Culture

When the Biggest Music Legend You've Never Heard of Decides to Downsize

Ronnie-Hawkins1
If those walls could only talk.

Except, in their own way, this time they can, and do.

The walls of Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins’ cottage-country house are decked with awards, gold records and, especially, photos of “the Hawk” himself with the many far more famous rockers he’s collaborated with and mentored for more than a half-century.

Over the years, Hawkins 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 superstardom as The Band.

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, actor Beverly D’Angelo, musician Lawrence Gowan, and fellow Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees Burton Cummings and David Foster.

He may even have invented the moonwalk.

(Oh, and that’s Levon Helm on drums.)

Ronnie Hawkins was born in Arkansas, but Conway Twitty told the young “Hawk” that Canada was “the promised land for a rock and roll singer.”

Twitty stuck to country and the U.S.A., but Hawkins took his pal’s words to heart.

He came up to my hometown of Hamilton, Ontario in 1958, to play a gig at The Grange, and never really left, even after his first big hit, “Hey, Bo Diddley,” brought every eager music producer, agent and business manager out of the American woodwork.

Although he retains his U.S. citizenship, Hawkins became a permanent Canadian resident in 1964.

Among many other awards, “the Hawk” became an honorary recipient of Canada’s highest civilian honor — the Order of Canada — last month.

Ronnie Hawkins has called a 165-acre rugged, waterfront retreat in Stoney Lake, Ontario home for decades.

The scene of countless all-star get-togethers, it’s the picturesque place where Gordon Lightfoot wrote “Sundown.”

Now, Hawkins, nearing 79 years of age, is putting the nine-bedroom house and all that land on the market, for almost CND$15 million.

Reluctantly.

His wife wants to be closer to shopping — and doctors.

He’ll take his memories with him, but Ronnie will miss the view:

Hawkstone Manor, where [he and his wife] Wanda moved 42 years ago and raised their three children, has always been the singer’s safe haven from the rigours of the road, an escape from the crowds.

Hawkins delights now in watching what he calls the “Mutual of Omaha” scenes play out from his westerly facing hilltop perch almost daily — the foxes, the diving hawks, the occasional herd of deer.

He marvels at how the clouds and setting sun can transform the lake into a Renaissance painting.

“When I was young, I didn’t notice anything, other than girls,” Hawkins says with his trademark smile.

“But as you get older, you notice a few other wonderful things out there . . . I spend a lot of time watching them now.”