Every once in awhile a music company executive has a good idea. Such was the case with the reissue of two classic Ronnie Hawkins albums. Mojo Man and Arkansas Rockpile, recorded in the early '60s and released several years later, were never issued in the United States and have been out of print for decades. Best of all they are paired together on this 2008 CD release.
Ronnie Hawkins was born in Arkansas in 1935 and moved to Canada in 1959. He came out the southern rockabilly tradition and has practiced that early form of rock & roll for most of his career. His steadfast loyalty to this musical form has limited his commercial appeal but his infectiousness and raw style has allowed him to survive in the music business for fifty years.
Ronnie Hawkins is also remembered for his backing band, The Hawks, which consisted of members Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson. It was this group that accompanied Hawkins on Mojo Man and Arkansas Rockpile. This group would go on to back Bob Dylan and then as The Band would become one of the most respected rock groups in history and be elected to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
There have been many Ronnie Hawkins re-issues over the years. They mostly concentrate on his better-known songs. Mojo Man/Arkansas Rockpile are two complete albums which are heard in context and contain many obscure tracks that have not seen the light of day in a long time.
Mojo Man is the weaker of the two albums. It contains a number of mellow releases that border on pop which is not Ronnie Hawkins strength. “One Out Of A Hundred,” “Lonely Hours” and even “Your Cheatin’ Heart” are moved in a pop direction as Hawkins croons the vocals. The primitive production and emphasis on Hawkins voice give them a Holiday Inn bar feel.
Hawkins is on much firmer ground when his is screaming the vocals against an up-tempo musical background. The old Carl Perkins Sun Label hit “Match Box” features Hawkins frenetic vocals laid against Robbie Robertson’s guitar lines. “Suzy-Q” is almost primordial and features great sax runs by King Curtis. “Further Up The Road” is taken in a blues direction and features some more excellent guitar work by Robertson.
Arkansas Rockpile is a more consistent album. “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” is stripped down to its basics. Vocal and guitar change places until a sax run and pumping piano enter the mix. “Red Hot” features exuberant piano runs by Richard Manuel. “Arkansas” features Hawkins great vocals set against harmonica backing by the great Sonny Terry. “Who Do You Love?” becomes a wild tour de force for Hawkins vocals. No album of this type would be complete with the great song “Bo Diddley.”
Mojo Man/Arkansas Rock Pile may not be for everyone. If you are not a fan of early rock & roll and particularly rockabilly this release may not appeal to you. But if you do have those inclinations or just want to explore some of the roots of rock & roll this release will be an essential addition to your music collection.