Remembering Music Legend Ronnie Hawkins

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Karen George has fond memories of her youth seeing the performances of music icon Ronnie Hawkins, who died on May 29 at the age of 87.

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George, who was mayor of Brantford from 1987 to 1991, recalled how, at 15, she would join her older sister to see Hawkins play every Sunday night in the summer at the Port Dover Summer Gardens.

“We had a cabin in Avalon Park, a few miles from Port Dover,” said George, 74.

“When I was older, I used to drive myself,” she said. “I was glued to the stage the whole performance. He was exciting and there was a lot of action on stage. He kept you going.

George also remembers seeing Hawkins perform at the Sanderson Center in Brantford in the late 1980s.

“I went backstage, like you might if you were mayor, and I got to talk to him and tell him how much I really appreciate him,” she said. “He gave me a copy of his latest record and signed it for me.”

She said the two remembered the summer gardens.

“He was absolutely the same person many years later, and just as interesting to talk to. He was part of my youth.

Hawkins and his backup band, The Hawks, played venues in Brant and Norfolk counties throughout his decades-long career. The Rockabilly singer from Arkansas had moved to Canada early in his career on the advice of country music legend Conway Twitty

Simcoe native Terry Danko first saw Hawkins at the Summer Gardens when he was eight years old. He attended the show with his older brothers, Rick and Dennis.

“We were just amazed by this guy,” Danko, 73, said. “He was so energetic and took over the stage.”

Danko said Rick and another brother, Junior, had a band called Tin Pan Alley playing in the Simcoe area in the late 1950s.

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When they saw Hawkins and The Hawks perform, Rick convinced Summer Gardens owner Don Ivey to let his band open for Hawkins.

Sharing a memory from 1960, Danko said that’s how Rick met Hawkins, who was looking for a replacement bass player.

“He wanted to hire my brother Junior, who had just gotten married. But Ronnie had one rule in his band: no married guys. He looked at Rick, who was still young. So he had to talk to my parents first. Ronnie pleaded his case saying, “I’ll take care of him.”

The Hawks roster included Rick Danko, Robbie Robertson, who was born in Toronto but spent his childhood summers living on the Six Nations of the Grand River with his mother’s family, Levon Helm, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson, who in 1964 left Hawkins to form their own band called The Band.

Terry Danko, who also played bass, played for Hawkins, on and off, for about 15 years.

“He was a guy who loved music, musicians and performing on and off stage,” Danko recalled.

After a 14-hour day filled with soundchecks and a show, Danko said he’d get on the band bus to relax and Hawkins would say, “Hey, Terry, play me that song you wrote .

“He was music 24/7.”

Robertson mourned the loss of Hawkins in a tribute posted to Twitter that included a black-and-white photo of the two onstage.

“My heart sank when I heard ‘The Hawk’ fly off into the sunset,” he wrote. “The Band’s story began with Ronnie Hawkins. He was our mentor. He taught us the rules of the road.

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Robertson said he was 16 when Hawkins brought him to the Mississippi Delta.

“He recorded two songs that I had written and he thought I would have talent. He tried me on guitar and bass, the only problem was that I was too young to play in the clubs they visited, I was too inexperienced, not yet a good enough musician, and there a NO Canadians in southern rock and roll bands. But I practiced until my fingers bled and he ended up hiring me against all odds.

Robertson said Hawkins is proud to have top-notch players in The Hawks.

“With Levon and me, it became the magic combination,” Robertson noted. “After the Hawks left Ron and went out on their own, we joined Bob Dylan. Then the Hawks became The Band and the rest is history, as they say.

Robertson said it all started with Hawkins.

“Ronnie was the godfather. The one who made it all possible. »

Robertson described Hawkins as “not only a great entertainer, terrific performer, and bandleader, but he had an unrivaled style of humor.

“Yes, God made only one. And he will live in our hearts forever. Bless his soul.

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