Forgotten Artists: Hawkshaw Hawkins (1921-1963)

Paul W. Dennis | September 23rd, 2010

fa_hawkshaw-hawkins

In Rock & Roll, February 3, 1959, is known as “The Day The Music Died.” On that date a small plane crash in Iowa claimed the lives of Charles Hardin “Buddy Holly” Holley, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and Richard “Richie Valens” Valenzuela. Holly was already a superstar, The Big Bopper was a songwriter with a few hits of his own, and Valens was a rising star, enroute to becoming the first Latino Rock & Roll star.

If country music can be said to have a “Day The Music Died,” that date surely is March 5, 1963, when a plane crash claimed the lives of Virgina Hensley (aka Patsy Cline), Lloyd “Cowboy” Copas and Harold Franklin “Hawshaw” Hawkins.” At the time of the crash Cline had arrived as a major country star with huge pop success on the horizon, Cowboy Copas had been a major star in the late 1940s and early 1950s who had a career renaissance in 1960 with “Alabam.” The third victim, Hawkshaw Hawkins was a veteran artist who had been recording for 15 years but was on the verge of a major breakthrough at the age of 41.

Hawkshaw Hawkins was born and raised in Huntington, West Virginia. The nickname ‘Hawkshaw’ dates date to his childhood when he successfully helped a friend track down a pair of missing fishing poles. The friend dubbed him Hawkshaw the Detective based on a comic strip. The nickname was to stick with him throughout his life (he was also sometimes called “The Hawk”). At the age of 13, he is alleged to have traded five rabbits for a homemade guitar and taught himself to play it. Within a few years he had become sufficiently proficient with the guitar that he won a talent contest at local radio station WSAZ. Following his win, he began working at the station, eventually moving to WCHS in Charleston by the end of the 1930s. In 1940 he married Reva Barbour, a 16 year old beauty from Huntington; the marriage lasted until 1958. During 1941, he traveled the United States with a wild west revue, but in late 1942 Hawkins entered the army and served as an engineer, stationed near Paris, Texas where he and friends would sneak out on Friday and Saturday nights to perform at local clubs. Later stationed in Europe, by now attaining the rank of Staff Sargeant, he participated in the Battle of the Bulge, winning four battle stars during his 15 months of combat duty. Afterward he spent time in Manilla in the Philippines and had a radio show on WVTM.

Discharged from the military in late 1945, he returned to West Virginia and gained a spot on the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree, where he remained for over eight years. A large man (6’6″) with a deep voice, Hawkins became a popular performer due to his engaging personality. In fact, he became a huge star without becoming a recording star, although his recording career started shortly after joining the Jamboree in 1946. He had a few chart hits on King from 1948-51, then disappeared from the charts. The hits were “Pan American” (#9), “Dog House Boogie” (#6), “I Wasted A Nickel” (#15), “I Love You A Thousand Ways” (#8), “I’m Waiting Just For You” (#8) and “Slow Poke” (#7). Although his chart success was small, his records sold well and many were regional hits that did not chart nationally, including his signature song “Sunny Side of The Mountain.”

In 1953 he signed with RCA Victor, and by 1955 Hawkins had become a regular member of the Grand Ole Opry. He made some great recordings while with RCA but scored no hit records. A switch to Columbia in 1959 found “Soldiers Joy” reach #15 but there was no further action on the Billboard charts, although four of his other Columbia singles charted on Cash Box, most notably “Darkness On The Face of The Earth,” which reached #11 on the Cash Box country chart. He married legendary singer Jean Shepard in 1960. In mid-1962, after an absence of nine years, he re-signed with King Records. The first two singles “Silver Threads And Golden Needles” and “Bad News Travels Fast (In Our Town)” received considerable acclaim, although neither charted on Billboard (“Bad New Travels Fast did crack the Cash Box Top 40). On March 2, 1963, King released a Justin Tubb-penned song, “Lonesome 7-7203,” that they had high hopes would be Hawkins’ breakthrough single, just as “Alabam” had been for Cowboy Copas in 1960.

Unfortunately, that’s the end of the story as on March 5, 1963 Hawkshaw Hawkins died in the crash that took the lives of Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas and Randy Hughes (pilot, Patsy’s manager, and Copas‘ son-in-law). At the time of his death Jean Shepard was pregnant with son Harold “Hawkshaw Jr,” who would be born a few weeks after the crash. The couple also had a son born the year before they named Don Robbin Hawkins after Don Gibson and Marty Robbins.

“Lonesome 7-7203” did everything King Records and Hawkins had hoped it would do, flying to #1 on both Billboard and Cashbox for four weeks. Unfortunately, King did not have much unreleased material in the vaults and so there were no further chart singles for Hawkshaw Hawkins.

Discography

Vinyl

Relatively few Hawkshaw Hawkins albums were issued during his lifetime; most of his recorded output before 1963 was in the form of 45 rpm and 78 rpm singles. King issued three albums collecting old singles, Volume 1 (1958), Volume 2 (1959), and All New (1962), which included “Lonesome 7-7203,” the third single to be released from the album. After his death, King, RCA and Columbia emptied their vaults, releasing whatever material they had.

