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The Band’s guitarist-songwriter Robbie Robertson mourned the loss of his mentor Ronnie Hawkins, who died on Sunday at the age of 87, in a moving tribute shared online.
In a statement posted to social media, Robertson wrote, “My heart sank when I heard “The Hawk” just flew into the sunset.
“The story of The Band began with Ronnie Hawkins. He was our mentor. He taught us the rules of the road.”
Hawkins, who lived in Canada for much of his career, had battled a long illness, his wife told the Canadian Press.
The Arkansas Rockabilly singer had worked with numerous rock legends, including discovering the talents of musicians that would eventually form the supergroup The Band.
“Ronnie Hawkins brought me down from Canada to the Mississippi Delta when I was 16,” Robertson recalled.
“He recorded two songs I’d written and thought I might be talented. He tried me out on guitar and bass the only problem was; I’m too young to play in the clubs they toured, I was too inexperienced, not a good enough musician yet, and there are NO Canadians in southern rock and roll bands. But I practiced until my fingers were bleeding and he ended up hiring me against all odds.”
Noting that rocker only sought out the best players for his band, The Hawks, Robertson recalled how Hawkins brought members of The Band together.
“Levon Helm, his drummer in the Hawks, and I talked Ron into hiring Rick Danko on bass and vocals, Richard Manuel on piano and vocals, and Garth Hudson on organ and sax. Along with Levon and me this became the magic combination.
“Ronnie was the godfather. The one who made this all happen.”
Robertson’s statement goes on to say:
“He had us rehearsing constantly into the wee hours. We balked about it, but we got better and better. Our goal whether we knew it or not.
“After the Hawks left Ron and went out on our own, we joined up with Bob Dylan. Next the Hawks became The Band and the rest is history, as they say.
“All starting out with Ronnie Hawkins.
“He was not only a great artist, a tremendous performer and bandleader, but had a style of humor unequalled. Fall down funny and completely unique. Yep, God only made one of those. And he will live in our hearts forever,” Robertson wrote.
“My deepest condolences to his family.
“Bless his soul.”