Ronnie Hawkins, Rock'n'Roll Legend & Mentor Of The Band Dies Aged 87
Ronnie Hawkins was born on January 10, 1935, in Huntsville, Arkansas, United States, two days after the birth of Elvis Presley. He was the son of Flora Cornett, a schoolteacher, and Jasper Hawkins, a barber. When he was nine years old, his family moved to nearby Fayetteville, Arkansas. After graduating from high school, he studied physical education at the University of Arkansas, where he formed his first band, the Hawks. He toured with them throughout Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri. Hawkins also owned and operated the Rockwood Club in Fayetteville, where some of rock and roll's earliest pioneers came to play, including Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Conway Twitty.
On advice from Twitty, Hawkins began touring Canada in 1958. His first gig there was at the Golden Rail Tavern in Hamilton, Ontario, where he became an overnight success. He moved to Canada and in 1964 became a permanent resident of the country. In 2017, he moved from Stoney Lake Manor in Douro-Dummer, where he had resided since 1970, to Peterborough, Ontario.
After the move to Canada, the Hawks, with the exception of Hawkins and drummer Levon Helm, dropped out of the band. Their vacancies were filled by Southwestern Ontarioan's Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson. All these Hawks left Hawkins in 1964 to form a group which came to be named The Band.
In December 1969, Hawkins hosted John Lennon and Yoko Ono for a stay at his home in Mississauga, Ontario, during the couple's campaign to promote world peace. Lennon signed his erotic "Bag One" lithographs during his stay there. Lennon also did a radio promo for a Hawkins single, "Down in the Alley".
In the early 1970s, Hawkins noticed guitarist Pat Travers performing in Ontario nightclubs and was so impressed by the young musician that he invited him to join his band. Travers later had a successful recording career and became an influential guitarist in the 1970s hard rock genre.
In 1975, Bob Dylan cast Hawkins to play the role of "Bob Dylan" in the movie, Renaldo and Clara. The following year he was a featured performer at the Band's Thanksgiving Day farewell concert, which was documented in the 1978 film The Last Waltz. His 1984 LP, Making It Again, garnered him a Juno Award as Canada's best Country Male Vocalist. In addition to his career as a musician, he become an accomplished actor, hosting his own television show Honky Tonk in the early 1980s and appearing in such films as Heaven's Gate with his friend Kris Kristofferson, Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and Snake Eater.
On January 10, 1995, Hawkins celebrated his 60th birthday by throwing a concert at Massey Hall in Toronto, which was documented on the album Let It Rock. The concert featured performances by Hawkins, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Band and Larry Gowan. Jeff Healey sat in on guitar for most, if not all, of the performances. Hawkins's band, the Hawks, or permutations of it, backed the performers. All of the musicians performing that night were collectively dubbed "the Rock 'n' Roll Orchestra".
In later years, Hawkins developed pancreatic cancer and recovered, which he attributed to everything from psychic healers to native herbal medicine. His mysterious recovery was featured in the 2012 film Ronnie Hawkins: Still Alive and Kicking.
Hawkins died in the early morning of May 29, 2022, at the age of 87. He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Wanda, their two sons, Ronnie Jr. and Robin, and daughter Leah.