Rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins, who served as a mentor of The Band, died Sunday, May 29th at the age of 87.
Hawkins’ wife told CBC that her husband passed away following a long illness. “He went peacefully and he looked as handsome as ever,” Wanda Hawkins said.
Though a native of Arkansas, Hawkins experienced the majority of his success after relocating to Canada in the early 1960s. At one point, his band, known as The Hawks, featured Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, and Garth Hudson– who would later go on to form The Band and back Bob Dylan.
“He was our mentor. He taught us the rules of the road,” Robertson wrote of Hawkins in a tribute published to Instagram. Robertson went on to describe Hawkins as “the godfather” and “the one who made this all happen.”
“He had us rehearsing constantly into the wee hours. We balked about it, but we got better and better. Our goal whether we knew it or not,” Robertson added. “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.”
Hawkins appeared in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz, which chronicled The Band’s farewell concert in 1976, and portrayed Bob Dylan in the 1978 film Renaldo And Clara. He later reunited with The Band in 1995 for a concert celebrating Hawkins’ 60th birthday.
Hawkins released a total of 25 albums over the course of his career, and scored a number of hits on the Billboard 100 with covers of Young Jessie’s “Mary Lou,” Bo Diddley’s “Hey Bo Diddley,” and Chuck Berry’s “Thirty Days.” He was also known for his rollicking live performances.
For his contributions, Hawkins was made an Honorary Officer of the Order of Canada, and inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.