Godfather of Rockabilly, music’s impresario, Ronnie Hawkins, has passed away at 87.
|Ronnie Hawkins was a larger than life trailblazing troubadour and his career spanned more than half a century. Along with a handful of legends like Elvis, Gene Vincent, and Eddy Cochrane, Ronnie infused country music with rhythm and blues calling it Rockabilly, paving the way for Rock n Roll. Sadly today, Sunday, May 29th, 2022, it was announced that the Godfather of Rockabilly, who established and revolutionized rock music in Canada, has passed away. His wife Wanda confirmed that Hawkins died Sunday morning after a long illness at age 87. “He went peacefully and he looked as handsome as ever,” she said in a phone interview with The Canadian Press.|
Born Ronald Cornett Hawkins on January 10, 1935, to parents Flora Cornett and Jasper Newton Hawkins, in Huntsville, Arkansas, USA, Ronnie developed his love for music at the young age of 9 and by 12 years of age, while living in Fayetteville, he was always sneaking out the house to Sherman’s Tavern or Irene’s Café and listening to gospel music at a local African American church and enjoyed Dixieland jazz players like Ralph “Buddy” Hayes.
He was a brilliant philosopher who graduated High School in 1952, enrolled in the University of Arkansas then after leaving College, joined the U.S Army Reserve from 1956-57.
After wrapping up his time in the military he opened The Rockwood Club in Fayetteville Arkansas, where some of rock and roll‘s earliest pioneers came to play including Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Conway Twitty, all this while still a teenager and moonlighting with The Black Hawks, a band formed by musician A.C. Reed.
Later, Hawkins made his mark in Memphis Tennesee working for Sam Phillips, went on to form another band that included Jimmy Ray Paulman, Will “Pop” Jones, and a young drummer named Levon Helm, and they played small clubs in Helena and Marvell. Soon thereafter, Hawkins was invited to Canada in mid-1958, with the first performances in Hamilton at a clubs called The Golden Rail Tavern and The Grange, on the recommendation by Conway Twitty, who considered that Canada was the promised land for a rock n roll singer. Hawkins never really left, he adopted Canada as his home and career base eventually becoming a permanent citizen in 1964, leaving his Mississauga farm for their Stoney Lake Hawkstone Manor in 1970 in Douro-Dummer only to sell their 71-hectare property in 2017 to move to Peterborough.
In the spring of 1958, Hawkins hit, “Hey, Bo Diddley” was released, followed by “Marylou,” which turned Hawkins into a teenage idol. In 1959, Morris Levy signed him to Roulette Records for five years resulting in 1959’s Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks. The same band, with the addition of bassist James G. Evans, played on the follow-up, Mr. Dynamo.
“Forty Days” climbed high upon the American Billboard Top 100 charts in July of 1959, while “Mary Lou,” sold 200,000 copies in its first week, reached number 26 in October. Despite having hits on the charts and an appearance on American Bandstand, Paulman, Jones, and Evans eventually departed back to Arkansas. The Hawks lineup kept changing even including luminaries such as Fred Carter Jr., Stan Szelest, and Roy Buchanan, into Robbie Robertson, Garth Hudson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, and Levon Helm, (who you all know later would go on to become Bob Dylan’s backup band and later achieved superstardom known as the Band). “For four years, from 1959 thru 1963, Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks were one of the hottest rock ‘n’ roll bands working,” wrote Bruce Eder in All Music Guide, becoming legendary mainstays and influences all throughout the history of rock n roll.
In the 1960s, he played a residency at famed Le Coq D’or Tavern, a must-visit venue in downtown Toronto for over two decades, spread across multiple floors, you could find go-go dancers, and a dance hall for teenagers, and for many years he also operated Campbell’s Tavern in London, Ontario. He was an instrumental role in the flourishment of the Toronto music scene where many prominent artists including Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, The Band, Rick James, Gordon Lightfoot, Daniel Langois and a long list of many others who cut their teeth in T.O.
