Ronnie Hawkins, who mixed the gregarious stage presence of a pure showman and a dedication to turbocharged rockabilly music in a rowdy profession that spanned greater than a half-century, died on Sunday. He was 87.
His daughter Leah confirmed his loss of life. She didn’t say the place he died or disclose the trigger, although she mentioned he had been fairly ailing.
Mr. Hawkins began performing in his native Arkansas within the late Fifties and have become a roadhouse entertainer primarily based in Canada within the Nineteen Sixties, his music ceaselessly rooted within the primal rock ’n’ roll rhythms of Bo (*87*) and Chuck Berry.
For all of his success, his largest declare to fame was not the music he produced however the musicians he attracted and mentored. His backup musicians of the early Nineteen Sixties, Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Rick Danko, went on to kind the Band, which backed Bob Dylan and have become one of the admired and influential bands in rock historical past.
But these musicians, like lots of Mr. Hawkins’s followers, by no means misplaced their reverence for the person often called the Hawk.
“Ronnie’s whole style,” Mr. Robertson as soon as mentioned, was for him and his band to play “faster and more violent and explosive than anyone had ever heard before.”
Ronald Cornett Hawkins was born on Jan. 10, 1935, two days after Elvis Presley, in Huntsville, Ark. When he was 9, his household moved to close by Fayetteville, the place his father, Jasper, opened a barbershop and his mom, Flora, taught college. His musical schooling started at the barbershop the place a shoeshine boy named Buddy Hayes had a blues band that rehearsed with a piano participant named Little Joe.
It was there that he started to imbibe the loopy quilt music of the South, with blues and jazz filtered via snatches of nation and the minstrel and drugs exhibits that traveled via city. Before lengthy, one thing new was added: the beginnings of rock ’n’ roll, which was percolating out of Sam Phillips’s Sun Records studio in Memphis.
Mr. Hawkins dropped at all that a component of hazard. As a youngster, he had pushed a souped-up Model A Ford operating bootleg whiskey from Missouri to the dry counties of Oklahoma, making as a lot as $300 a day.
He put collectively bands, enrolled within the University of Arkansas and dropped out, joined the Army in 1957 after which give up the identical 12 months, intent on making it within the music enterprise. While within the Army, he fronted a rock ’n’ roll band, the Black Hawks, made up of African American musicians, a daring effort within the segregated South.
Demos he recorded at Sun after he left the Army fell flat, however Mr. Hawkins and the guitarist on his Sun session, Luke Paulman, put collectively a band with Mr. Hawkins because the athletic frontman given to again flips and handstands. Over the years, his trademark grew to become the camel stroll, an early model of what grew to become Michael Jackson’s moonwalk a long time later.
In 1958, the nation music singer Conway Twitty mentioned American rock ’n’ roll bands might make a killing in Canada. Heeding that recommendation, Mr. Hawkins moved to a spot he as soon as mentioned was “as cold as an accountant’s heart.” Toronto and different locations in Ontario became his house base for the remainder of his profession.
Mr. Hawkins preferred to speak, maybe with some embellishment, about events, brawling, intercourse and ingesting that, as he put it, “Nero would have been ashamed of.” But there was nothing glamorous about being a rock ’n’ roll musician enjoying nonstop in bars and roadhouses on a circuit centered on Ontario, Quebec and U.S. cities like Buffalo, Detroit and Cleveland.
“When I started playing rock ’n’ roll,” he mentioned, “you were two pay grades below a prisoner of war.”
He constructed up a following primarily based on his magnetic stage presence, the proficiency of his bands and the uncooked power of his music. He had modest hits with “Forty Days” — his revised model of Chuck Berry’s “Thirty Days” — and “Mary Lou,” a Top 30 hit on the U.S. charts.
Later profitable recordings embody “Who Do You Love?” and “Hey, Bo Diddley.”
Morris Levy of Mr. Hawkins’s label, Roulette Records, billed him as somebody who “moved better than Elvis, he looked better than Elvis and he sang better than Elvis.” He noticed a vacuum that he thought Mr. Hawkins might fill as the unique rockabilly artists slowed down or flamed out. But Mr. Hawkins was not so positive, as he watched clean-cut teen idols like Frankie Avalon, Fabian and Bobby Rydell take over from their extra rough-hewed progenitors.
To Mr. Levy’s chagrin, Mr. Hawkins opted to personal the highway in Canada moderately than to swing for the fences as a recording star within the U.S., build up a remunerative profession working nonstop, regardless that he by no means constructed a high-profile recording profession. He additionally grew to become often called a one-of-a-kind character and raconteur.
“The Hawk had been to college and could quote Shakespeare when he was in the mood,” Mr. Helm wrote in his autobiography, “This Wheel’s on Fire.” “He was also the most vulgar and outrageous rockabilly character I’ve ever met in my life. He’d say and do anything to shock you.”
Mr. Hawkins was extra than simply the consummate rockabilly highway warrior. In 1969, he hosted John Lennon and Yoko Ono at his ranch outdoors Toronto throughout their world tour to advertise world peace because the Plastic Ono Band. Bob Dylan was a longtime fan who in 1975 solid Mr. Hawkins to play the function of “Bob Dylan” in his experimental and largely panned film “Renaldo and Clara.”
Mr. Hawkins additionally appeared in Martin Scorsese’s 1978 live performance movie “The Last Waltz,” as one of many invited stars who joined the Band within the ultimate efficiency of the unique group at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco on Thanksgiving Day, 1976. (The Band later reunited with out Mr. Robertson.)
Mr. Hawkins growled and hollered his means via a memorable efficiency with the Band of “Who Do You Love,” good-naturedly fanning Mr. Robertson’s guitar along with his cowboy hat as if cooling it off after a particularly torrid solo.
And he grew to become a buddy of his fellow Arkansan Bill Clinton when Mr. Clinton was governor, in addition to a conspicuous a part of the Arkansas entourage throughout President Clinton’s Inaugural in 1992. Mr. Clinton paid tribute to Mr. Hawkins in a 2004 documentary titled “Ronnie Hawkins Still Alive and Kickin’.’’
Mr. Hawkins also acted in a supporting role in Michael Cimino’s critically panned 1980 western “Heaven’s Gate,” and he grew to become a revered elder statesman of Canadian music. He invested correctly, lived like a rustic squire in a sprawling lakefront property and owned a number of companies.
Besides his daughter Leah, survivors embody his spouse, Wanda, and two different kids, Ronnie Jr. and Robin, and 4 grandchildren.
Mr. Hawkins remained a grasp of honing his bad-boy picture and enjoying to sort, together with in his 1989 autobiography, “Last of the Good Ol’ Boys.”
“Ninety percent of what I made went to women, whiskey, drugs and cars,” he mentioned. “I guess I just wasted the other 10 percent.”
Livia Albeck-Ripka contributed reporting.