By Lachman Balani
TORONTO: It was total nirvana at the Festival of Friends in Ancaster, Ontario, on August 9 when rock legend Ronnie Hawkins – he was popular in India in the 60s – came on stage dressed to the hilt in a tuxedo complete with bow-tie and broke into his song ‘Sick and Tired’.
“Man, is this for real? A rock king all dressed up to kill?’ exclaimed questioningly a very dressed down fan.
No matter the garb, this rock icon really socked it to the crowd punctuating his songs with anecdotes from the past.
Ronnie Hawkins is originally from Arkansas in the US and on the insistence of a friend came to Canada to seek his fortune. At his very first gig in the late 50s in Canada, he chuckled to the audience, “Only nine people were present and all left after our first song. However, another friend of mine promised to bus down 60 people for the next gig and sure enough 60 people showed up and that was the biggest crowd that club had seen since World War II!”
The rest is history as over the years Ronnie gained recognition for recruiting and grooming outstanding Canadian talent. The membership of his band, The Hawks, kept changing as the talent flowed in and out, but the name stayed the same.
One edition of The Hawks (with Canadians Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson, Rick Danko, and drummer Levon Helm) moved on to become Bob Dylan’s backup band and later achieved super-stardom as The Band, who were one of the 3 bands that played at America’s largest concert, Summer Jam, in 1973 at Watkins Glen, New York.
Another incarnation became Janis Joplin’s Full Tilt Boogie Band, and another Robbie Lane and the Disciples. Other famous Hawk alumni include David Clayton Thomas of Blood Sweat and Tears and fellow Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Burton Cummings (of The Guess Who). There are innumerable more. It is said that former POTUS Bill Clinton’s (also from Arkansas) favourite musician was Ronnie Hawkins and he did indeed make reference to “my friend Bill Clinton.”
Ronnie and his ultra talented band (still called The Hawks) continued regaling the crowd with many timeless favourites, including ‘Mary Lou’ (that shot Ronnie to stardom originally), ‘Days Gone By’, ‘Forty Days’ and also including songs from Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, John Fogerty and The Band’s all time favourite , ‘The Weight’, with the storied lyrics ‘you put the load right on me…’
At one point of the concert, the festival pulled a surprise as another great Canadian legend, billed internationally as Canada’s greatest songwriter, Gordon Lightfoot, came up on stage briefly to join Canada’s greatest rock mentor, Ronnie.
“Man, you think we can get a better moment than this!?! Two Canadian granddaddies on one stage!!!” a fan burst out.
Well, the real über moment came when Ronnie and his band came out for an encore and treated the enthusiastic crowd to an overwhelming rendition of one of the greatest rock anthems of all time -‘Who Do You Love?’ The crowd went wild and joined in singing and dancing like nobody was watching.
This was it! Ronnie and The Hawks brought down the night shrouded skies with that one!