Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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HAWKINS, Ronnie

(b 10 January 1935) Rockabilly singer and much-loved pioneer, said to be a cousin of Dale Hawkins of 'Suzie-Q' fame. Ronnie led his first lineup of Hawks while a student at the U. of Arkansas, recording for a local label. He backed Carl Perkins and Conway Twitty (claimed to have turned down a chance to record 'It's Only Make Believe' in favour of Twitty) before moving to Memphis and auditioning unsuccessfully for Sun. He made 'Bo Diddley' for the Quality label, sometimes reckoned the first rockabilly record, and went to Toronto, Canada (where he later had a bar, the Hawk's Nest, to fall back on). His 'Mary Lou' was USA no. 26 '59, while others ('Forty Days' etc) were lesser hits.

He recruited a new Hawks lineup of four Canadians and Levon Helm (from Arkansas), playing Canadian clubs and the Eastern seaboard. He famously told them that they would't make much money, but they'd 'get more pussy than Frank Sinatra.' His wailing style was countered perfectly by Robbie Robertson's stabbing guitar; the group purveyed a mixture of Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Larry Williams, and a version of Diddley's 'Who Do You Love' featuring Robertson's almost psychedelic playing. They continued recording for Roulette; Helm emerged as the backing band's featured vocalist during sessions for Mojo Man '64, and led them off on their own: the Hawks met met John Hammond, then Bob Dylan the next year and became The Band.

Hawkins recorded for his own Hawk label, Atlantic (Ronnie Hawkins '70 made at Muscle Shoals was probably his best, including minor hit 'Down In The Alley'), and Monument. He was reunited with The Band in their Last Waltz concert and film on 'Who Do You Love'. He also appeared in the movie Heaven's Gate '81.