An Intimate Evening with Ronnie Hawkins
Growing up in the Southern US in the ‘50s, Ronnie Hawkins was at ground zero for the birth of rock and roll but it wasn’t until he came to Hamilton that he’d begin his journey into rock and roll history. Ronnie Hawkins has had a wealth of adventures and escapades but hasn’t played out much as of late, even though the offers keep pouring in. This weekend, a rare live engagement offers a night of storytelling with some of the songs that made the Hawk a house hold name.
Born in Huntsville, Arkansas just two days after Elvis, Hawkins family relocated to Fayetteville and the young Ronnie lived a normal high school life but when he began studying physical education at the University of Arkansas, Hawkins formed his first band. The Hawks became a staple on the Southern US circuit but Hawkins would even run the Rockwood Club, offering a stage for himself and the talent of the day like Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and more. As legend has it, one night Conway Twitty offered Hawkins some sage business advice.
“It was actually Jimmy Ray Palmer who used to work for Conway,” clarifies Hawkins. “He played in a couple of bands then, one of the great rock and roll, rockabilly guitarists in Memphis and he’s the one that told me to head north. I was short on talent but I had good looks and a beautiful body. I learned the camel walk back in 1948 when I was in the eighth grade. I used to do back flips, side flips – I did it all.”
Hamilton promoter Harold Kudlats had booked Twitty and more in a growing Southern Ontario circuit and Hawkins’ good looks and charisma made him poised to be the next Elvis. Hawkins came to Canada in 1958 and ended up in Hamilton. Kudlats remembers the first gig at the corner of King and John Streets at the Golden Rail at Diamond Jim’s whereas Hawkins believes it was at King and James’ the Grange. Whichever now defunct location it was, Hawkins was going to need some help to make it in Hamilton in the form of a local singer songwriter and future Canadian Country Hall of Famer.
“Hamilton was the first spot and we knew we had to go over there,” remembers Hawkins. “But the first time we played Hamilton, there were only seven people in that club and when I started playing, they left. I called up Dallas Harms because he was the only one I knew. I knew Canada was ready for us, even though the radio stations hadn’t really been playing rock and roll. Dallas Harms got forty or fifty people to come out and that club hadn’t had that many people come out on a Tuesday since World War II. So the owner didn’t decide to run us off yet. Wednesday, the club was full and they couldn’t believe it. On Thursday, we had a line up outside and by Saturday we had a line up by 6 o’clock. Thanks to Dallas Harms that old rock and roll went over and it all started in Hamilton.”
With a growing reputation for his live show, after Hamilton Hawkins packed the clubs everywhere around Ontario. Often dubbed the architect of Canadian rock and roll, Hawkins had originally brought the teenaged drummer Levon Helm from the Hawks with him and picked out the best area musicians to back him. He’d set up residency in Toronto on Young Street’s Le Coq Dor and continue honing his band. It was his ability to bring out the best out of musicians that may be his greatest legacy. His backing bands like “the Band” led by Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson, or Kelly Jay and King Biscuit Boy’s Crowbar would gain international notoriety after being mentored by Hawkins.
“I was just playing and trying to have a job,” laughs Hawkins. “There was so much unbelievable talent in Canada. Per capita, it’s got more talent than any other country in the world. The first group I assembled after Levon and Robbie decided to move on was Robbie Lane and the Disciples – and they’re still playing here and there. Kelly Jay [Fordham] was my roadie for a while. A lot of good musicians have come out of Hamilton. King Biscuit Boy [Richard Newell] was a lot better than anybody thought he was. We went to play New York, the Filmore East with Joe Cocker. They saw a future in touring and I didn’t like to travel any more than I had to. They got a lot of airplay after they became Crowbar.”
While the musicians he mentored would often move on, Hawkins became a permanent resident in Canada and a fixture on the national seen. First setting up a home on Mississauga Road, Hawkins would have the world come to him.
“Canada had the nicest clubs I’ve ever seen, it’s close to everything and we finally developed a little following everywhere we went,” offers Hawkins on why he stayed in Canada. “I’d get a lot of visitors. I’ve got a lot of stories to tell about John [Lennon] and Yoko [Ono]. They were something else, I tell you. They were the most popular couple in the world at that time and they wanted to come around and hear some stories. I told them about the old school rock and roll; Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash – all of that stuff I grew up with playing outside of Memphis.”
