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 specify the place he died or 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 legendary roadhouse entertainer based mostly in Canada within the Nineteen Sixties, his music endlessly 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 type the Band, which backed Bob Dylan and have become probably the most admired and influential bands in rock historical past.
But these musicians, like a lot 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 he 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 faculty. His musical training 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 by means of snatches of nation and the minstrel and drugs exhibits that traveled by means of 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 delivered to all that a component of hazard — as a youngster, he had pushed a souped-up Model A Ford working bootleg whiskey from Missouri to the dry counties of Oklahoma, making as a lot as $300 a day.
He put collectively bands, enrolled in and dropped out of the University of Arkansas, joined the Army in 1957 after which give up the identical yr, 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 and normally welcome effort within the segregated South.
Demos he recorded at Sun after he left the Army fell flat, however he and the guitarist on his Sun session, Luke Paulman, put collectively a band with Mr. Hawkins because the athletic frontman given to backflips and handstands. Over the years, his trademark turned the camel stroll, an early model of what turned Michael Jackson’s moonwalk many years 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 was his residence base for the remainder of his profession.
Mr. Hawkins favored to speak, maybe with some embellishment, about common 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 loyal following based mostly on his magnetic stage presence, the proficiency of his bands and the uncooked vitality 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 he thought Mr. Hawkins might fill as the unique rockabilly artists slowed down or flamed out. But Mr. Hawkins was not so certain, 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 street in Canada relatively than to swing for the fences as a recording star within the U.S., increase a remunerative profession working nonstop, despite the fact that he by no means constructed an epic recording profession. He additionally turned 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 street warrior. In 1969, he hosted John Lennon and Yoko Ono at his ranch exterior Toronto throughout their world tour to advertise world peace because the Plastic Ono Band. Bob Dylan was a longtime fan who in 1975 forged Mr. Hawkins to play the position of “Bob Dylan” in his experimental and largely panned film “Renaldo and Clara.”
He 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 last efficiency of the unique group at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco on Thanksgiving Day in 1976. (The Band later reunited with out Mr. Robertson.)
Mr. Hawkins growled and hollered his means by means of a memorable efficiency of “Who Do You Love” with the Band, good-naturedly fanning Mr. Robertson’s guitar along with his cowboy hat as if cooling it off after a particularly torrid solo.
And he turned a pal of his fellow Arkansan Bill Clinton when he was governor, in addition to a conspicuous a part of the Arkansas entourage throughout President Clinton’s Inaugural in 1992. Mr. Clinton additionally paid tribute to Mr. Hawkins in a 2004 documentary titled “Ronnie Hawkins ’Still Alive and Kickin.’’
Mr. Hawkins did other acting, including a supporting role in Michael Cimino’s disastrous 1980 western “Heaven’s Gate,” and he morphed right into a revered elder statesman of Canadian music. He invested properly, lived like a rustic squire in a sprawling lakefront property and owned a number of companies.
Still, he was a grasp of honing his bad-boy picture and enjoying to kind, 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.”
Besides his daughter Leah, survivors embody his spouse, Wanda, and two different youngsters, Ronnie Jr. and Robin, and 4 grandchildren.
Livia Albeck-Ripka contributed reporting.