Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks-The Best of Ronnie Hawkins 1964 LP

by | Feb 15, 2014 | 3 comments

Spinning the ‘rock room’ today is a sturdy pillar supporting the
cathedral that is rock and roll history. The album Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks: The Best of Ronnie Hawkins was released
courtesy of Roulette Records in 1964. The mono LP not only features Hawkins performing with his
usual rock and roll renegade sensibilities, but also broadcasts the talents and abilities
of Levon Helm, Rick Danko, and Robbie Robertson (The Band) on all tracks, as
well as appearances by Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and King Curtis.


The sides Hawkins was cutting during this period would
influence a host of famed rockers John Lennon and Bob Dylan included. Hawkins albums
always contained the hottest shit musicians and a no frills ‘in the gutter’
approach. Dylan would eventually take Hawkins former band for his own to help
disseminate his ‘thin wild mercury music’ on the legendary 1965-66 tour. When
the needle drops on this record, there is little doubt on whom the best rock
and roll band in the land was. Say what you will, but the guys in the Hawks
were playing at a level that few bands ever reach. The proof is in the
recordings, this particular disc directly pointing to the eventual musical pinnacles
reached with Dylan in 1966 and soon after that the sacred heights scaled as the Band.

The LP opens on a snare shot and the group is off and shredding, glowing in
a sizzling glossy black. Robertson’s slightly static guitar pumps ‘Bo Diddley’ full of a metallic scrubbing sound,
a sound alien to this era, the ‘Diddley’ beat now modernized and super charged. Hawkins swamp hollers, or more appropriately,
huffs out Canadian wind storm screams, waiting for the resounding echoes from the backing
peanut gallery. Sexy and sultry, the opening ‘Bo Diddley’ smells of Canadian
whiskey, stale cigarettes, loose ladies and the funky clubs of Young street in
downtown Toronto in the early 60’s. The deep tree lined grooves played by Helm
and Danko and developed here foreshadow their future deep running and powerful roots. Swelling ‘rave ups’ separate the galloping drums verses and amphetamine
piano slapping contributed by Richard Manuel.

‘Come Love’ is a sultry swing, Hawkins vocals are punctuated by Robertson’s sharp edged paper cut Stratocaster. Robertson’s first solo a tasteful yet twang exploration of
the blues groove, his tone a silver arrow chilled by the Northern winds.
Staying on the subject of grooves, ‘Honey Love’ in contrast, is a product of
the time, a lighthearted Latin flavored ditty, highlighted by Helm’s
roly-poly island tom-tom’s and Danko’s animated and thumping lines.

‘High Blood Pressure’ is as tight as a shrunken sweater.
Hawkin’s sounds way laid back for
this vocal performance. The entire ‘future’ Band is also featured on this
recording with all five members accounted for. You can tell because the groove
shakes likes the leaves on the trees and the feel is the undeniable Band
(Hawks) rhythm section and dual keyboard/piano attack. Mr. Hudson starts to go impressionistic with his introductory solo
enveloping the group with his individualized sonic pallet.

Creeping along on a blue piano, ‘Arkansas’ rolls down dusty
roads, name checking women and locations while reminiscing about his favorite
lady. A moody and original song instrumentally, again, Helm’s drums injecting
the song with its danceability and its swing. Garth Hudson also drizzles musical honey all over this
track.

The following song ‘Boss Man’, contains the entire future
Band contributing once again. Garth Hudson’s fat organ swirls along in windy time
with the sly swing of the group. The finger snapping workers lament is made
convincing by the low key shadowy strut, even the humorous ‘huh huh’ backing
vocals add to the enjoyment. Good stuff.

Side two opens with a
violent and shattering event, the musical impact of‘Who Do You Love’ is immediate. The
song streaks out and grabs the listener emphatically by the shirt asking the question, ‘Who
Do You Love?’ Danko’s bass loops and loaps, jumping from the speakers then retreating
like a wack-a-mole game. This was the Hawks signature song and it shows, there
is a levitating delicacy to their aggressiveness. Suddenly, they quickly turn a hard corner and
kill an ant with a hammer. The mid section builds rising on Hawkins ascending
guttural screams, then excitedly bursts at the seams, revealing pounding black and
whites, droning bass, and Robertson standing baby faced, scorching eyebrows with the frictioned heat from his guitar statements. This definitive track belongs on any hypothetical
list or discussion regarding ‘rock and roll’s’ foundational songs, or important
musical moments. Must have


‘I Feel Good’ bounds in on a rockabilly groove, buoyed by
Helms dependable beats. King Curtis takes the first solo with a celebratory
investigation of the melody. To my ears this song is in the style that the members
of the group were starting to rebel from, less of the pop, more of the ‘R and B’
and violent raucous rock. In the context of the LP it sounds good and lends diversity
to the record as well as showing off the multiple talents of the Hawks.

One of my personal favorite songs on the LP is the version
of ‘Searchin’ that Hawkins pulls out, the bluesy shuffle accentuated by possibly
the dirtiest guitar you will hear on a recording from 1961 (when this number
was recorded). Robertson peels prickly sections of sound from his guitar that positively moan…. this is serious stuff here. Helm and Danko sit back locked in a stone thrown
across water cadence, over which Hawkins raps the syncopated tale.

The final song that features all five members of the Band as
Hawks is ‘Mojo Man’. ‘Mojo’ bops along on Danko’s percolating bass line and
features a golden Curtis saxophone solo foreshadowing the future Band’s own wailing
horn section additions during their own career. Another irresistible pulse is
donated by the group making obvious that the potential in the ‘band’ is surpassing  the principal and namesake.

The LP comes to a close with two numbers that showcase
Hawkins voice, the first displaying his ‘Elvis’ falsetto’ upsing’. ‘Sexy Ways’
lets Hawkins get the girls worked into tizzy with his creamy smooth singing of
various compliments over the churning rock rhythm. The tune has some big female
backing vocals and a nice sax solo, but it fades out just as Robertson gets a
chance to juice it up! In my opinion the weakest song on the record, but hey
someone may love it!

The album concludes on the slow burn of ‘You Know I Love You’
with Robertson making up for a missed opportunity on the previous song with a sharp
and unique opening riff that slides in sensually. The lick is absolutely shiver
inducing in conjunction with the silvery bell chimes on Helm’s drum kit.
Hawkins swings like a slightly inebriated playboy, Mr. Dynamo charming the
ladies right out of their skirts, even though they ‘don’t even know his name’.

1964’s Ronnie Hawkins
and the Hawks: The Best of Ronnie Hawkins
LP finds one of ‘rock’s’ finest showman during the prime of career,
as well as spotlighting his backing band, who was about to embark on the
journey of a lifetime, culminating with some of the most revolutionary music
ever heard in popular music. This is a hard one to find in the bins, but is
still available in digital formats and is well worth a concentrated listen.

Who Do You Love

Bo Diddley

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3 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Followed you over from your comment on the Van Dime torrent. Nice blog and I'll be checking in now and again.

    Reply
  2. psychedeligoat

    Hey there.. just FYI.. the cover you are using is from my CD-R package of the original MONO LP.. I made a new graphic..so it's not exactly like the original LP cover.. check on discogs for the exact cover. Great article by the way. Good exposure of this. I have since found a Stereo version, and yeah it's rechannelled Mono.

    Reply
  3. talkfromtherockroom

    Sorry for the delay in replying. I will update the pic. Thank you for stopping by!

    Reply

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