Deep Grooves: Ronnie Hawkins – Mojo Man/Arkansas Rockpile (Collector’s Choice)

While many do not remember this rockabilly wildman who skillfully seized upon the thrilling, visceral rock and roll sounds being concocted at Sun Records by Sam Phillips and his young stable of stars, in his day he was one of the most exciting rock and rollers around. Originally from Arkansas, Hawkins got a band together and auditioned for Sun Records only to be rebuffed. Finding our neighbors to the North starved for some good rock and roll, he eventually settled in Canada after falling in love with the country during an extended tour. He later signed with Roulette Records and charted a few minor hits but lost most of his band except the drummer, Levon Helm. If you recognize the name, you’re catching on as the band Hawkins hired to replace his departed group eventually coalesced into The Band after leaving Hawkins themselves a few years later. While Hawkins has remained a rockabilly warrior to this day (and also a legend in Canada) his career never really recovered after losing the band that became The Band.

This reissue contains two albums, a pair of dynamic rockabilly scorchers most consider the twin zeniths of Hawkins’ career. The first, Mojo Man, contains covers of seminal rockers like Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox”, Dale Hawkins’ (no relation) “Suzie Q”, the blues standard “Further On Up The Road” and Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart” among other great cuts. While none of these songs was an original, Hawkin’s personality shines through on every cut (as does the intense playing of his backing band) enough to make you feel as if you are hearing these songs done for the first time. If Hawkins did anything well, it was to make each song his own. The second album on this reissue, Arkansas Rockpile, also contained a bunch of notable covers including Billy Lee Riley’s “My Gal Is Red Hot”, Chuck Berry’s “Thirty Days”, and two Bo Diddley numbers, “Who Do You Love” and “Bo Diddley”. Once again, the story is not in the covers but how the songs are being covered. Hawkins once again puts his own stamp on the songs above and beyond the call of cover duty.

Much overlooked today instead of the legend he rightly deserves to be, the story is right here in the music. While others became household names, Hawkins, every bit their equal, keeps gigging and letting the few who discover his albums in on his genius. But be sure: it IS genius and no one knows it better than Hawkins. He sings not with the fullness of the conceited but with the fury and fire of the convinced. If given the same opportunities there is not a doubt in my mind he would be bigger than some of the other Sun stars. But you can finally know the truth for yourself: pick up this album and find out just how good Hawkins was and discover the incendiary beauty of these sides. If anything will make you buy a leather jacket, put some pomade in your hair and steal a motorcycle, this album is it. Whoops, gotta go, cops are comin’!