It’s no exaggeration to say that if Ronnie Hawkins, the rockabilly legend who died Sunday at 87, didn’t exist, that rock music would not be the same. The Arkansas singer who spent most of his career in Canada mentored and worked with numerous rock legends, with his band the Hawks a breeding ground for the musicians that would eventually become The Band.
On Sunday night, The Band member Robbie Robertson wrote that his “heart sank” learning upon Hawkins’ death and penned a heartfelt tribute to his early mentor.
My heart sank when I heard “The Hawk” just flew into the sunset.
The story of The Band began with Ronnie Hawkins. He was our mentor. He taught us the rules of the road.
Ronnie Hawkins brought me down from Canada to the Mississippi delta when I was 16. He recorded two songs I’d written and thought I might be talented. He tried me out on guitar and bass the only problem was; I’m too young to play in the clubs they toured, I was too inexperienced, not a good enough musician yet, and there are NO Canadians in southern rock and roll bands. But I practiced until my fingers were bleeding and he ended up hiring me against all odds.
Ron prided himself in always having top-notch players in his group. Levon Helm — his drummer in the Hawks — and I talked Ron into hiring Rick Danko on bass and vocals, Richard Manuel on piano and vocals and Garth Hudson on organ and sax. Along with Levon and me this became the magic combination.
Ronnie was the godfather. The one who made this all happen.
He had us rehearsing constantly into the wee hours. We balked about it, but we got better and better. Our goal whether we knew it or not.
After the Hawks left Ron and went out on our own, we joined up with Bob Dylan. Next the Hawks became The Band and the rest is history, as they say.
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All starting out with Ronnie Hawkins.
He was not only a great artist, a tremendous performer and bandleader, but had a style of humor unequaled. Fall down funny and completely unique. Yep, God only made one of those. And he will live in our hearts forever.
My deepest condolences to his family.
Bless his soul.