Interview: Ronnie Hawkins

Ronnie Hawkins

(1996) Rock star, movie star, TV personality, guru, teacher, father, husband, diplomat, bad boy. These are all words one could use to described the exceptional personality that is Ronnie Hawkins. The man has appeared with everyone from Dick Clark to Bill Clinton, Carl Perkins to Bob Dylan, even John Lennon wanted to meet him and made the trek to Ronnie’s.The history is too great to do it justice here….. Ronnie is currently wrapping up the final tracks of his new cd, the first in a number of years. The recording includes a who’s who of the Canadian music scene. When everyone heard that he was making this record, he had interest and finally participation from the likes of Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm to Johnny Fay of The Tragically Hip, Basil Donovon of Blue Rodeo, Amy Sky and rock legend Greg Godovitz. He’ll be appearing at The Havelock Jamboree August 20 and the Peterborough Festival of Lights on the 29th. I caught up with Ronnie on the phone. Unlike most of my interviews, this one had to be censored a bit. I spoke with Canada’s real bad boy of rock and roll, from his home on Stoney Lake…

Mb: I hear there are all sorts of exciting things happening these days. 
Ronnie: Not bad for an old worn out booger. Pretty exciting for me, anyway.
Mb: I just saw the CBC feature they did on you a while back…
Ronnie: Yeah, and they’re coming up with one… Actually I’m filming this week with Robbie Robertson for two or three days. His documentary… it appears they are going to have a segment, like “Life & Times”, which is what I did, but they’re doing more with him, because they’re filming everywhere, they’re going to do a VH1 and other stuff at the same time.
Mb: And what about your new record? Have you been filming the making of it? 
Ronnie: We have footage of everybody doing everything. Levon (Helm) and Robbie (Robertson) are playing together, but not at the same time. (Laughs) Robbie thinks it’s great, but Levon may never talk to me again! I don’t care. It’s time they got back together. This is the new millennium. Love and forgive and forget your troubles. We’re going to have enough troubles these days. So let’s have some fun before it’s too late.
Mb: And how is this new record going? 
Ronnie: Let me tell you my opinion, and it’s only my opinion. But it’s what I like, which means it won’t sell nothing. (Laughs) But you know the old rockers they like everything on it.
Mb: I’ve heard that Big Sugar’s Gordie Johnson is on it and….
Ronnie: We’ve got the old boys and the new boys. Levon drove up from Woodstock New York and met us at Kingston at the Tragically Hip studio. They’re a nice bunch of young rockers, you know. We used their studio and some of them played on the record. The good looking strong kid that plays drums for the Tragically Hip… He’s good. It worked out great. Everyone mixed and Levon kicked off on one written by Jessie Winchester. See these are all supposed to be big time musicians and they’re ex-hawks, and they’re all big time producers….
Mb: Your CBC documentary also touched on the fact that as a musician you decided to stay close to home, and not put the extra stress level on your family… 
Ronnie: I only know cause I’ve seen it happen so many times myself. Young musician, young wife… They have a baby. Well gosh, the stress on that new musician, he can no longer… Course it’s bad the other way. That’s the bad part about it, with the kid suffering, so…. But you know how music is. It’s all dreams… Not too many facts. Not too many actualities. That’s what keeps you going is dreaming. That’s the problem so I said “Man, if I ever get married…” I wasn’t going to get married, as long as I was in music, for a while. And then you get a little older and you’re not nearly as smart as you were when you were younger. You think “If I’m going to have a family then I’m going to have to make some decisions.” It’s tough. So I made the tough one and just stayed in the area for 30 years.
Mb: And done well anyway… 
Ronnie: Well, survived. I made as much as a plumber or a good electrician.
Mb: Though they’re lying under sinks and you’re…
Ronnie: And I got a pretty lady lying under me. I’d much rather have it my way, to tell you the truth. (Laughs)
Mb: What about the FarmAid deal? How did that go? 
Ronnie: Great, I did the FarmAid thing because of the politicians. I don’t want to do too many of those shows when I don’t know what company it is in behind it. There’s not enough going to the farmers and too much administration. You need to reverse that. I have played every benefit that I was ever asked to, for forty years. Then I woke up and thought “Wait a minute. Where is this money going.” You’ve got to give to get. I did those things so my karma would be better. So your life would be better.
Mb: And speaking of “closer to home” you’re playing the Havelock Jamboree.
Ronnie: That’s going to be fun down there. Where else can a whole family get in for the same cost as one ticket to see the Rolling Stones? I remember, that’s a way back, but I just loved doing that. Going in… picnic…… 3 or 4 girl friends and boyfriends and a little campfire… Try to roast your weenie and then try to dip your weenie. (Laughs)
Mb: It’s a different world now, Ronnie. Now, guys worry about that.