All throughout the 1960s, he toured continually while befriending many of the music industry’s greats. At the height of the 1960s peace movement, Hawkins invited John Lennon and Yoko Ono to their Mississauga Tudor house/farm near Streetsville in December of 1969, to plan a peace festival during the couple’s peace crusade. He also accompanied them on the train to Ottawa for their famous visit with Prime Minister Trudeau, and later toured the world at Lennon’s request as a peace emissary for Lennon’s “Love Not War” message, and that same year Hawkins went on to create his own record label – Hawk Records
Ronnie was recognized for recruiting, grooming, & nurturing the talents of numerous artists who played with him early in their careers, including members of The Band and Crowbar, Jack DeKeyzer, the outstanding lists of Canadian talent as well, he collaborated, performed and shared his stages with the likes of Dick Clark, Grammy Awarded David Foster, Greg Godovitz, Domenic Troiano, B.J. Cook, Lawrence Gowan, King Biscuit Boy, Tobi Lark, Bob McBride (Lighthouse) and John Till (Janis Joplin’s Full Tilt Boogie Band, Pat Travers, Billy Ray Cyrus, Duane Allman to author Xaviera Hollander, Brent Bailey, Sab, Jerry Baird, Richard Bell, Tim Bovaconti, Sam Boutzouvis, Randy Ciarlanti, Rick and Terry Danko, Jerry Elston, Larry Gowan, Leah Hawkins, Robin Hawkins, Bert Hermiston, Jeff Healey, Peter Jeffrey, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Rick Morrison, Carl Perkins, Stan Perkins, Pat Rush, Joe Schenck, Bob Shindle, Brian “Buzz’ THompson, Steve Kendry, Jereome Godboo, Steve Thomson, Jim Weider, Henry Zmijak, Doug Hewie, Barry Haggarty, Ryan and Sam Weber of The Weber Brothers and Wiley Harold, just to name but only a few.
Outside of mentoring artists that would go onto large musical careers and a life of fame like The Band, another incarnation came with Janis Joplin’s Full Tilt Boogie Band, where Peterborough’s Bill Amos became road manager and another act also came as well, entitled Robbie Lane and the Disciples. Other famous Hawk alumni include David Clayton Thomas of Blood Sweat and Tears, actor Beverly D’Angelo, Amy Sky, Jeanne Beker, fellow Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Burton Cummings, The Partland Brothers, and our very own Ryan and Sam of The Weber Brothers. He toured North America, France through Europe into Asia.
Ronnie Hawkins released a thick catalog of 25 albums climbing the charts with hits like:
Hey, Bo Diddley, Susie Q, Who Do You Love, 40 Days, Mary Lou, Summertime, Bluebirds Over The Mountain, Goin’ To The River, Home From the Forest, Down In The Alley, Bitter Green, Patricia, Cora Mae, Lonesome Town, Stuck In Lodi, Wilde Little Willie, Making It Again, Hello Again Mary Lou, Days Gone By, Momma Come Home, and Ruby Baby, just to give you a sampler.
He was an accomplished television sensation and even had his own show called IN SESSION out at the CHCH studios in Hamilton and CTV’s Honky Tonk. Was in a CBC TV biography series Life and Times. and the documentary on his career entitled Ronnie Hawkins: Still Alive and Kickin’, which won a Gemini Award for Best Biography Documentary Program with guest roles in the series Seeing Things (1987), Due South (1998) and Doc (2004). Hawkins was an incredible actor staring inThe Last Waltz in 1978, a film chronicling the final concert of the Band, and played Bob Dylan’s father in Renaldo and Clara in 1978. He went on to act in Heaven’s Gate (with Kris Kristopherson in 1980), One More Time (with the late greats, John Candy and Dean Martin), Meatballs III: Summer Job (1986), as well as Super Dave Osbourne and Duct Tape Forever plus much more as the list continues long.
Many also credit Hawkins — who had an affection for designer cars, large aviator sunglasses, women
and parties — with laying the path for budding Canadian artists to enter the U.S. market.
“Most of them were starving to death,” said Hawkins. “Agents wouldn’t book a Canadian group.”