In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Hawkins’ star would shine bright as an actor and country music star, winning two Junos but after celebrating his sixtieth birthday with a special all star concert back in 1995, Hawkins has spent less time in the spotlight. With more than six decades of music, 25 albums, presidential meetings, Juno and Canadian Country Music awards, and even an honourary Order of Canada bestowed upon him this past July, Hawkins doesn’t have to perform but with his seventy–ninth birthday looming, Hawkins wanted to assemble a few shows and offer some stories to the people, straight from the legend’s mouth.
“It’s getting hard for me to be humble,” Hawkins quips with a smile about receiving the Order of Canada. “I’ve been offered one million dollars to go and play Europe, I think it’s for thirty days. I can’t go, but ain’t that a good job. Chasing them girls all these years has just done worn me out but I still got some stories to tell and we’re getting out there again. This is not like a regular show. This is about telling stories and answering questions and singing a few songs that fit in with the stories. It’s not like a concert with music. I’m doing the songs that made us. “Forty Days” is the first song that got airplay internationally, then we’ll do “Lodi” that won a Grammy, “Home from the Forest” that Gordon Lightfoot wrote, “Suzie Q” that my cousin Dale Hawkins wrote — I’m just doing the songs that people might remember. And yes, I close with Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” because of movie “The Last Waltz” with the Band.
“I know Dallas Harms and Harold Kudlats are still around and living in the Hamilton area,” adds Hawkins. “You know Harold’s got that nephew who’s had a few big movies now. Eugene Levy is pretty big time now. Harold was living with his sister at the time, when I came to Canada. When I visited them, I got to see Eugene and even as a little boy his face looked just like it does now – the big old hairy eyebrows, I tell you it was something else. I’d love to have them come and tell some Harold Kudlats stories. I’m encouraging a whole bunch of people to come out and we’d love to have some special guests like Harold, Eugene, Dallas and that big football player that was loved in Hamilton but hated everywhere else, Angelo Mosca. I’ve got some stories about him. I’m excited to get on stage and get it kicked off again for the Hamilton folk; there are some pretty good stories I still remember and I hope the fans want to hear them.”
An Intimate Evening with Ronnie Hawkins happens this Friday October 4 at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre. Tickets are $40. Click on Ronniehawkinstour2013.
C.R. Avery and the Weber Brothers
C.R. Avery has developed into an internationally acclaimed poet, musician and playwright in no small part to loving life on the road. Over the last fifteen years and as many albums, Avery has infused his blues/folk/hip hop hybrid with a poetry and presentation that many claim to offer but that Avery delivers with impact to whatever sized crowd. He’s gone from a wannabe hitchhiking musician that cut his teeth in Hamilton to a command performer across Canada. This weekend, Avery returns for another one of a kind performance inspired by some of the amazing people that he’s met on his never–ending musical journey.
“You can tell when something’s been written during travel,” muses Avery on his boundless wanderlust. “It’s the reason why a lot of writers move to different cities to work. There is something with being away or being in motion. You can’t play for new people unless you go places. And then you start to fall in love with different aspects of the world; the Broadway in Saskatoon, the cafes in Montreal, the boom of Toronto, the amazing underrated people of Alberta and you end up wanting to return to those places and people.
“When I was living in Hamilton, the story goes that I was on tour with Cadillac Bill when I was 19 or 20, playing harmonica for him,” continues Avery on one particularly legendary Hamilton story. “Tim Gibbons had me opening up for him at Mermaid’s Lounge. I should have cancelled it but I noticed on the tour schedule that there was one date off on the tour that was the same night that I had the show with Tim. So I got up early, hitchhiked back to Hamilton and opened up for Tim that night. Then I hitchhiked back to Ottawa to finish the Cadillac tour. Most people should do that, hitchhiking in their twenties; it’s a good way to meet people.”
