My guest this week is the legendary rockabilly singer and bandleader, Ronnie Hawkins. I grew up knowing of Ronnie through his electrifying appearance in The Band's "The Last Waltz" movie, but as I learned more about the history, came to realize his importance as an artist in his own right, but also his abilities as a bandleader and talent scout. Like John Mayall did in the British blues scene, Ronnie could find the best players hidden away in remote corners, nurture them and bring them together like he did for one of the greatest bands ever, The Band (known originally as The Hawks)!
In 1958 Ronnie released his first hit “Hey, Bo Diddley”. This was followed by "Marylou", which turned Hawkins into a teenage idol. Hawkins, an Arkansas native, started touring in Canada, and with an exploding rockabilly and Rock & Roll scene in Toronto and around more rural Ontario, Ronnie decided to stay. In 1959, Morris Levy signed him to Roulette Records for five years and tried to lure him back to the United States but Hawkins had fallen in love with Canada and didn't want to leave his new home. The membership of his band, The Hawks, kept changing as the talent flowed in and out, but the name stayed the same. Aside from The Band, there was another incarnation that became Janis Joplin's Full Tilt Boogie Band, and another Robbie Lane and the Disciples. Other famous Hawk alumni include David Clayton Thomas of Blood Sweat and Tears, actor Beverly D'Angelo, musician Lawrence Gowan, and fellow Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees Burton Cummings and David Foster. It was great to have a chance to hear these stories first-hand, have lots of laughs, and learn new things about a key piece of Rock and Roll history. Enjoy my conversation with Ronnie Hawkins, and please subscribe to the podcast for free on iTunes!