Rockabilly Legend Ronnie Hawkins Passed Away At 87

Rockabilly Legend Ronnie Hawkins Passed Away At 87 | Society Of Rock Videos

via UnidiscMusic / Youtube

Ronnie Hawkins, the rockabilly pioneer who mentored pre-fame members of The Band, passed away Sunday morning, May 29, at age 87 following a long illness.

His wife, Wanda, confirmed the news and told CBC:

“He went peacefully and he looked as handsome as ever.”

Hawkins was born raised in Arkansas, he started his first band, the Hawks, while attending the University of Arkansas. They toured throughout the South, crossing paths with famous acts, such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, and Conway Twitty, who suggested Hawkins and his group to start touring in Canada.

Since then, Hawkins played his first gig in Ontario in 1958 and soon decided live permanently in Canada. In that same year, Hawkins and the Hawks released singles “Summertime” and “Hey! Bo Diddley.” In 1959, Hawkins’ debut album, a self-titled effort came out featuring the singles “Forty Days,” a cover of the Chuck Berry song, “Thirty Days,” and “Mary Lou,” originally by Young Jessie.

Both of Hawkins’ renditions reached the Top 10 in Canada, while charting on the Billboard Hot 100 in America as well in No. 45 and No. 26 respectively. The Hawks changed their lineup over the years. In 1957, drummer Levon Helm joined the group, Robbie Robertson came on board in 1960, while Rick Danko, pianist Richard Manuel and multi-instrumentalist Garth Hudson all arrived in 1961.

Hawkins remain as the group leader. Robertson later recalled in an interview:

“Playing with Ronnie Hawkins was like going to boot camp.

“You worked really hard, really long hours, you learned the rules of the road, and you got your street education. Eventually, he built us up to the point where we outgrew his music and had to leave he shot himself in the foot, really, bless his heart, by sharpening us into such a crackerjack band that we had to go on out into the world, because we knew what his vision was for himself, and we were all younger and more ambitious musically.”

In the late 1963, Helm, Robertson, Danko, Manuel and Hudson left the Hawks and formed their own group which would eventually become the Band. While, Hawkins continued releasing material working with some of rock’s biggest acts. In 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono stayed at Hawkins’ Ontario home during the couple’s campaign for world peace. In 1975, Bob Dylan casts Hawkins to play the role of “Bob Dylan” in the film Renaldo and Clara.

Later on, Hawkins joined the Band for their Thanksgiving Day farewell concert, now remembered as The Last Waltz thanks to the famous Martin Scorsese documentary. The Band would later thank Hawkins during their 1994 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Hawkins’ career spanned more than 50 years and was able to release 20 albums. He was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame, the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame and was made an Honorary Officer of the Order of Canada.

In later years, Hawkins struggled with several health issues. He underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 2002 and battled pancreatic cancer in 2004.

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