Anyone who followed the early ‘60s rock scene knows of Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins, though he’s slightly more famous in his adopted country, Canada, than in the U.S. Originally from Fayetteville, Arkansas, Hawkins, a vocalist and bandleader, had an ear for promising musicians and an eye for good-looking women. His group “The Hawks” gave birth to many celebrated instrumentalists, including Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Rick Danko, and Robbie Robertson, all of “The Band” fame.
I met Ronnie and his group soon after I moved to Toronto with three girlfriends and my son. I was a high school dropout, a single mum, and I typed fast. Infatuated from the moment I first saw Ronnie, I’d found someone who encapsulated everything America then represented to me (I later immigrated to California and became a U.S. citizen myself): potent extroverted energy, lack of inhibition, incessant motion, humor, boldness, and power—all that Canada (and I) seemed to lack at that time.
For the next year or so, my friends and I became regulars wherever Ronnie and The Hawks were appearing. Some nights I got lucky (at least, at that time I thought I was lucky), and Ronnie invited me to go home with him. As I spent more time with Ronnie and the other band members, my feelings for him only intensified, though not because he showed me any special attention. I was just one of many young women who threw themselves at Ronnie and “the boys,” as he called them.
Ronnie attracted me because he never lacked something to say, onstage or off, and what he said was usually original: a true Southerner, he was an oral poet, making metaphors as easily as some people sleep. Nor was he afraid to speak his mind. No wonder he fascinated me. I coveted his charisma and ability to transfix a room full of people. But most of all, I wanted his body, still muscular and fit from the boxing he did when he was younger. Ronnie embodied the unrestrained world of rock and roll, and sex was the only way to get closer to him and that world. I wanted to rock and roll with Ronnie. So did every other woman in the vicinity. And he knew it. He also tried to accommodate as many of us as possible.
Groupies have been around forever. The charioteers must have attracted female followers because of their feats. So, too, the knights doing battle for their sovereign. Sinatra and Presley’s female fans didn’t have only handholding in mind. While the word groupie seems to have been born in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, ardent camp followers were not new.
Ronnie’s energy infected me in ways I didn’t understand at the time. While I’m anything but a roaring extrovert, in my teaching and writing I’ve become a kind of performer. In the classroom, I’ve learned to project in a way that keeps students engaged. I wander up and down the aisles, eyes meeting theirs, hoping my enthusiasm about writing will penetrate whatever barriers they have. And as a writer, much of what I do on the page also happens through eye contact: the readers’ connection to my words. My hope is to grab their intellects, imaginations, feelings, and whatever else is available in that moment through the written word. Sometimes I don’t succeed, but I still make the leap.
Thank you, dear reader, for letting me into your world!