CD

Hawkshaw Hawkins received the usual neglect during the digital era, although King issued a few budget-line CDs with 10 songs, and threw his material on various anthologies with other artists. Finally in 1991, Bear Family released a comprehensive, three-disc overview of his RCA and Columbia Records called Hawk that sells for around $75.

If $75 is too rich for your budget, Collectibles has issued a set titled Country Gentleman: Hawkshaw Hawkins Sings that collects two old RCA Camden albums. Also, Bear Family has finally relented and started issuing smaller sets. Car Hoppin’ Mama, part of their “Gonna Shake This Shack” series has 16 older King tracks and 17 RCA tracks.

Other than that there isn’t much except for the miscellaneous Gusto/King/Starday/Federal/TeeVee/Cindy Lou/Nashville reissues that generally contain 9-12 tracks and overlap each other considerably–and are variously in and out of print. The Collectibles and Bear Family set are highly recommended. The other sets are variable in terms of digital remastering but worth picking up if you can find them cheaply enough.

Hawkshaw’s widow, Jean Shepard, eventually remarried and continues to perform, mostly at the Grand Old Opry, although at 76 years old she is not as active as once was the case. Sometimes she performs with her son Hawkshaw Hawkins, Jr., who strongly resembles his father facially, although he is about six inches shorter. He’s a fine singer and has recorded several CDs which you may be able to find at the Ernest Tubb record shop.

  1. luckyoldsun
    September 23, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    Those are some great records that the link brings up–especially “Lonesome 7″.

  2. misterw101
    September 23, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    “Lonesome 7-7203 ought to be in everybody’s collection. I have always liked his version of “Soldier’s Joy” too.

  3. Rick
    September 23, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    Every year around the anniversary of that fateful plane crash WSM and some other classic country stations I listen to online dust off “Lonesome 7-7203″ and “Alabam” and give them a spin. Sadly that is about the only time I hear songs from Hawkshaw and Cowboy Copas from such sources.

    When I started collecting “Time Life Classic Country” CDs of 50’s and 60’s music “Lonesome 7-7203″ was one of those delightful surprise tracks I wasn’t familiar with that’s become a favorite. It seems Hawkshaw was sadly a posthumous one hit wonder.

  4. WAYNOE
    September 23, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    Great to see articles like this on these long-ago artists.

  5. Barry Mazor
    September 23, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    There’s some great video of Hawkshaw among the “Stars of Country”/Gannaway color films done in the fifties. Including some bits with a horse! They’re available online if you look around for them..

  6. Lewis
    September 23, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    It’s sad that Hawkshaw isn’t represented by himself as much on vinyl record as much as Cowboy Copas was. After Copas’ death, Starday released a whole bunch of his albums including a Cowboy Copas Story album. Either it’s on a compliation album of gospel songs or other artists but not one of Hawk by himself. I have a Gone But Not Forgotten album which Starday released in 1964 which featured songs from Hawkshaw, Cowboy Copas and Patsy Cline (the 4 Star recordings I presume) and it’s a very good tribute to all 3.

  7. Barry Mazor
    September 23, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    I had a conversataion with Mac Wiseman about Hawkshaw once. And what stuck in is (very knowing) mind was that hawkshaw’s career had nearly been wrecked by Starday because they pressed him to be an Ernest Tubb imitator, which he didn’t have to be, really..It took some time for them to see that-or care.

  8. Razor X
    September 23, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    Nice article. Thanks.

  9. bob
    November 12, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    Great stuff love reading about artists I havent seen in awhile wwww.nashvillecalifornia.com

  10. Susan Marlene (Hawkins) Gilliam
    December 7, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    It is very hurtful and WRONG that I am left out of so many bios of my Dad, Hawkshaw Hawkins. I learned about his death on the radio, like most prople did … and it devistated my life. I have a song that I wrote, Daughter’s Prayer, on my site which is a song in memory of my Dad. But, another song I wrote, “I Need You, Daddy” is the REAL story of my life. Please STOP leaving me out of his life. And, someone needs to see that he is inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

  11. Marvin Torwalt
    February 5, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    I am a participating member of our local country music association. I research classic/vintage songs for some of our shows and the names of Hawkshaw Hawkins, Cowboy Copas and Patsy Cline often come up. (That day in May of ’63 was indeed a sad day for the country music world!)
    I have a question I am hoping someone can answer: Stonewall Jackson released a song “BJ The DJ” in November of ’63, just monthe after the plane crash. Was it in any way related to the event that led to the death of these 3 country stars. (They were flying home after participating in a fundraiser for a popular country DJ in Kansas City who had died in an automobile crash.)

