Ronnie Hawkins, the Arkansas rockabilly turned Canadian rock n’ roll ambassador, has died at age 87 after a “long illness” according to his wife, Wanda, who confirmed his passing on Sunday morning, May 29th.
In 1958, at the suggestion of Conway Twitty, Ronnie and his band, The Hawks (featuring an 18-year-old drummer from Turkey Scratch, Arkansas named Levon Helm), headed north to take over the Toronto teen scene and score multiple hits on the Canadian charts. The Hawks would become the standard-bearers for rock n’ roll above the border with Ronnie’s razor-sharp style and signature “camel walk” (a proto-moonwalk) taking center stage.
Ronnie’s most significant contribution to rock n’ roll– aside from his raunchy rendition of “Who Do You Love”– was perhaps in assembling one of the greatest and most influential groups of all time in Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, and Garth Hudson, who in 1963 would leave The Hawk to ultimately join Bob Dylan and become The Band.
Making the move to Canada permanently in 1964, Hawkins would maintain his success, flirting with country music from time to time but remaining a rock n’ roller at heart, and in 2004, he was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
Ronnie Hawkins came up in the barnstormer days of rock n’ roll, a fully grown warbler with a chiseled jaw, an epic appetite, and an unrivaled work ethic that proved a training ground for future legends. We extend our sympathies to the family, friends, and many fans of The Hawk.