By James Calemine
“He was the most vulgar and outrageous rockabilly character I’ve ever met in my life.”
Ronnie Hawkins’ vital Roulette Sessions from 1959-1963 comprises two CDs, Mojo Man and Arkansas Rockpile, which feature various vintage recordings with The Band backing up Hawkins. These 23 songs reveal Hawkins operated as a true pioneer of rockabilly.
As a teenager, Hawkins ran bootleg whiskey from Missouri to dry counties in Oklahoma. He attended the University of Arkansas, and often quoted Shakespeare. Hawkins proved a formidable bandleader. Hawkins played with everyone from Conway Twitty and King Curtis to Duane Allman and The Dixie Flyers.
Bob Dylan lured The Hawks away from Hawkins and the group became The Band. Hawkins met The Band in Canada, where he toured incessantly. These two long-out-of-print releases cull some of Hawkins’ finest sessions and provide a clear insight to how far he was ahead of musical culture at the time.
Mojo Man leans on the blues for support. The title track amazes in its concise structure. Hawkins renders his cousin—Dale Hawkins’—“Suzie Q” with a gritty deliverance. Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox” allowed a glimpse of Robbie Robertson’s later guitar fame. Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Farther Up The Road” proves why Hawkins could light a juke joint with musical fire. Hawkins’ also covers a re-named cover of Muddy Waters’ “She’s Nineteen Years Old”, and Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart”, revealing his deep musical influences during a session in Nashville.
Arkansas Rockpile continues an homage to rock and roll originals such as Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” (featured in the Band’s The Last Waltz), Chuck Berry’s “Thirty Days” as “Forty Days” and Billy Lee Riley’s “My Gal Is Red Hot”. After the Roulette Sessions, Hawkins went on to record with Duane Allman, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and The Dixie Flyers for Atlantic Records.
One cannot ignore the historic musical significance of The Hawk…