So Hawkins would lend his Rolly Royce car, with U.S. licence plates, to band leaders with the goal of fooling agents and club owners into paying gigs.
He joined Neil Young, Carroll Baker and many notable Canadian contributors on the Northern Light famine benefit project with the song, Tears Are Not Enough, in 1985.
He won 2 Juno’s for Best Country Male Vocalist in 1982 & 1985.
In 1989, Ronnie was reunited with The Band at the concert marking the destruction of the Berlin Wall.
Ronnie Hawkins was gifted a hometown Big Time Award back in 1990 at The Wire MEGAzine Awards hosted by founder, owner, and publisher, Michael Bell.
Hawkins had also performed for every Canadian Prime Minister since John Diefenbaker and even played for Solidarity Leader and former president of Poland, Lech Walesa.
He had performed at inauguration Blue Jean Bash in Washington, D.C in 1993 for the first U.S. president from Arkansas, Bill Clinton. “If the world had more people like Ronnie Hawkins, we’d do less stupid things to each other, we’d hurt fewer people, we’d have a lot more laughs,” Bill Clinton said in the 2004 documentary Hawkins: Still Alive and Kickin’. “I’ve never met another one like him.”
Hawkins recieved another Juno, withThe Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award in1996 which recognizes individuals whose work has significantly impacted the growth and development of Canadian music.
After his quadruple bipass surgery, Ronnie was inducted with a Star on Canada’s Walk of Fame in October 2002 with the Pllars of Excellence in the Arts and Musical Entertainment, for his lifetime contribution to music. As well, in 2002, Toronto honored Ronnie with a key to the city. “He took me and my band in like we were family,” actor and singer Kris Kristofferson said at a 2002 tribute to Hawkins.“If there is a rock ‘n’ roll god, I know he looks just like this guy.”
In 2003, Ronnie was diagnosed with a cancerous tumour in his pancreas and just months after his quadruple bypass heart surgery, yet, he beat cancer having it vanish for the last 2 decades.
2004, inducted into Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
2005 received his honorary Doctor of Letters, D Litt, Laurentian University.
2007 he received the Society of Composers, Authors, and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) Award.
2008, inducted into Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.
2012, Inducted into Mississauga Music Walk of Fame
2013, inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
2014, Hawkins was presented an Order of Canada for his contribution to Canadian music and for his support of charitable causes and his generous support for the improvement and quality of life for those affected by Schizophrenia & Psychosis through education, support programs, public
policy & research, where Ronnie, his wife Wanda alongside their eldest son Ron Jr, strongly supported the Peterborough Chapter of Schizophrenia Society of Ontario, hosting annual Walk of Hope fundraisers.
2016, Downtown Yonge BIA erected a 22 story mural that pays homage to the musicians that played on Yonge St during the 50s and 60s featuring Ronnie Hawkins, Glenn Gould, Diane Brooks, Jackie Shane, Muddy Waters, Shirley Matthews, B.B. King, Gordon Lightfoot, and Oscar Peterson. Managed by the Downtown Yonge BIA, painted by Toronto mural artist Adrian Hayles. “He was really good at gathering musicians that he thought were the best around,” Robbie Robertson said in a 2016 interview with The Canadian Press.
“Ronnie Hawkins: Thank you for changing my life when you invited me to dance onstage at the 1969 Toronto Pop Festival. You helped fuel my teenage dreams and showed me what true
legends are made of. Forever in my heart. — Jeanne Beker May 29, 2022
“He had his hand in so many different people’s careers,” said Eric Alper, a publicist in Toronto, who said he met Hawkins while his grandfather owned Grossman’s Tavern, a musical venue in the city.
