Ronnie Hawkins passed away on May 29 at 87 years old. His family confirmed the rockabilly singer/songwriter’s death, and Hawkins’ wife told The Canadian Press that “[h]e went peacefully and he looked as handsome as ever.” Hawkins had long battled an illness, but a specific cause of death has not been released.
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The Arkansas-born musician was also fondly known as “Rompin’ Ronnie,” “Mr. Dynamo,” or “The Hawk.” His many names are perhaps one result of his decades-long career and immeasurable impact on the music industry. It all started in small, southern towns where he formed his first-ever band in 1952, just after he graduated from high school. He called the band The Hawks.
In the ’60s, Hawkins would become a major player on the Canadian rock scene after country singer Conway Twitty recommended the geographical movie. Hawkins would also go on to release numerous studio albums. Cementing his role in rock ‘n’ roll, was his mentorship to the members of The Band. The Hawk helped Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, and Robbie Robertson create the foundation of the Toronto rock band.
“The story of The Band began with Ronnie Hawkins,” Robertson said in a tribute letter to the singer. “He was our mentor. He taught us the rules of the road.” Read Roberston’s full letter below.
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.
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.