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 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.
Hawkins competed with entertainers such as Conway Twitty, Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, and was determined to get the most out of any group he gathered. Around 1957, while looking for a drummer, his bassist told him about a high school student named Lavon Helm from Marvell, Arkansas who, although he was actually a guitarist, was a natural talent on drums. In 1958, after graduating, he traveled with the Hawks and became known as Levon.
Hawkins didn’t even consider himself a musician. When his young bandmates went to Memphis to join the musicians union, he stayed and said, “Why? I don’t play anything then.” He was athletic and used all his abilities on stage to impress his audience. Helm recounts in his autobiographical book, “This Wheel’s On Fire”, the Hawks’ style of performance:
The first concert was really huge. Ronnie Hawkins could really work an audience on a Friday night. I mean, he had them where he wanted them. He was tall, handsome, funny and had a good voice. He was an entertainer rather than a musician. He had an instinct for audience psychology and could rumble them across the room if he wanted to, just by flicking his wrist. It was this power he had over people. We had hit that Bo Diddley beat, Hawk came in front of the stage and did his kick, that camel ride, and things just took off. Ronnie had been a professional diver as a teenager, so he could do a frontal somersault and land in the splits, which would amaze you. Then he danced and pretended to pull Will Pop Jones, a tall, strong boy who hit the piano keys so hard they jumped in the air. God, that beat was amazing!
Conway Twitty briefed Hawkins on the opportunities in Canada. According to Helm, Ronnie told him, “He says they’re hungry for a good band up there.” Toronto’s nightclub community had enough work to sustain them.
As the Hawks went through several incarnations, Helm became Hawkins’ right-hand man. The group was formerly called Levon and the Hawks. A few years of wild touring in the United States and Canada followed. Morris Levy, known as the “godfather” of Roulette Records, signed them. The band recorded a few tracks under the Hawkins name, including “Mary Lou” and “Forty Days” (a reworked version of Chuck Berry’s “Thirty Days”), which became minor hits.
Hawkins took his band to the Jersey Shore to perform live. Levon Helm recounts this experience:
Shore clubs attracted rock and roll fans from New York and Philadelphia. Soon we were driving hijacked company, that is, sold out, and attracted almost as well as some of the greatest entertainers of the time, including Sammy Davis Jr., Teresa Brewer and Frankie Laine. It got the talent scouts moving, and soon we were being courted by New York record labels, who saw Ronnie as the next big thing. After all, there was a big void in rock and roll that year: Elvis was in the U.S. Army, Chuck Berry was in prison, Jerry Lee was out of favor after marrying his thirteen-year-old cousin, Little Richard was at home. of Prayer, Conway had gone country and Buddy Holly was dead. Some said rock and roll was about to die, but maybe Ronnie Hawkins could save the patient.
To Morris Levy’s disappointment, Hawkins preferred Canada.
From late 1959, Hawkins took 16-year-old Canadian Robbie Robertson with him. He sent his best guitarist to show him the basics and brought him to Arkansas to experience the roots of rockabilly. When Robertson had proven himself, Hawkins later added the band Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and finally, in 1961, electronic keyboardist Garth Hudson.
The backup musicians were in the studio making purely instrumental recordings, and the band’s new producer on Roulette, Henry Glover, told Helm that they were good enough for these musicians to try out for themselves, and that they should contact him in this case. It made the ball roll. The band eventually worked with Bob Dylan and later became “The Band”.
Hawkins and Helm remained close for the rest of their lives. They both gave their life to their music [engelsk tekst] as long as they could. Helm describes Hawkins in “Wheels”:
To this day, he is a good friend and a great leader, with an incredible ability to select the best musicians and turn them into first-class bands. He was immediately like-minded, dependable, and just a completely natural performer; one of the funniest guys i have ever met. The Falcon had gone to college and could quote Shakespeare whenever he wanted. He was also the most vulgar and outlandish rockabilly character I’ve ever met in my life. He would say and do anything to shock you.
Hawkins was invited to play with The Band during their 1976 farewell performance, “The Last Waltz”, which was filmed by Martin Scorsese.
In 1982, Hawkins won the Canadian Juno Award for Male Country Singer of the Year. As a resident of Canada and an “honorary” citizen of the country, Hawkins has received several honors for his lifetime musical achievements.