Styx keyboardist shares stories about playing for Ronnie Hawkins ahead of June 19 AMP concert

Styx keyboardist shares stories about playing for Ronnie Hawkins ahead of June 19 AMP concert

When Styx keyboardist Lawrence Gowan comes to Arkansas, you can bet he’ll be thinking about one of Fayetteville’s favorite sons, Ronnie Hawkins.

And he’s very happy to share stories about the Hawk.

“You’ve put a big smile on my face already,” he says when asked about his old friend. The two became acquainted when the Canadian rocker briefly filled in for Hawkins back in 1985, when his regular piano player had to take some time off for health reasons.

Gowan played for Hawkins for six short months, but he was left with a plethora of memories and stories.

“He was a very, very gregarious, generous, humorous guy,” Gowan says, remembering Hawkins telling jokes every two to three minutes and working the room with his Southern charm.

“He was just a joy to be around.”

In the time they played together, Gowan remebers that Hawkins would “let him off his leash” to riff on piano lines inspired by Little Richard and Jerry Lee. And he must have made an impression.

Ten years later, Hawkins brought Gowan in to peform for his 60th birthday celebration and concert at Massey Hall in Toronto, Ontario, in January 1995. In addition to Hawkins, Gowan joined Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jeff Healey and the Band — with Levon Helm on the drums, of course.

“It was this massive rock band he put on stage. I think he had about 16 players,” Gowan says. The performance was recorded for a live album titled “Let It Rock.”

“What I remember of that was, first of all, he had my piano positioned kind of center stage, but looking straight at Jerry Lee Lewis,” he says. “I thought, ‘Well, that could be a little intimidating. I got to work up my confidence and my killer stare so that I don’t get killed by the killer.’”

He also remembers Hawkins really being in his element that evening, “kind of the ringmaster of all the proceedings,” he says, in what now seems like a dream.

“I remember standing beside Carl Perkins, and he’s about to play ‘Blue Suede Shoes,’ and the whole thing just seems like a fantasy night of rock royalty to be on stage with all those players,” he says, adding that even though he remembers Hawkins’ incredible energy and spirit that evening, he feels like Healey stole the show.

“He was on fire that night in every way,” he remembers of the blind guitarist who rose to fame with the hit “Angel Eyes,” from the movie “Roadhouse.” Healey died in 2008, Hawkins in 2022.

While Gowan says he loves rockabilly, his first love was classical music, so naturally progressive rock was exciting.

That reminds him of another Hawkins story.

Hawkins used to tell a story about competing with Elvis Presley for a spot on the Sun Records label before Elvis became a household name. Apparently, in an attempt to razz Presley, Hawkins asked if him if he planned to change his name because there was no way he was going to take off with a name like Elvis.

Obviously, his prediction was wrong.

When Gowan began putting out solo music as simply “Gowan,” he recalls asking Hawkins what he thought of the change. He said that Hawkins told him he really liked his singular title.

“And I just said, ‘Well, sh*t.”

Luckily for Gowan, that meant that he also impressed the members of Styx after briefly filling in for a tour. Although Gowan’s solo career was well-received in Canada and Europe. U.S. audiences didn’t warm up to him, causing him to be dropped by his record label.

He’s been with Styx since 1999, after the band saw him perform a number of home shows.

“They saw the audience reaction in Canada where they heard the people singing all my songs and kind of saw me in the best light possible. Let’s put it that way,” he says with a laugh.



Styx & Foreigner:

Renegades and Juke Box Hero with John Waite

WHEN — 5:30 p.m. June 19

WHERE — Walmart AMP in Rogers

COST — $39.50 & up




Foreigner Farewell

As we reported last year, 2024 will be Foreigner’s final year of touring together as they cap off their nearly 50-year career as one of classic rock’s most iconic bands.

The Har-Ber High School Choir from Springdale will be singing with the band June 19 on the band’s iconic hit, “I Want to Know What Love Is,” and Foreigner will donate $500 to the choir to use for their choir program.

Categories: Music