6+decades in the music, Ronnie ‘Mr. Dynamo-The Hawk’ Hawkins lived a life most people could only dream about. He ran it like a bootcamp for musicians to go through, where they learned the music and when to do certain things and not do certain things, he just played a real pivotal part in all of it. He has changed and influenced the lives of countless stars, he was not only a singer, songwriter, larger than life rock star, movie star, TV personality, guru, teacher, father, husband, grandfather, great-grandfather, a diplomat, record compnay owner, a bad boy and even performed for the Queen. BILL WELYCHKA (MuchMusic, MuchMoreMusic, and Global News fame), interviewed Ronnie with 1 of Ronnie’s most famous quotes. Bill Welychka, Ronnie, can there be an end, ever? Ronnie Hawins, “No, it’s never the end, it’s only the beginning, every day is a new beginning!
Ryan Weber (The Hawks and The Weber Brothers) shared with the world today, his undying love for Ronnie Hawkins, as well, he posed 2 philosophical questions, what is Rock and Roll? and what does Rock and Roll look like? “Ok, here goes. What is Rock and Roll? What is that thing we call Rock and Roll? Is it a style of music? Is it a feeling? A spirit? Is it a lifestyle, a way of being, an attitude? Is it a name we use to describe the ultimate fun? Is it that ideal of living to the fullest, of pure enjoyment of life? Is it an expression of freedom, an explosion of freedom? Is it all these things and more? Is it a name we use to try and describe the nameless….that nameless thing, that thing that can not be encompassed or touched by words alone, that thing that can not be described, that thing that lives truly beyond words? Is Rock and Roll merely a raft to get on board, a key to open the door and gain a glimpse of that ultimate, that nameless? Whatever it is….I don’t think I’d have any real idea if not for you.
There were three boys in a pirate ship sailing tumultuous seas through the night in search of the hidden treasure. They came into port on an early December morning and found the treasure they’d been seeking sitting at the table. The pirate ship was our ’92 Dodge Caravan, the tumultuous seas were a full on blizzard that pounded the ground all the way from New York to Stoney Lake….the port was Hawkstone Manor, and the treasure was you, sitting at your kitchen table in the early morning sunlight. The clouds lifted, the sun shone through the window, and we caught a glimpse of the holy grail. You were the holy grail for us, and you glowed more brilliant then we’d ever imagined as we made the voyage. We knew your music well, we’d listened to so much of it in preparation of meeting you, but we had no idea of just how GIANT A SPIRIT you were. I remember the moment so vividly, so exactly and distinctly….the woodstove going beside you, you in a blue fleece and black Hawk Hat, and the look in your eye as you lifted your gaze and welcomed us through the door. Our trepidation was mammoth as we meekly squeaked out the kitchen table chairs to sit beside you, but you blew it away in an instant when you looked up at us, and your face filled with that full Hawk smile….that one where every ounce of your being was focused on welcoming, of putting everyone and everything at ease, and having fun….that smile that penetrated any awkward moment, any moment where someone may have felt small or uncomfortable, and swept it away in a blink. It felt like we’d known you for years and years, and you truly made us feel you were glad to see us. Within a minute of talking to you we knew….if there was any way we could stay and study with you, if we could somehow join your band, we had to make that happen. We were sitting with the real deal, and we knew it. What did we need at that moment of life? If we didn’t know before coming through your front door, we knew it within a minute of sitting at your table….we needed you.
You took us upstairs to your stereo room and played us your new, unreleased album, start to finish, the way you listened was a lesson in itself, total absorption, total immersion….there was nothing else. As we listened you pointed out things in the recording, arrangement things, vocal things, music things….we hadn’t known you an hour yet, but you were already opening the door for us, you were letting us get a glimpse of the light, and it was intoxicating, it was pulling us in and getting us high, as you might say, “higher than a giraffe’s cock” We hadn’t slept, we’d just made the 12 hour drive through the blizzard but it didn’t matter, we were wide awake, being beside you as the sound swirled through the room was about the most energizing thing ever, and we were getting attuned to the master class, the master lesson, and class was already in session.
You told us to head out to the barn and set up our gear, at that moment, we may have been able to beat Usain Bolt in a foot race. We set up in the barn, started playing some tunes….in a few minutes you trudged out through the snow in your big white snow boots and through the big barn door….it was the first of so many times….so many times that scene would be replayed….us tuning up, and you coming through the door, ready to instil the lessons, ready to harness the sound, ready to get tight. You sang with us that day, I remember doing “Matchbox” – your friend Carl Perkins’ classic, as we played, it was clear as day….we were playing with a maestro….a band leader of the utmost degree, a lion tamer, a real MC, a real OG, a real mystery train conductor, a true jet pilot, and the flying lessons began right away.
