Judge Paul Corupe rocks. Out loud.
Days Gone By
Without any doubt, Rockin' Ronnie Hawkins is one of the most underrated artists of the last several decades, a consummate performer who made the leap from rockabilly to folk to heartfelt country just as he relocated from deep in the heart of Arkansas to the bitterly cold streets of Toronto. Not only did he change the direction of rock music by recruiting talented backing musicians Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, and Richard Manuel—who later broke out on their own as the highly-influential The Band—but Hawkins continues to evolve his music style to this day, taking his place as one of Canada's best-loved (if adopted) musicians, a laid-back rocker who never, ever lost his cool.
This DVD, released by Eagle Vision, captures a star-studded concert that marked The Hawk's 60th birthday party in 1995. Held at Toronto's Massey Hall, this show finds Ronnie on stage with fellow rockabilly pioneers Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, plus his Canadian contemporaries The Band, Jeff Healey, and Larry Gowan. Let It Rock: At The Crossroads of Rock and Roll features 19 songs of that good old time rock 'n' roll:
1. Let It Rock—Ronnie Hawkins
While the performances in this concert don't quite live up to the fiery rock and roll antics that paved the way in the 1950s and '60s, they are still surprisingly energetic, especially considering the advanced age of many of the musicians. Everyone's in extremely fine form, especially Hawkins himself, who tears through his hits "Mary Lou" and "Wild Little Willy." The original wildman Jerry Lee Lewis and his well-dressed pal Carl Perkins are nice additions to the show, but they've seemed to slow down a bit since first picking up their instruments, and it's The Band who all but steal the show with their renditions of "Remedy" and "The Weight." Also of note are the songs by The All-Star Band—the name used when all the night's performers playing together—who manage three numbers: "Let it Rock," "Down in the Alley," and a rollicking cover of "Bo Diddley," each of which highlight the fretwork of blind guitarist Jeff Healey. Perhaps the strangest addition to the bill is Lawrence Gowan, an artist probably best known for his dubious synth pop hit single "Strange Animal" in the 1980s. Today, he's playing with veteran rockers Styx, and it's a bit odd to see him here doing Little Richard covers like he's been doing them all his life, given his prog-rock pedigree.
While the concert itself is pretty good, this release by Eagle Vision isn't particularly impressive. The sound is alright, with an excellent Dolby 5.1 track that makes good use of the surround channels, but the picture is excessively grainy and not up to modern standards at all. To make up for the lackluster transfer, there is a great hour-long documentary included here called At the Crossroads of Rock and Roll. Generally, this piece traces the roots of rockabilly out of Memphis, tying in both Hawkins and The Band to give viewers a comprehensive context to understand the importance of the highlighted show. There are even interviews with little-known rockabilly legends like Art Adams and Janis Martin, alongside a wealth of archival footage that concludes backstage at the big concert. There's also a commentary on the doc by director Steve Thomson, who expounds greatly on what's happening on screen, though it often sounds like he's reading a prepared speech.
For fans of the Hawk and rockabilly in general, this is a really nice little package. The concert itself is remarkable, even if the music is a shade less raucous than any true fan would want, but the accompanying documentary is definitely what makes this release a keeper. This is one of the finer Eagle Vision DVDs that I've had the pleasure of checking out.
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