Talk From The Rock Room: June 2022

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Take One: Ronnie Hawkins – The Hawk- 1970 Single ‘Down In the Alley’

In tribute to the 'Hawk', today the 'rock room' is spinning a slab of jukebox vinyl from 1970. The king of rockabilly Ronnie Hawkins recorded two LP's for Coalition in the 1970's. Per his usual practice Hawkins brought together a hot shit collective of musicians for his musical exploits. In the case of the focus of today's Talk from the Rock Room Take One, Ronnie Hawkins is backed by the famed 'Swampers' of Muscle Shoals for his 1970 self titled album. Recorded Barry Beckett and Scott Cushine posted in the keyboard seats, Roger Hawkins on drums, Eddie Hinton, Jimmy Johnson on guitars, David Hood on bass, 'King Biscuit Boy' on harmonica and Duane Allman who is all over the record with slide and lead playing.

Released in February of 1970 as a single b/w 'Matchbox' and produced by Jerry Wexler and Tom Towd the single was a double banger of the Hawk's' undistilled brand of rock and roll. With the album and single, 'Down in the Alley', Ronnie was taking advantage of his former students of ‘Hawks’ rock, 'The Band's' recent rise to prominence. A tight rootsy record decorated with many of the finest musicians around taking part. Shades of Elvis Presley's current work From Elvis in Memphis can be discerned on the record, Elvis even covered 'Down In the Alley' as a ‘bonus’ track for his 1966 Spinout soundtrack.

While the mono single release runs on 2:59, the stereo LP version runs a substantial 5:11 with much more music to get excited about. Originally released as a single by ‘The Clovers’ in 1957, 'Down in the Alley' and is credited to Jesse Stone and the Clovers. Jessie Stone is the man who wrote ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’ amongst other early rock classics.

The Hawk's version of ‘Down In the Alley’ begins with a heavy-footed stomp down a dampened side street. Duane Allman’s instantly recognizable slide work skims by followed tightly by dizzying piano trilling by Berry Beckett. Hood and Hawkins are the keystone, bearing the load, vice grip tight.

The Hawk swings in singing with a sly 'come hither' attitude. He may be a bit older, but is feeling just as spunky. His lead vocal so tight it almost sounds double tracked and triple pressed. Following verse one the stomping groove veers into a sexy swing where everybody in the band lays way back. Upon the second glance between buildings Berry Beckett drizzles on an Otis Spann-esque splay of notes across the rhythm section.

Another round of jamming takes place following verse two. This time Canadian harp player ‘King Biscuit Boy’ blows long and hard before Duane takes is first swing through the neighborhood. Allman dirties things up a bit with just a taste of his Les Paul. The ‘Hawk’ returns and dispenses of the third verse and Duane reappears to up the ante. A rare occasion of competing and double tracked Duane Allman slide work weaves into a hearty lattice work of blue into the track's fade.

While the ‘Hawk’, had settled into a few years of popular rock obscurity in the mid to late 1960’s. With the release of his 1970 single, ‘Down in the Alley’ he illustrated that he was still able to soar with the best of them. Hawkins also retained his deft nose for sniffing out high quality material and top notch players.

‘Down in the Alley’ is right up the rock room's back street. The cut is a perfect rock and roll single. Drums, bass, guitar, jangling piano and killer vocals. John Lennon also agreed with this assessment. Lennon dug the track so much that he recorded a promotional radio spot for the single. The Lennon's had stayed on the Hawkins farm during their ‘peace movement travels’ in December 1969 and enjoyed tracks from the upcoming release with Ronnie. So let’s leave the lead in to Lennon:

‘This is John O Lennon here just muttering about Ronnie Hawkins, and how on our last trip to Canada, somehow it was arranged that we stay at his house. I had a great time, and of course I knew him from way back on record, ‘Forty Days’ and all that. I didn’t know anything about him but he turned out to be a great guy, and it just so happened, as it were, that he’d just made an album, but he didn’t want to play it, he was shy like most musicians or artists are shy, you know. I don’t like playing my record to people. I have to do it because you have that need. I hope this isn’t too long for a promo? Anyway, I was signing these twenty million lithographs, and this album was going on. And I was listening to most of it still signing, until this track ‘Down in The Alley’, and it really sort of buzzed me, you know. And it sounded like now and then, and I like that. So let’s hear it.’

Down In the Alley Album Version