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Rocker Ronnie Hawkins dies aged 87, boss of Canadian rock

Ronnie Hawkins, the brash Arkansas rock star who became the patron of the Canadian music scene after moving north and recruiting a handful of local musicians, later known as the Band, has died.

His wife, Wanda, confirmed to The Canadian Press that Hawkins died Sunday morning after an illness. He was 87 years old.

“He went peacefully and looked handsome as ever,” he said over the phone.

Born just two days after Elvis Presley, Huntsville’s native friends “The Hawk” (who also nicknamed himself “The King of Rockabilly” and “Mr. Dynamo”) was a stocky hell-breeder with a large jaw.

He had minor hits in the 1950s with “Mary Lou” and “Odessa,” and ran a club in Fayetteville, Arkansas that included early rock stars like Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Conway Twitty.

“Hawkins was the only man who could make a beautiful and sexy song like ‘My Gal is Red Hot’,” Greil Marcus wrote in his critically acclaimed book about music and American culture, “Mystery Train,” and added: “The Gal is Red Hot Hawk.” It has been claimed that he “knew more back roads, back rooms, and backsides than any man, from Newark to Mexicali.”

Hawkins didn’t have the skills of Presley or Perkins, but he had ambition and an eye for talent.

He first performed in Canada in the late ’50s and realized that he would stand out much more in a country where his homegrown rock hardly existed. Canadian musicians had frequently moved to the United States to advance their careers, but Hawkins was the rare American to try the opposite.

Hawkins formed a Canadian backing band with drummer and friend Arkansan Levon Helm, guitarist-songwriter Robbie Robertson, keyboardists Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel, and bassist Rick Danko. Educated at Hawkins rock school, they became Hawks.

Robertson told Rolling Stone in 1978: “When the music got a little too far in Ronnie’s ear, or he couldn’t tell when he’d come to sing, he would tell us that no one but Thelonious Monk could tell what we were playing. But the great thing about him was “He gave us a lot of rehearsal and practice. We would usually play until 1am and then rehearse until 4am.”

Between 1961 and 1963, Robertson and his friends supported Hawkins, performing loudly in Canada, and recording a howling cover of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” that became one of Hawkins’ signature songs.

But Hawkins wasn’t selling a lot of records, and the Hawks outpaced their leader. They formed a relationship with Bob Dylan in the mid-60s, and by the end of the decade they were superstars in their own right, renaming themselves The Band.

Meanwhile, Hawkins settled in Peterborough, Ontario, where he had top 40 singles, including “Bluebirds on the Mountain” and “Down in the Alley.”

He admittedly couldn’t keep up with the latest voices – he was horrified when he first heard Canadian Neil Young – but in the late 1960s he became friends with John Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono. While visiting Canada, Hawkins and his wife stayed with Wanda and their three children.

“At the time, I thought I was doing them a favor,” he later told the National Post. “I thought the Beatles were a lucky British band. I didn’t know much about their music. I thought Yoko was (stupid) I’ve never listened to a Beatle album until now. I couldn’t name a single song on ‘Abbey Road’ for $10 billion. Never in my life have I picked up a Beatle album and listened to it. Never. But John was too strong. I liked him. You know, he wasn’t one of those hot people.”

Hawkins was also in touch with the Marching Band and was among the guests of the all-star farewell concert in 1976, which formed the basis for Martin Scorsese’s documentary “The Last Waltz.”

For a few moments, Stetson was back on duty, grinning and stealing under his hat, calling his former subordinates “big time, big time” to those who smashed “Who You Love”.

Alongside “The Last Waltz,” Hawkins also starred in Dylan’s “Renaldo and Clara,” the big-budget fiasco “Heaven’s Gate” and “Hello Mary Lou.” “Alive and Kickin,” a 2007 documentary about Hawkins, narrated by Dan Aykroyd and featured a cameo from another famous Arkansan native, Bill Clinton.

Hawkins’ albums included “Ronnie Hawkins”, “The Hawk”, and Helm and Robertson’s 2001 “Can’t Stop Rockin”, “Blue Moon in My Sign” featuring the same song. Helm and Robertson no longer spoke as they couldn’t get along after “The Last Waltz” and recorded their contributions at separate studios.

Over time, Hawkins mentored numerous young Canadian musicians who went on to pursue successful careers, including guitarist Pat Travers and future Janis Joplin guitarist John Till.

He received many honors from the country he received and in 2013 was elected a member of the Order of Canada “for his contribution to the development of the music industry in Canada, as a rock and roll musician and for his support. charitable causes.”

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