Here is a trivia question for you – what band featured Levon Helm on drums before The Band? It was Ronnie Hawkins’ backup group The Hawks, and when Hawkins moved from Arkansas to Canada, he took Helm with him and replaced the remainder of his band, adding new members who along with Helm would go on to form The Band.
Hawkins was raised in Arkansas where he toured and owned a nightclub. On the advice of Conway Twitty, he took his act to Canada, and the reception was so positive he moved there. Hawkins was highly influential in the early establishment of rock and roll in Canada, and toured extensively throughout North America. Hawkins peaked on the US charts in 1959.
Ronnie Hawkins rockabilly performances earned him the nickname “Mr. Dynamo,” and his influence has been long lived. In 1969, he hosted John and Yoko at his home while they toured on a campaign to promote world peace. In the ’70s, he pulled a young Pat Travers out of an Ontario club and put him in his band – a stepping stone for Travers to a successful career. You can see Ronnie Hawkins featured in The Band’s farewell concert documentary The Last Waltz.
Hawkins won a Juno Award as Canada’s best country artist in 1984 and was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2004.