  12. Barry Mazor
    February 5, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    According to Colin Escott, Marvin, Stonewall’s song, written by young songwriter Hugh X. Lewis, was about a specific guy, singer and disc jockey B.J. Johnson of Picayune, Mississippi, who Lewis had met at the 1962 country DJ convention. The actual B.J. did not die in a car wreck but lived to a ripe old age. And the song was recorded during March ’63 sessions, before that crash.

  13. tom frazier
    February 13, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    I just found his album at a flee market.

  14. Marvin Torwalt
    February 13, 2011 at 9:09 pm

    Thanks Barry!
    I had kinda gathered that from other info I had. I sure did like the version I had heard back in the sixties though. More, how should I say it, romantic somehow. (Kinda good for the original BJ, though)
    Thanks again!!
    Our Classic Country show (Jimmie Rodgers through to Shania Twain) is gathering some steam. On going rehearsals and 2 gigs booked already with another in the works.

  15. Susan Marlene Hawkins Gilliam
    March 5, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    Marvin, the crash was MARCH 5, 1963, the anniversary of which is today, still painful cause I miss my Daddy. My song, “Daughter’s Prayer” is in his memory at http://www.marlene.org/music.htm

  16. Marvin Torwalt
    April 17, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    Sorry about the date mix-up, Susan. I knew the month well enough from my Patsy Cline research. (In introducing the songs the MC gives a short biography on the original singer and the song involved.)That’s what happens when your fingers are in high gear and your brain is in neutral {:o(
    Do you have an opinion on why you might be missed from so many of your father’s bios?
    If you would prefer you could e-mail me privately at info@riverttrailcountryvacations.com
    Our Classic Country show has been so well received that we are planning on another one for next year using different songs and if we can find someone else to do a Jimmie Rodgers song I would like to do something by Hawkshaw. (Jimmie Rodgers is a requirement since he is seen as the first of the “modern” country music stars.)

  17. Ellis Weaver Jr.
    August 25, 2011 at 8:24 am

    I am Ellis Weaver Jr.
    I was born and raised in Huntington Wv.
    I was not acquainted with Mr. Hawkins myself,
    my father dared him to go up to WSAZ and enter
    a talent show. He was reluctant at first, but my Dad told him he was good enough.
    He entered the contest and won.
    at that time Hawkshaw worked at Hutches Grocery
    on 14th street in west Huntington.
    I used to be his Mom and Dads paper delivery boy when they lived on Adams avenue in Huntington.
    Hawkshaw’s dad used to be a guard at the Sylvinia Electric products plant on Madison ave. when my wife worked there.
    Leona Hawkins (Davis)and my wife, Grace Ellen Grizzell were always good friends. They went to school togeather and also worked togeather.
    I have always been proud to have lived within 3 blocks of this wonderful family.
    I am 81years old now, and this seems so long ago.
    Thank you,
    Ellis Weavewr

  18. LOUIS A. TARONE
    November 27, 2011 at 10:43 pm

    I know some of Hawkshaw’s earlier material and it was quite good. “Car Hoppin’ Mama,” for example, is a great honky tonker with a rockabilly brush. Terrific, talent act whom we lost far too soon.

  19. Michael Thrasher
    March 14, 2012 at 12:51 am

    I never cared for the song Lonesome 77203 until I heard hawk sing it. I thought who is that, I didn’t know Perry Como did that song. What a voice and what a presence, handsome, tall, tasteful clothes, dignified. What a loss. I’m a new fan now, I listen to Hawk’s version of lonesome 77203 over and over, I love those piano, or wahatever it is interludes. It’s haunting and hard to get out of your head. How tragic, truly a loss that cannot be weighed. I continue to search for his material on utube. Rattle snake daddy, etc,. I’m glad I discovered hawk by accident. What a find!

Tagged In This Article

// // // // // // // //

Current Discussion

  • mrsandy: Also worth noting: Priscilla Mitchell was Jerry Reed's widow.
  • Leeann Ward: Wow! My heart goes out to Allison Moorer. She's had so many terrible things happen in her life. It's too …
  • Leeann Ward: I must have this audio book!
  • Juli Thanki: Ha! Same thing happened at Sturgill Simpson's show I went to last month, only he was singing "I Never Go …
  • Dave D.: On the topic of Lee Ann and dark songs, the funniest moment at this year's Americana Fest was during her …
  • Jonathan Pappalardo: I love Lori McKenna. Coming from Massachusetts, she's our local girl. I've been fortunate to see her in concert a …
  • bll: I suss her re-recording her hits for 'Gwendolen records' means she can stop MCA from releasing her hits against her.
  • Greg Judy: Cooler festivals and marching bands at the football games!
  • kevin ilinger: Fall colors bluegrass and apple cider
  • luckyoldsun: If I was a "long-time fan" of Trisha, I'd probably spring for the CD.

Recently Reviewed Albums

  • tom t hall storytellers
  • paulthorntooblessed
  • duhksbeyondtheblue
  • kelleymickwee
  • sandrarhodes
  • candi staton
  • sturgillsimpsonmetamodern
  • raypricebeautyis