Canadian rocker Ronnie “The Hawk” Hawkins died at the weekend at the age of 87 of what his friend described as a complication of old age.
Eighty-seven is an incredibly advanced age for someone who has spent most of his adult life as a rock star. Hawkins once told the National Post that his high school friends “thought I would be dead when I was 21”. It is telling that Hawkins was actually a few months older than the much less fortunate rockabilly legend, Buddy Holly.
But it completes a career that has seen Hawkins scrub his elbows with some of the greatest actors in rock history. One line-up of his backing band turned into The Band, and Hawkins shared the Tennesee stages with Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins before the word “rock and roll” even existed.
Probably the strangest encounter with Hawkins came in December 1969. Just four months before The Beatles officially announced their breakup, John Lennon briefly hid on Hawkins’ farm in the Toronto area.
Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono were on a bizarre mission in Canada to meet with then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau as part of what they expected to be their new side appearance as self-proclaimed world peace diplomats (something like proto-Bono). That year was to be the couple’s third visit to Canada. The first was to stage their famous bed-in at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, and then Lennon surprisingly performed at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival Festival in the summer.
The idea to stay at Hawkins’ humble house, in what was then a backward area of Mississauga, came from Rolling Stone writer Ritchie Yorke. As one of the world’s most famous celebrities, Lennon caused chaos in every hotel he visited. It was much easier for the Beatle to simply disappear into a guest room in an indescribable Canadian area.
Hawkins – who made his living primarily as a bar actor – swept the Beatlemania and knew Lennon mainly by reputation as “the greatest actor in the world.”
He never sat down with any Beatles multiplatinum record, but Hawkins was a member of the Rock and Roll Revival. In the end, he offered one of the sharpest reviews of Ono’s performance at the festival, which became notorious for its widespread atonal screaming. “No matter how hard everyone tried, Yoko was too much,” Hawkins wrote in his 1989 autobiography.
Lennon, on the other hand, knew intimately. “He knew all my records.” He knew most of them better than I did, “Hawkins later told music journalist Terry Otto.
Lennon and Ono were not good hosts. Before she arrived, Ono ordered sixteen new phone lines to run into Hawkins’ house, and during her short stay at the property, she requested a $ 9,000 phone bill ($ 69,000 in $ 2022).
The couple overflowed with a tub, causing one of Hawkins’ ceilings to collapse. Lennon unknowingly started a fire in Hawkins’ barn. And she reportedly inflected the whole visit with a note of tension, quietly offending every moment Lennon spent out of her sight.
This included Lennon’s frequent raids to go play in the deep snow on Hawkins’ snowmobile; a new activity for the Liverpool native.
“He asked several times if it was okay to go out and play in the snow, and (It) didn’t say anything and she was a little hot for him for a day or two,” Hawkins told Otto. The Canadian rocker would be confused for the rest of his life that Ono felt so comfortable saying “man number one in the world … what to do.”
The couple also left all their belongings after their departure and never really contacted Hawkins again.
But the mission was successful: Hawkins escorted the couple to Ottawa, where they were given a short audience with Trudeau. Lennon and Ono dreamed of similar peace visits to Washington, Paris and London, but only the Canadian leader eventually returned their phone calls.
In an interview with George Stroumboulopoulos of the CBC in 2013, Hawkins claimed that one of his main findings from the visit was that the prime minister had “his own supply” of marijuana. “And it was almost as good as John’s,” he said.
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