How Ronnie Hawkins turned a kid from southwestern Ontario into a rock star

At the age of eight, Simcoe native Terry Danko saw music icon Ronnie Hawkins for the first time at a Port Dover summer park.

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Simcoe – At the age of eight, Simcoe native Terry Danko saw music icon Ronnie Hawkins for the first time at a Port Dover summer park.

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He participated in the show with his older brothers, Rick and Dennis. Danko, 73, recalls, “We were just amazed at this guy. He was very energetic and took the podium.”

Hawkins, who died May 29 at the age of 87, and his backup band, The Hawks, have played at venues in Norfolk and Brant counties and elsewhere in southwestern Ontario throughout his long career. The rockabilly singer moved from Arkansas to Canada early in his career on the advice of country music legend Conway Tweety, settling near Peterborough.

Danko said that Rick and another brother, Jr., had a band called Tin Pan Alley that played in the Simcoe area in the late 1950s. When they saw Hawkins and The Hawks playing, Rick talked about Summer Garden owner Don Ivy for allowing his band to open Hawkins’ doors.

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Ronnie Hawkins
Ronnie Hawkins

Sharing a remembrance from 1960, Danko said that’s how Rick met Hawkins, who was looking for a replacement for the bus operator.

“He wanted to hire my brother, Junior, who had just gotten married. But Ronnie had a rule in his band: No married men. He looked at Rick, who was still young. So, he had to talk to my dad first. Rooney pleaded his case Saying, “I’ll take care of him.”

The Hawks’ lineup included Rick Danko, Robbie Robertson, who was born in Toronto but spent his summers in the Six Nations of the Grand River with his mother’s family, Levon Helm, and Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson, all of whom, in 1964, left Hawkins to form their own group The Band , which will continue to be an international success.

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

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

After a 14-hour day packed with sound checks and a show, Danko said he’d get on the band bus to unwind and Hawkins would say, “Hey, Terry, play me that song you wrote.” It was music 24/7.”

Karen George has fond memories of her youth when she watched Hawkins shows.

George, who served as mayor of Brantford from 1987 to 1991, recalled how, at the age of fifteen, she would join her older sister to see Hawkins play every Sunday night all summer at the Summer Garden.

“We had a cottage in Avalon Park, a few kilometers from Port Dover,” said 74-year-old George.

“When I was growing up, I used to drive my own car,” she said. “You were glued to the stage throughout the performance. It was exciting and there was so much excitement on stage. It made you go.”

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

“I just went backstage, like you can if I were a mayor, and I talked to him and told him how much I really enjoyed it,” she said. “He gave me a copy of his last record, and he signed it for me.”

She said the two remember the summer garden. “He was exactly the same person many years later, and it was interesting to talk to him. He was part of my youth.”

Robbie Robertson mourned the loss of Hawkins in a tribute posted on Twitter that included a black and white photo of the two on stage.

He wrote: “My heart sank when I heard that the ‘falcon’ had just flown at sunset.” The story of the band began with Ronnie Hawkins. He was our teacher. We learned the rules of the road.”

Robertson wrote that he was 16 years old when Hawkins brought him to the Mississippi Delta.

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“He recorded two songs that I had written and thought I might be talented. He tried me on guitar and bass, the only problem was I was too young to play in the clubs they toured, I was inexperienced, I wasn’t a good enough musician yet, no Canadians In southern rock ‘n’ roll. But I trained until my fingers started bleeding and he ended up hiring me against all odds.”

Robertson said Hawkins is proud to have top-tier players at The Hawks.

“Together with me and Levon, this became the magical combination,” Robertson noted. “After The Hawks left Ron and went out on our own, we joined Bob Dylan. Then the Hawks became the band and the rest is history, they say.”

Robertson said it all started with Hawkins. “Ronnie was the Godfather. The one who made all this happen.”

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