The Hawk Still Soaring At 80!

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Submitted by Don Graham

Ronnie Hawkins, Rompin’ Ronnie, The Hawk, turned 80 years old in January of 2015. They wanted to have a big celebration in Toronto but The Hawk was in Florida and didn’t want to back to the ice and snow so it was scheduled for a warmer time of year. The month of May sounded good so it was scheduled for May 8th. The idea was hatched by Zoomer Radio, AM 740 spearheaded by Norm Edwards and Robbie Lane. Robbie of course has a long history with Ronnie having been in his original band.

The event was held at the ZoomerPlex and was broadcast live and hosted by the afore mentioned Norm Edwards and Robbie Lane. The seated audience consisted of winners of an AM 740 contest and the rest of the mingling floor level crowd was made up of industry folks and friends and associates of the Hawk’s. Bernie Feidler, the founder of the Riverboat, Jane Harbury, Larry Leblanc,Pat Silver, Roger Ashby, John Donabie and a host of others.

There were a lot of celebrities and contemporaries there as well, some live, some on video and some on audio tape. Ronnie himself was still in Florida but was on a huge screen and several other smaller screens firing off the one liners like it was 1968. The first question he asked when he appeared live on the screen was “ Is there a line up of girls waitin’on me up there? “ When told there was he said “I thought so”. Ronnie talked about how he got to Canada in the first place. “My friend Harold Jenkins, better known as Conway Twitty, said I should come up to Canada , they loved rockabilly up there. So I went to Hamilton, Ontario and worked at the Golden Rail Tavern . Well we weren’t doin’ so well so I told my buddy you better bring us 10 or 15 people or we’re going to get fired. Well he showed up with about 60 people and it took off from there.” Hawkins became a permanent Canadian resident in 1964.

The Hawk on the Yonge Street Strip Where It All BeganThe Hawk on the Yonge Street Strip Where It All BeganHe was told that old friend Bobby Curtola had made the trip to see him and the Hawk said. “ That Curtola fella was stealin’ all the girls back then and probably still is.” Bobby said what a treat it was to know Ronnie and have partied with him. “After Ronnie’s show there was ALWAYS a party.” Robbie Lane talked about being in Hawkins band and Ronnie would come up to him after the gig to pay him and say “ How would like it? Heads or tails?” David Foster made a video appearance and said “Ronnie Hawkins was a great mentor but he fired me.” Ronnie said “I had to fire him. He tried to add a second chord to Bo Diddley.” Ronnie had said once the David Foster had great ears. “How great were his ears? He could hear an amoeba fart in a typhoon and tell you what key it was in.” Gordon Lightfoot showed up and chatted with Ronnie on the Skype screen. “You were my best teacher, man,” Lightfoot told the Hawk. Hawkins said “Gordon and I would hang out. He was at the Steeles Tavern and I was at The Coq D’Or. Whenever we hung out there was alcohol involved and when there was alcohol involved I liked to make phone calls. One night we ended up back at Gordon’s and I phoned the Attorney General of Arkansas and told him how great Gordon was. Gordon got on the phone and sang him a new song he’d just written, “That’s What You Get For Lovin’ Me”. I recorded three or four Lightfoot songs. “ Then the Skype connection was lost and Gordon said “ He’s talking about “The Old Man Came Home From The Forest”. That was ambitious on Ronnie’s part. That was a folk song but Ronnie added what it needed to get radio airplay. “That’s what we all were trying to do back then, get radio to play us.” Then Lightfoot made his way to the back of the room where I was standing and sat down in front of a mic with a borrowed acoustic guitar and sang a song I’d never heard, I believe it was called “Back To The Wall”. You could hear a pin drop in the packed room. Afterwards in the Green Room I told Gordon I used to see him in Montreal in a little coffee house and he piped right in “The New Penelope!” He is still very sharp.

Songstress Lily Frost performed a cool version of “Bluebirds Over the Mountain” and a young up and comer Sam Taylor (East End Love) did a very original version of Willie and The Handjive. Dan Hill sat down and talked about the influence Ronnie had on him and his music. Lawrence “You Can Call Me Larry” Gowan phoned to send his best to the Hawk. The legendary Keith Hampshire was present as well, sharing his memories of Ronnie. David Wilcox chatted on air reiterating the theme of Ronnie Hawkins influence on his music.

Ronnie chatted about the time in 1969 when John and Yoko stayed with him in Mississauga. John Lennon referred to Ronnie Hawkins as Sir Ronnie. This was during the couple's Peace campaign. John Lennon signed his erotic "Bag One"lithographs during his stay at Hawkins' farm. Lennon also did a radio promo for a Ronnie Hawkins single entitled "Down in the Alley".

Big kudos to Moses Znaimer and the whole crew at Zoomer Radio, Robbie Lane, Norm Edwards, as well as Neil Hedley and Eva Dee..And to the staff at Zoomer Radio for hosting a magnificent afternoon celebration of a true legend, Ronnie Hawkins.

Rock on Ronnie, happy belated birthday and many more.

Watch a clip of the Zoomer Party !