Born Harold Franklin Hawkins, 22 December 1921, Huntington, West Virginia
Honky-tonk singer Hawkshaw Hawkins was an unquestionably gifted vocalist with a natural affinity for blues-based material. But, in the words of Otto Kitsinger (who annotated a 1991 Bear Family box set of Hawkins' RCA and Columbia material), "Hawkins' very versatility and effortless singing of all types of song was his own worst enemy. Neither vocally nor instrumentally was there a Hawkshaw Hawkins sound by which the audience immediately recognized the singer was Hawkins".
Although his parents were not musically inclined, Hawkins was self- motivated, becoming proficient enough on the guitar to make an early radio appearance over WCMI, Ashland, Kentucky. He had acquired his first instrument by trading five rabbits for an inexpensive guitar at age 13. In 1935 he entered and won a talent contest on radio station WSAZ in Huntington. In addition to the prize, Hawkins got his first job working at the station, for $ 15 a week. He later moved to WCHS in Charleston, West Virginia, and occasionally teamed as a duo with Clarence 'Sherlock' Jack.
In 1941 he briefly worked in Kid Carson's travelling Wild West show for WLAW radio in Lawrence, Massachusetts. He entered the US Army in November 1943, fought in France and was sent to the Philippines in 1945 where he entertained American troops over a Manila radio station. Returning home in early 1946 Hawkins continued as a solo act and was signed by King Records out of Cincinnati. It is likely that King honcho Syd Nathan saw Hawkins as a potential rival to Ernest Tubb and of the first 20 songs he recorded for King no less than 15 came from the Tubb catalogue. Also in 1946, Hawkins made a major career move when he joined the WWVA Jamboree in Wheeling, West Virginia, where he would stay until 1954.
After scoring a local hit in 1947 with "The Sunny Side Of the Mountain" (which would eventually become his signature tune), Hawkins had his first national hit in May 1948, with a cover of Hank Williams's "Pan American" (# 9 country). Another record from the same session, "Dog House Boogie", did even better, peaking at # 6. Hawkshaw developed a large following, due not only to his recordings, but also (perhaps even more) to his showmanship. Especially popular were his colourful summer shows, which included trained horse acts and rope and Australian bull- whip tricks. He gave his best performances not in the studio, but on stage, earning the title of "Eleven and a Half Yards of Personality." In 1951 Hawkins scored three further Top 10 hits on the country charts : "I Love You A Thousand Ways" (# 8), "I'm Waiting Just For You" (# 8) and "Slow Poke" (# 7, also # 26 pop). From 1953 until 1958 he recorded for RCA, under the supervision of Chet Atkins, but without any hits. Already in 1949, WSM officials had invited Hawkins to join the Grand Ole Opry, but he declined, choosing to stay at WWVA. However, when they asked him again in 1955, he did accept, making his debut at the Ryman Auditorium on April 23, 1955.
Hawkins finally returned to the country charts when he left RCA for Columbia, where Don Law became his producer. His first single for the label, "Soldier's Joy", went to # 15 in September 1959 (also # 87 pop). The following year, on November 26, 1960, he married fellow country singer Jean Shepard, after a stormy 17-year marriage with Reva Barbour.
In 1962 Hawkins returned to King Records, recording the first album of his career on September 10-12 (previous LP's collected singles and EP tracks with unissued studio masters). Hawkins felt that Justin Tubb's "Lonesome 7-7203" could reinvigorate his career, but Syd Nathan opted to release two other singles first. When neither did the business Nathan and Hawkins had hoped for, "Lonesome 7-7203" was issued as the next single, in February 1963. The record debuted on Billboard's country chart of March 2, 1963, but slid off the following week.
On March 5, 1963, Hawkshaw and fellow country stars Patsy Cline and Cowboy Copas were en route back to Nashville in a Piper Comanche (flown by Cline's manager Randy Hughes, who was also Copas's son-in-law), following a benefit concert in Kansas City. The plane crashed near Camden, Tennessee, during a thunderstorm. There were no survivors. Fans around the world mourned the loss of three great country artists. Jean Shepard was pregnant at the time with Hawkins's second son, Harold Franklin II, who was born on April 8, 1963. Hawkins was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, in "Music Row" with Copas and other country music stars.
"Lonesome 7-7203" re-entered the country charts soon after Hawkshaw's death. Ironically, it became the hit he had always dreamed of, spending 25 weeks on the charts, four at # 1.
More info :
Discography / sessionography :
Recommended CD's :
Acknowledgements : Dave Samuelson, W.K. McNeil, Phil Davies.
Dik, August 2012
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