Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ronnie Hawkins: From Rockabilly Roots to The Band

Living in Arkansas gives impetus to curiosity about musicians who originate here. A bit of precursory research reveals that the state has a very rich musical heritage, representing blues, soul, country and rockabilly. For knowing that Louis Jordan, Roosevelt Sykes, Robert Lockwood, Jimmy Witherspoon, Robert Nighthawk, Junior Wells, Junior Walker, Sonny Burgess and Billy Lee Riley were born here brings certain solace, as does knowing that National Public Radio Commentator Andrei Codrescu lives just over the hills from me in Yellville. I have these facts more than ready when I hear sniping condescension from friends about the state I now call home.

Another part of Arkansas' musical heritage can be found in the work of Ronnie Hawkins. Hawkins is the cousin of Dale Hawkins, who made a name for himself with the classic and oft covered 1957 hit "Suzie Q," which he co-wrote with James Burton, known for his guitar work with Ricky Nelson. Ronnie Hawkins also made a name for himself during the early rockabilly years with his group The Hawks and their 1959 release of "Forty Days" on the Roulette Label. He followed up his first hit the same year with a cover, his rockabilly version of "Mary Lou," and old R&B standard.

Hawkins eventually moved to Canada in the 1960's after his group The Hawks disbanded in the mid 1960's. Interestingly, The Hawks get back together again in 1967 with a new name, The Band, but without Ronnie Hawkins. The group's relationship with Bob Dylan is well known and will not be covered here.

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