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Ronnie Hawkins, Rockabilly Great and Mentor of The Band, Dies at 87

His wife Wanda told CBC that he "went peacefully and he looked as handsome as ever"
Ronnie Hawkins
(Credit: Bettman/Getty Images)

Ronnie Hawkins, the rockabilly musician who would serve as a mentor to The Band, has died at the age of 87. Hawkins’ wife Wanda confirmed the news to The Canadian Press (via the CBC).

“He went peacefully and he looked as handsome as ever,” she said.

Born in Huntsville, Arkansas on January 10, 1935, Hawkins started playing music in local bars when he was 18. He’d go on to form The Hawks, which would eventually include fellow Arkansas musician Levon Helm. On the recommendation of Conway Twitty, Hawkins would relocate to Hamilton, Ontario at the beginning of the 1960s. As a solo artist, Hawkins would go on to have a number of hits like “Hey, Bo Diddley,” and covers of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?” and Chuck Berry’s “Thirty Days.”

The Hawks, who would leave Hawkins in 1964, would include Helm and Canadian musicians Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson. They ended up being Bob Dylan’s backing band during his legendary 1966 tour, and would eventually drop The Hawks name to become The Band.

In 1975, Dylan cast Hawkins to play a fictional version of Bob Dylan in Renaldo and Clara. Hawkins would play with The Band at their final show on Thanksgiving 1976 in San Francisco, which was chronicled in Martin Scorsese’s 1978 documentary The Last Waltz.

Hawkins’ final album Still Cruisin’ was released in 2002.