Robbie Robertson Remembers ‘The Godfather’ Ronnie Hawkins

It’s no exaggeration to say that if Ronnie Hawkins, the rockabilly legend who died Sunday at the age of 87, didn’t exist, this rock music wouldn’t be the same. The Arkansas singer, who spent most of his career in Canada, mentored and collaborated with numerous rock legends, with his band The Hawks providing a breeding ground for the musicians that would eventually become The Band.

On Sunday night, The Band member Robbie Robertson wrote that his “heart sank” as he studied after Hawkins’ death and penned a heartfelt tribute to his early mentor.

My heart sank as I heard The Hawk fly into the sunset.

The Band’s story began with Ronnie Hawkins. He was our mentor. He taught us the traffic rules.

Ronnie Hawkins brought me to the Mississippi Delta from Canada when I was 16. He recorded two songs I wrote and thought I was talented. He tried me on guitar and bass, the only problem was; I’m too young to play the clubs they toured, too inexperienced, not a good musician yet, and there are NO Canadians in southern rock ‘n’ roll bands. But I practiced until my fingers bled and he hired me against all odds.

Ron prided himself on always having top-notch players in his group. Levon Helm – his drummer with the Hawks – and I persuaded Ron to hire Rick Danko on bass and vocals, Richard Manuel on piano and vocals and Garth Hudson on organ and saxophone. Together with Levon and I, this became the magic combination.

Ronnie was the godfather. The one who made it all possible.

He kept us rehearsing until the early hours of the morning. We fought against it, but we got better and better. Our goal, whether we knew it or not.

After the Hawks left Ron and went out on their own, we joined Bob Dylan. Next the Hawks became The Band and the rest is history as they say.

It all started with Ronnie Hawkins.

Not only was he a great artist, performer and bandleader, but he also had an unparalleled sense of humor. Fall down fun and totally unique. Yes, God only made one of them. And he will live in our hearts forever.

My deepest condolences to his family.

Bless his soul. Robbie Robertson Remembers ‘The Godfather’ Ronnie Hawkins

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