Somebody asked me what’s one thing that you instilled in me….the list is so long, but the first one that came to mind was this….”Practice and play every day.” A more important lesson than this is hard to imagine. Lessons like these rolled off of you like crystal clear water from an Arkansas stream, and you shared them with us endlessly….and we both know….these lessons were more than just musical. “Listen” “Play dynamically” “Play tight” “Play together” “Play in a way that supports” “Tell a story” on and on and on I could go….it is one of the great treasures of my life so far to have gained these gifts first hand from you….one thing about you, you GAVE.
How do I feel today, oh….my heart is filled with song, and with such vivid memories. My heart is filled with feelings….my heart feels the way it felt when we first got on a stage with you, watching how you worked a crowd, watching how a real rocker rocks. My heart feels the way it felt when we flew to Arkansas in a private plane for a couple of concerts, how much fun it was, how much fun you made it. My heart feels the laughter you always found in every situation, in any situation, you found the good and humor in it and shared it with everybody. My heart feels the feeling of when we moved into a little house in Waterloo together, I think you were 70 at the time, and you were ready to go back to the basics….practice and play all day everyday, get a band tight and start playing 5 nights a week. You’d just had that big health scare,(well, it was a scare for all of us….I don’t think you were scared a bit) and the doctors all said your time was just about up on this earth….but it wasn’t, you weren’t ready yet, you had a lot left to do here, and a lot more you did. My heart is filled with the feeling of recording with you, how UP you got to make a recording, as recently as a couple of years ago, the excitement you felt at doing it, at getting it right, it always rubbed off on everyone around you. You’d always seem nervous, and say, “I’ll try it boys, I don’t know if I can do it, I’ve got no throat….” and then….of course, you’d knock it out of the park, usually first take and your brilliance would shine through the speaker just as it did that first day in your stereo room. Then, we’d celebrate, we’d laugh and have a time. My heart is filled with the faces of so many legendary Hawks you introduced us to, so many teachers….sometimes people ask if we went to college, I always say yes, we went to the Ronnie Hawkins School of Music, Ronnie Hawkins Rock and Roll University. The staff was stacked, you were the Dean and the headmaster, and your professors were highly trained masters you’d found and hired one by one since way back. To study under and spend time with these legends is another in the long list of gifts we’ve gained from you….the list of names here is long, they know who they are. My heart is filled with the feeling of marvel at your generosity, and your genuine spirit and style. My heart is filled with 20 years of getting to stand alongside a true Dynamo, and bask in its brilliance, how lucky are we?
The 100% you gave while performing is something I’ll always recognize and remember. You gave all of yourself to the performance, whether playing live, recording, or practicing….nothing was held back, ever. I think what makes this even more extraordinary, is that you also did this when talking to people. Everyday, no matter who came by or you ran into, you gave them 100% of yourself. You listened and shared stories, talked with them as long as they wanted to, and you never left first….every fiber, every ounce of your being was wide open and given to everybody, always. When someone was with you, you were fully present, fully on, and truly there. You made people feel good. You made people feel good about themselves, and that you appreciated them, just by being you…that is who you are, that is what you do. We were talking yesterday about all the goodness you made, all the goodness you gave, the warmth you were, I don’t think they have a ruler big enough to measure it(maybe big as Bo Diddley’s organ)….your legend lives as much there as it does in the music….for you, all these are wrapped into one….you gave 100% all the time.
