Rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins, an early mentor of The Band, has died aged 87.
The news was confirmed by his wife Wanda, revealing that Hawkins died early yesterday morning (May 29). Talking to CBC, Wanda said: “He went peacefully and he looked as handsome as ever.”
Born in Arkansas, Hawkins’ music career kicked off when he moved to Ontario, Canada in the early 1960s, forming his group The Hawks, which featured Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and other members who would go on to perform alongside Bob Dylan and then eventually form The Band, of whom Hawkins was an early mentor.
Leading the tributes to his former bandmate, Robbie Robertson posted a message on Twitter after the news of Hawkins’ death broke, in which he wrote: “My heart sank when I heard “The Hawk” just flew into the sunset. The story of The Band began with Ronnie Hawkins. He was our mentor. He taught us the rules of the road. He was our mentor. He taught us the rules of the road.” Later in the message, Robertson called Hawkins “the godfather” and “the one who made this all happen.”
He added: “Ron prided himself in always having top notch players in his group. Levon Helm his drummer in the Hawks and I talked Ron into hiring Rick Danko on bass and vocals, Richard Manuel on piano and vocals and Garth Hudson on organ and sax. Along with Levon and me this became the magic combination.
“He had us rehearsing constantly into the wee hours,” he added. “We balked about it, but we got better and better. Our goal whether we knew it or not. After the Hawks left Ron and went out on our own, we joined up with Bob Dylan. Next the Hawks became The Band and the rest is history, as they say.”
The message concluded: “He was not only a great artist, a tremendous performer and bandleader, but had a style of humour unequaled. Fall down funny and completely unique. Yep, God only made one of those. And he will live in our hearts forever.”
Rest In Peace, Ronnie Hawkins. pic.twitter.com/X32JQrw0p5
— Robbie Robertson (@r0bbier0berts0n) May 29, 2022
See a number of tributes to Ronnie Hawkins, including from author Margaret Attwood, who called the news “very sad,” below.
Ronnie Hawkins, musician who called Canada home and mentored the Band, dead at 87 https://t.co/ucoqCQ4yL4 Very sad to hear.
— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) May 30, 2022
Very sad to hear that Ronnie Hawkins has passed away…it was virtually impossible ever to find anyone who didn't like Ronnie…I spent some great times with him, listening to his stories and experiences…he could always make you howl with laughter. pic.twitter.com/QEfGSULmVw
— Burton Cummings (@burtoncummings) May 29, 2022
Ronnie Hawkins, the single most important rock and roller in the history of Canada, has passed away at age 87.
The Band, Dale Hawkins, Bob Dylan and thousands of others wouldn't be the same without him.
Music wouldn't be the same.
He will be deeply missed, and thank you, Hawk. pic.twitter.com/R2E28p5bUj
— Eric Alper 🎧 (@ThatEricAlper) May 29, 2022
Ronald “Ronnie” Hawkins passed away today at 87 in Peterborough. Here is a show poster of one of the many “Ronnie and the Hawks” shows at the Concord Tavern on Bloor in the 1960s. Levon Helm would take over for Ronnie shortly after, being known as “Levon and the Hawks”, 1/2 pic.twitter.com/x5A2AY8Grs
— Morgan Cameron Ross 🇺🇦✊ (@Morgan_C_Ross) May 30, 2022
Rest easy, Ronnie Hawkins. pic.twitter.com/BhlshYjVbY
— Canadian Forces in 🇺🇸 (@CAFinUS) May 29, 2022