvene several times over the years. In 1986 they co-wrote It’s In The Way That You Use It, from the soundtrack to The Color Of Money. In 2011, Clapton played on seven songs on Robertson’s How to Become Clairvoyant album.

And in 2000, when Clapton was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame for his solo work, Robertson inducted him (when The Band had been inducted six years earlier, Clapton had done the job). Of course, the pair revisited Further On Up The Road during the show’s live section, and while the performance may not have been as fierce as the 1976 version, it was another worthy addition to the conversation.