Ronnie Hawkins, ‘godfather’ of Canadian rock ‘n’ roll, dies at 87

Ronnie Hawkins, the American-born musician who became a pioneer of Canadian rock ‘n’ roll, has died. He was 87.

Known affectionately as “Mr. Dynamo,” “Sir Ronnie,” “Rompin’ Ronnie” and “The Hawk,” Hawkins gained recognition for recruiting and developing outstanding Canadian talent.

Known for his colourful, boisterous personality and infectious energy, he mentored many of Canada’s first rock ‘n’ roll bands, including the first to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Hawkins died Sunday morning, his family confirmed to reporters. “He went peacefully and he looked as handsome as ever,” his wife Wanda told the Canadian Press.

Ronnie Hawkins was born in Huntsville, Arkansas, on Jan. 10, 1935. His mother was a teacher, and his father was a barber.

In 1958, he moved to Hamilton, Ont., on the recommendation of Conway Twitty. Hawkins adopted Canada as his new home and became a permanent resident in 1964.

Hawkins toured the Ontario bar circuit in the 1960s, his music rooted in the early rock ‘n’ roll of Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry. He had some success in the studio, with his highest-charting single in the U.S. reaching No. 26. But Hawkins was more widely known for fostering the rock ‘n’ roll musicians who would reach even greater heights.

Much of that talent flowed through Hawkins’ long-running band, The Hawks. One edition featured Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson, Rick Danko, and Levon Helm, who moved on to become Bob Dylan’s backup band and then became superstars as The Band. One of Hawkins’ other backing bands went on to become Janis Joplin’s Full Tilt Boogie Band, and another became Robbie Lane and the Disciples. Other alumni of The Hawks include singer David Clayton-Thomas, actor Beverly D’Angelo, musician Lawrence Gowan, and fellow Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees Burton Cummings and David Foster.

“Ron prided himself in always having top-notch players in his group,” Robbie Robertson wrote Sunday. “Ronnie was the godfather. The one who made this all happen … He was not only a great artist, a tremendous performer and bandleader, but had a style of humor unequaled. Fall down funny and completely unique.”

Hawkins won a Juno Award for country male vocalist of the year. in 1982 He received lifetime achievement awards from the Junos in 1996 and from SOCAN in 2007. Hawkins accepted an honorary appointment as officer of the Order of Canada in 2014.