Ronnie Hawkins, rock ‘n’ roll legend who mentored The Band, dies at 87

Ronnie Hawkins, the Arkansas-born rock ‘n’ roll legend who mentored young Canadian and American musicians later known as The Band, has died.

Hawkins, described in tributes as the most important rock ‘n’ roller in Canadian history, has died aged 87 from illness, his wife, Wanda, said Sunday.

“He passed away peacefully and he was as handsome as ever,” she told The Canadian Press.

In a tribute to Hawkins on Sunday, the band’s Robbie Robertson said Hawkins taught him and his bandmates “the rules of the road.”

“He was not only a great entertainer, terrific performer and conductor, but he had an unparalleled style of humor,” Robertson said in a statement posted to Twitter. “Falling funny and completely unique. Yes, God made only one. And he will live in our hearts forever. My deepest condolences to his family. »

Canadian author, Margaret Atwood, tweeted the news, saying it was “very sad to hear”.

Ronnie Hawkins, musician who made Canada his home and mentored the band, dies at 87 https://t.co/ucoqCQ4yL4 Very sad to hear.

— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) May 30, 2022

Born in Huntsville, Arkansas on January 10, 1935 (two days after the birth of Elvis Presley), stocky Hawkins was a born showman and quickly earned a reputation as hell on the rock ‘n’ roll circuit in the midst of boom of the 1950s.

Nicknamed “The Hawk”, he had minor hits with Mary Lou and Odessa and ran a club in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where rock stars such as Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Conway Twitty performed.

“Ronnie could really get a crowd working on a Friday night. He was an entertainer more than a musician. He had an instinct for crowd psychology and could set off a rumble across the room if he wanted to just by waving. his wrist.” – Helm of Levon

Rest in peace, Ronnie Hawkins. pic.twitter.com/fHWPuT5sPa

— The band (@thelastwaltz78) May 29, 2022

“Hawkins is the only man I’ve ever heard who can make a beautiful sexy song like My Gal is Red Hot sound sordid,” Greil Marcus wrote in his acclaimed book on American music and culture, Mystery Train, adding that Hawkins was said to “know more back roads, back rooms and behinds than any man from Newark to Mexicali”.

Hawkins, who dubbed himself “The King of Rockabilly” and “Mr. Dynamo,” didn’t have the gifts of Presley or Perkins, but he had ambition and a sense of talent.

It occurred for the first time in Canada in the late 50s and realized he would stand out much more in a country where local rock still barely existed. Canadian musicians had often moved to the United States to advance their careers, but Hawkins was the rare American to attempt the opposite.

Along with drummer and fellow Arkansan Levon Helm, Hawkins put together a Canadian backing band that included guitarist-songwriter Robbie Robertson, keyboardists Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel, and bassist Rick Danko. They became the Hawks, educated at the Hawkins school of rock.

“When the music got a little too far for Ronnie’s ear,” Robertson told Rolling Stone in 1978, “or if he didn’t know when to come and sing, he would tell us no one but Thelonious Monk would could understand what we were playing.. But the big thing with him is that he made us rehearse and practice a lot. A lot of times we would go play until 1am and then we would rehearse until 4pm.

Robertson and his friends supported Hawkins from 1961 to 1963, staging rowdy shows across Canada and recording a screeching cover of Bo Diddley’s Who Do You Love that became one of Hawkins’ signature songs.

But Hawkins wasn’t selling many records, and the Hawks outgrew their leader. They bonded with Bob Dylan in the mid-60s and the end of the decade were superstars on their own who had renamed themselves The Band.

Hawkins, meanwhile, settled in Peterborough, Ontario, and had a handful of Top 40 singles there, including Bluebirds in the Mountain and Down in the Alley.

Writing on Sunday, Canadian music journalist and blogger Eric Alper said Hawkins will be deeply missed.

“Ronnie Hawkins, the most important rock ‘n’ roller in Canadian history, has died at the age of 87,” Alper wrote. “The Band, Dale Hawkins, Bob Dylan and thousands of others wouldn’t be the same without him. The music wouldn’t be the same. He will be deeply missed, and thank you, Hawk.

Ronnie Hawkins, the most important rocker in Canadian history, has died at the age of 87.
The Band, Dale Hawkins, Bob Dylan and thousands more wouldn’t be the same without him.
The music wouldn’t be the same.
He will be deeply missed, and thank you, Hawk. pic.twitter.com/R2E28p5bUj

— Eric Alper 🎧 (@ThatEricAlper) May 29, 2022

He didn’t follow the latest sounds – he was horrified the first time he heard the Canadian Neil Young – but in the late 1960s he befriended John Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono. They stayed with Hawkins and his wife, Wanda, and their three children during their visit to Canada.

“At the time, I thought I was doing them a favor,” he later told the National Post. “I thought the Beatles were a lucky English band. I didn’t know much about their music. I thought Yoko was (stupid). To this day, I’ve never heard a Beatles album. For 10 billion dollars, I couldn’t name a single song on Abbey Road. I never in my life picked up a Beatles album and listened to it. Ever. But John was so powerful. I loved him. He wasn’t one of those hotshots, you know.

Hawkins also kept in touch with the band and was among the guests in 1976 for the All-Star Farewell Concert which served as the basis for Martin Scorsese’s documentary The Last Waltz.

For a few moments he was back in charge, smiling and strutting under his Stetson hat, shouting “big time, big time” at his former underlings as they ripped into Who Do You Love.

Besides The Last Waltz, Hawkins also appeared in Dylan Renaldo and Clara’s big-budget flop Heaven’s Gate and Hello Mary Lou. A 2007 documentary on Hawkins, Alive and Kickin’ was narrated by Dan Aykroyd and featured a cameo by another famous Arkansan, Bill Clinton.

Hawkins’ albums included Ronnie Hawkins, The Hawk” and Can’t Stop Rockin’, a notable 2001 release for Helm and Robertson appearing on the same song, Blue Moon in My Sign. Helm and Robertson no longer spoke, having argued after The Last Waltz, and recorded their contributions in separate studios.

Over time, Hawkins mentored many young Canadian musicians who went on to successful careers, including guitarist Pat Travers and future Janis Joplin guitarist John Till.

He has received several honors from his adopted country and, in 2013, was named a Member of the Order of Canada for “his contribution to the development of the music industry in Canada, as a rock’n’roll musician. ‘roll, and for supporting charitable causes.


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