Ronnie Hawkins, Rockabilly Legend Who Mentored Rock Greats, Dead at 87

Ronnie Hawkins, the Canadian rockabilly singer known as “The Hawk” who mentored the band and played with rock greats, died Sunday morning. He was 87.

“He left peacefully and he looked as good as ever,” Wanda Hawkins, his wife, told the Canadian Press. A cause of death was not immediately available.

Although born in Arkansas, Hawkins has made Canada his home for most of his career and, thanks to his passion for blues music, is considered a formative influence on the development of the country’s rock scene.

Five members of his group The Hawks – Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel – played with Hawkins in the late 1950s and early 1960s before quitting in 1963 and eventually forming The Band a few years later. After Hawkins, Bob Dylan would be the next Hawks lead singer.

“We should thank Ronnie Hawkins for being so instrumental in getting us together and for teaching us the ‘code of the road,'” Robertson said in 1994 during the group’s induction into rock and roll hall of fame

Hawkins famously joined the group in Martin Scorsese’s 1978 classic The last waltz.

Always more a live dynamo than a session musician, Hawkins scored hits with rollicking covers of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?”. and Chuck Berry’s “Thirty Days” (Hawkins titled his cover “Forty Days”).

Unlike many of his musical peers, Hawkins never fully returned to the United States (although he retained his citizenship). His love for his adopted country was one of the cornerstones of his reputation. Hawkins has been the recipient of a number of prestigious Canadian music awards throughout his career, including the 1982 Juno Award for Male Country Singer of the Year and lifetime achievement awards from the Junos (1996) and the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) in 2007.

Perhaps because of his dual citizenship and big personality, Hawkins was a natural at bringing diverse genres and musicians together. As the CBC notes, he’s recorded with everyone from Duane to Allman The lucky hooker author Xaviera Hollander and played Bob Dylan in Dylan’s 1978 flop Renaldo and Clara.

“If the world had more people like Ronnie Hawkins, we would do fewer stupid things to each other, we would hurt fewer people, we would laugh a lot more,” Bill Clinton said in the 2004 documentary Hawkins: Still Alive and Kickin’. “I’ve never met anyone else like him.” Ronnie Hawkins, Rockabilly Legend Who Mentored Rock Greats, Dead at 87

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