I think about times you’d call me up, how excited that would always make me, because I knew you’d have something big in mind, something we’d do together, as you always said when I asked you how it was going, “Oh baby….I’m dreaming of stardom” you were always dreaming big right up to the last time we saw you in person a few weeks back….things you wanted to do. I think of the times I’d give you a call just because….and you’d always be up to talk….the times we’d just hang out, we’d come over and just talk about whatever….my heart is filled with gratitude. So much gratitude to the family as well, to Robin, Leah, Ronnie Jr, and Wanda for allowing us the opportunity to come through your door and spend so much time with you, and of course to all the dogs throughout the years who afforded us the same privilege, who you also gave your full attention and self to….remembering the last time at your place where you sang Baby Blue to your new dog Lucy, with all your feeling, love and respect.
Three boys showed up at your door, you took them in, under your wing, helped them, were there for them and helped show them the way, you took care of them. For anybody else, this would be a unique and one of a kind type of story, but you….you did this all your life, you did this for so many, over and over again, whenever somebody showed up….that is who you are.
A couple of boys showed up at your door 20 years ago, and now a couple of men walk because of your guidance, men hopeful they can take the lessons you gave and begin to approach paying worthy homage for the wealth you trusted them with. We will not let you down Ronnie. You taught us how to drive, how to rock, how to truly live, and how to fly….proving worthy of those lessons is something we will strive for every day, I promise. We are always “the boys”
There are people who are foundational in your life….pillars that make the house of your life stand….your parents, your teachers, your guardians, everyone has pillars like these….and you are one of ours, I have faith our house will stand with that kind of foundation….and I am so grateful.
God is great….anyone who would give a gift like Ronnie “The Hawk” Hawkins to this world is abounding in greatness, and what a gift He has given us all in you. You called Him the Big Rocker, and I can only imagine the fun You all are getting into tonight, shoot, maybe you’re talking to Chuck Berry right now and telling him the story of “40 Days….that if she was good enough for Chuck to give her 30 days, she must be worth you giving her 40” I’m sure you’ll have Chuck rolling in no time.
I know you were ready to take this flight, I hope Heaven is ready for you, I feel like God gave us you for so long, it’s high time He gets you back, and oh, what a time He will have, I appreciate Him waiting so long….couldn’t have been easy.
You are our teacher, our mentor, our bandleader, our guiding light….you are our friend, and we love you. You are our dear friend always, and we never part, ’til we meet again. We cherish you.
So what is Rock and Roll? Well, I think it’s a couple of words that point the way to the nameless….that nameless thing….sometimes an image is helpful for some. What does rock and roll look like? It looks like you.“
Fan, and Peterborough artist, Tami J Wilde shared, “The Hawk, Time To Soar, Till We Meet Again,”
Throughout his life and colorful career, he met fell in love with his soul mate Wanda after meeting her at Toronto’s Concord Tavern and they raised 3 children, Ron Jr, Robin and Leah Hawkins and he celebrated 4 Grandchildren Troy, Jacob, Zack, and Tara, and Tara made Ronnie a 4-time Great-Grandfather to
Steven, Bruce, Clara and Esther. Hawkins wrote roughly 500 songs, created the ‘camel walk,’ an early version of what became Michael Jackson’s moonwalk, decades later. Hawkins was a member of the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame, the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. He was a lifelong spokesperson for Cambria, he had been called a legend by many, and to Bob Dylan he was an Idol, and even John Lennon fondly referred to him as Sir Ronnie, to fans and those who know and love him, he’s simply The HAWK.
I am sending tons of healing light and love to my friends, the Hawkins on the loss of this wonderful heart and ever engaging spirit, and individual who had greatly contributed to the music industry as the Father of Canadian Rock and Roll! RIP Ronnie, much love ~ Deb Draper, Music Editor, The Wire MEGAzine.
The day that my man Kevin Brazolot met Ronnie. This was in October of 2015 at The Venue in Peterborough, a Stroke benefit fundraiser for Brian “Buzz” Thompson. Was standing next to Ronnie, when he leaned over and smucked me in the belly, saying, ““Debbie, where’s this Kevin, I want to meet him!” I smacked Kev in the gut the same way, LOL, saying Ronnie wants to talk to you!!! KEVIN leaned over in this shot and Ronnie said, “you better watch out for this one, you take care of her!” and that Kevin Brazolot is doing just that. xoxo