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Ronnie Hawkins, Rockabilly Star And Early Mentor To The Band, Has Died At 87

American and Canadian rock legend Ronnie Hawkins, has died at the age of 87 following an illness. The news was confirmed by Hawkins’ wife, Wanda, who told Canadian press that the rocker,  “went peacefully” and “looked as handsome as ever.”

Born in Arkansas in 1935, Hawkins began performing locally in 1953 and, five years later, relocated to Ontario in Canada on the suggestion of Conway Twitty, with Hawkins touring the country, quickly finding success and later becoming a permanent resident.

In 1959, he released his first studio album, a self-titled record for Roulette Records. He had hits with covers of Bo Diddley’s ‘Who Do You Love’ and ‘Hey Bo Diddley’, along with Chuck Berry‘s ‘Thirty Days’ (Hawkins’ reworked version was titled ‘Forty Days’) and Young Jessie’s ‘Mary Lou’.

His backing band, the Hawks, had a rotating lineup that between 1958 and 1963 included drummer Levon Helm, guitarist Robbie Robertson, bassist Rick Danko and keyboardists Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel. That lineup, notably, went on to achieve fame as Bob Dylan‘s backing band, later renaming themselves The Band. Hawkins was one of several guest performers featured during The Band’s farewell concert at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco in 1976 (along with Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz).

“The story of The Band begins with Ronnie Hawkins. He was our mentor. He taught us the rules of the road,” wrote Robertson in a tribute shared to social media.

“Ronnie was the godfather. The one who made all this happen,” Robertson continued. “He was not only a great artist, a tremendous performer and band-leader, but had a style of humor unequaled. Fall down funny and completely unique. Yep, God only made one of those. And he will live in our hearts forever.”

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