The “Mr. Dynamo” Ronnie Hawkins


Introduction to Ronnie Hawkins

Having earned the name “Mr. Dynamo” for his electrifying and raw stage presence, 50s music and 60s music era singer Ronnie Hawkins is an American rockabilly star who has found success and fame in Canada. He was born in Arkansas, USA, in 1935. While he was still a student at the University of Arkansas, Hawkins started a band called The Hawks. He auditioned for Sun Records but was not accepted, and moved to Canada where he found work as well as, eventually, permanent residence. Hawkins really established his presence in Canadian music scene, having formed the rock and roll’s roots there. His first tour there was a sensational success, and that’s where Hawkins earned the title “Mr. Dynamo.”

All members of the Hawks, except drummer Levon Helm, returned to the US. Hawkins hired another group of musicians that stayed with him until the early 1960s when they were signed up as Bob Dylan’s backing band before having a career on their own as The Band. Hawkins received a Juno Award for his work on his LP Making It Again in 1984. He was inducted into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame, given a place on Canada’s Walk of Fame, and now holds the distinction as the seminal force behind rock and roll and rockabilly in Canada. 

Meet Ronnie Hawkins

The legendary rockabilly musician Ronnie Hawkins was born Ronald Hawkins on January 10, 1935 in Huntsville, Arkansas where he also started his music career. Hawkins attended the University of Arkansas where he formed The Hawks. With his first band, Hawkins had already toured all over Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri. Around that time, he was also running Rockwood Club, a music lounge located in Fayetville where some of the pioneers of rock and roll performed during that time. He auditioned for Sun Records but was unsuccessful.

In 1958, Hawkins was advised by Conway Twitty to go solo. He started touring Canada where he also relocated in the future. His first gig happened at the Golden Rail Tavern in Hamilton, Ontario. There, he experienced overnight success. His single 1959, “Mary Lou,” went to #26 on  the Billboard Hot 100 and became his only Top 40 US single. In 1964, he resided permanently in Peterborough, Ontario.

Career after The Hawks

During that time, The Hawks were dissolving. Most of the original members left except for drummer Levon Helm. The abandoned slots, on the other hand, were filled by Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson, all coming from Southwestern Ontario. Nonetheless, Helm and the newly-recruited members left Hawkins and formed The Band in 1964.

Hawkins was able to host the Peace campaign in December 1969. It was led by the couple John Lennon and Yoko Ono, taking place at his home in Mississauga, Ontario. During Lennon’s stay at his farm, the two became close. Lennon even made him a radio promo for his single called “Down in the Alley.” It reached #75 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1970.

Around early 1970’s, Hawkins recruited guitarist Pat Travers to join his band after he was spotted at some Ontario nightclubs. Later, Traver’s recording career became successful and he was dubbed as one known of the 70’s hard rock’s most influential guitarists. Hawkins also appeared in 1975’s Renaldo and Clara where he was picked by Bob Dylan to play as himself –as Bob Dylan. A year after, he was invited to play to The Band’s Thanksgiving Day farewell concert. The concert was documented in the 1978 film The Last Waltz. 

Hawkins in the 1980’s and beyond

In 1980’s, Hawkins also entered acting career where he became quite successful, appearing in movies such as Heaven’s Gate (1980) and Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987). In 1984, Hawkins issued an LP called Making It Again which earned him a Juno Award as Canada’s Best Male Vocalist.

Celebrting Hawkins’ 60th birthday, a concert was held at Massey Hall in Toronto on January 8, 1995. Several artists performed along with him including Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Larry Gowan, Jeff Healy and The Band. At that night, all the musicians who played were collectively called “The Rock ‘N’ Roll Orchestra.

In recognition of his contribution to the music business, the city of Toronto declared the date October 4 as “Ronnie Hawkins Day” in 2002. It was also the day that he was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame. On March 4, 2004, he achieved another induction given by the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame at the Canadian Music Industry Awards and it was recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

Hawkins has been battling pancreatic cancer in his recent years, and this ordeal was also featured in the film Ronnie Hawkins: Still Alive and Kicking. Later, the Laurentian University awarded Hawkins an honorary degree in 2005.

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