“I was in Ottawa last night — when I tour with bands, they always say, ‘you sure do have a lot of hometowns’,” laughs Avery. “Ottawa is my high school years. Hamilton was the year I switched from being a painter to a musician and that was my first scene. You’d go to one place for a punk show and then another for a poetry reading and another for a country band and the Fat Cats and Doug Feaver are rolling around. Hess Village was a lot different then, with live music in every joint with all different styles. Hamilton was where I cut my teeth and every time I play there, I say this is where I came from; this is where I started so it feels good. To think, I once lugged a Fender Rhodes keyboard to a handful of people for a pass–the–hat and then last year I played with the Hamilton Philharmonic.”
With a wealth of CDs, a live DVD and even a new book of poetry, “38 Bar Blues”, Avery has a busy solo touring schedule but was inspired after a chance encounter. The Weber Brothers left their native Arkansas to find Ronnie Hawkins in Canada and now after being mentored by one of their idols have established themselves as a must see live rock and roll tour de force. When Avery and the Weber brothers net, they found kindred spirits and now offer a rare collaboration for Hamilton audiences.
“When musicians see the Weber Brothers play, they go home and practice,” notes Avery. “We happened to both be playing a festival but they had a band cancel so they offered me and the Webers a little more money to fill in the gap and we put together a set with them backing me. We got a standing ovation. We had the same stories; they’re so driven and amazing musicians. I can’t say enough about them. Their tag on Twitter is that some people want to live a rock and roll life style for others rock and roll is a way of life. There are no gimmicks, they want to play and they’re the best.
“I had this solo tour booked but I wanted to see the Weber Brothers play with Ronnie Hawkins on Friday because I have to see the legend that is the Hawk,” adds Avery. “We’re doing Guelph, Toronto and a show in Hamilton together. We have a full–orchestrated two hour set and we’re going to shoot to kill.”
C.R. Avery and the Weber Brothers play this Saturday October 5 at the Pearl Company. Doors are at 7:30 and tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door. Click on cravery.com
Slender Loris’ World Tour
It was only a year ago that we learned of some Cambridge natives that had made Hamilton’s growing music and arts community their home. Kevin Fraser (guitar, vocals), Mike Stec (bass, vocals) and Brent Hocking (drums), became Slender Loris and offered a loud and noisy addition to the local underground scene but with their new collection of songs dubbed “World Tour”, Slender Loris immediately took to the road.
“The idea of using the name "World Tour" to describe our new album for me is to not take ourselves too seriously, while trying to also take ourselves seriously,” notes Stec. “We embarked on a small one and a half week tour through Ontario and Quebec in July. That’s close enough to a world tour in my over–dilated and immature eyes. Touring for me was a lot like my relationship with onions. Sometimes I love how sweet they can be, other times they can make you cry.”
Produced by Robin Aube, “World Tour” amplifies the energy and emotion so important to the Slender Loris live performance and distils it to maximum effect. While the music is their most serious offering to date, the artwork can be deceiving, as it seems to offer an homage to the highway sign that greets people to Hamilton but with a purposeful typo.
“Robin made us sound way better than I could ever have imagined on the new album,” offers Stec. “I think this album is the most complete piece of work I have personally put together in my artistic career. It represents the past three years of my life, lyrically, vocally and sonically.
“Hamilon was used on the album cover first and foremost as a joke,” adds Stec. “We misspelled Hamilton as ‘Hamilon’ once and found it extremely funny for some reason. Since then it’s been the foundation of many puns. I guess on a personal level though, I feel like it accurately represents those moments and occurrences in Hamilton where you feel like you're in the twilight zone, or in another world.”
With tongue firmly planted in cheek for the artwork, Slender Loris are as serious as a heart attack when they perform live and while they might not appeal to an average rock fan, the intensity and energy they bring to the music is infectious enough to warrant more people take note.
“I want basically everyone and their grandma to listen to our album,” says Stec. “It may not be completely accessible for all listeners but if a music listener can find something redeeming about our record – a guitar riff, a vocal, some distorted feedback – it is the motivating factor to why I like to make music and be a part of Slender Loris in the first place. I only really have ever known how to perform in Slender Loris one way, and that is intensely. Usually, My ears pop profusely, I injure myself or Kevin somehow and I feel like having a nap 10 minutes after...so yeah, tons of fun to be had at This Ain't Hollywood on Thursday.” V
Slender Loris plays this Thursday October 3 at This Ain't Hollywood with Sensei and High Kites. Bands start at 9pm and $7 gets you in. Click on facebook.com/slenderlorismusic