Ronnie Hawkins, the rockabilly artist who was a mentor for The Band, has died aged 87

Arkansas-born Ronnie Hawkins, who once billed himself as “the king of rockabilly” and “Rompin’ Ronnie,” died Sunday morning. His wife Wanda told The Canadian Press in a phone interview that he passed away peacefully in a hospital bed in Peterborough, Ont., after struggling with several recent health issues.

Hawkins was best known for bringing together a five-piece band that would later become “The Band”. However, most of his musical career is less well known. Hawkins was an artist and an artist more than a musician. His talents lie primarily in his ability to entertain on stage.

Hawkins, born in 1935, the son of a schoolteacher and a hairdresser, lived a life on the edge of his days at Fayetteville High School. He earned up to $300 a day hauling whiskey between Missouri and Oklahoma, where alcohol was banned in some counties. Han”swollenThe Model A Ford was designed and trimmed for police driving should the need arise. The money he invested, he invested in local nightclubs and concert halls.

Hawkins performs with The Band at their farewell concert, filmed as “The Last Waltz”, at the Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco, on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1976 [Foto: en scene fra filmen «The Last Waltz»] [Photo by Scene from “The Last Waltz”]

Hawkins formed his first band before graduating from high school, during the very early days of rock and roll. Arkansas was a musical melting pot and Hawkins had it all figured out. (See WSWS on Sleepy Labeef, also born in Arkansas in 1935. Link to English text). Country music mixed with the blues to form rock and roll and “rockabilly”, which Hawkins considered himself to be. From the powerful KFFA radio station in Helena, Arkansas came “King Biscuit Time”, which brought the blues to black musicians such as Sonny Boy Williamson, Robert Jr. Lockwood, Memphis Slim, Robert Nighthawk and their peers. At the same time, traveling minstrel shows entertain a wide range of people in the rural south.

Memphis was the hub of this musical melting pot. Record producer Sam Phillips founded Sun Records and recorded the music of black and white musicians. He is known for starting the career of Elvis Presley, who was born just two days before Hawkins. Stax Records, a soul and blues label, had black and white musicians in its stable and was also located in Memphis. In its heyday, the label was to produce Otis Redding and Booker T. & the MGs. Other artists, such as R&B guitarist Chuck Berry, country star Bill Doggett (“Honky Tonk”), and Roy Orbison, who was considered a country R&B hybrid, dominated the music scene.

During a six-month stint in the military, Hawkins led a group of black musicians, calling the group the Blackhawks. It was short-lived, as was his military career. After being released from service, Hawkins was still on the lookout for talent for his ever-growing band. He recorded several demos at Sam Phillips’ Sun Studios, but they didn’t sell very well.

Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, Mr. Dynamo (1959)

Alec Dittman

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