A Gold-Digging Woman

Ronald Cornett Hawkins was born in Huntsville, Arkansas on January 10, 1935, just two days after Elvis Presley emerged into the world.  Hawkins graduated from Fayetteville High School in 1952 and during this time, he formed his first bands. Hawkins enrolled in University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville as a physical education major and dropped out, enlisted in the National Guard and was discharged.  He tried to run his own nightclub called the Rockwood Club in Fayetteville, using older friends as fronts until he turned twenty-one and could serve his own liquor.  After attending college, Ronnie joined the Army and served six months of active duty.  While Hawkins was in the army, his cousin Dale Hawkins struck gold in early 1957 with ‘Suzie Q’, which was based around a stinging riff by his writing partner, a young Louisiana guitarist named James Burton.

Ronnie spent his weekends at a nearby club, fronting a band of four black musicians, which were known as The Black Hawks. This is where he developed an outrageous stage persona that earned him such nicknames as ‘Rompin’ Ronnie’ and ‘Mr. Dynamo’.  He was fascinated by tricks and while he was hanging around Memphis Ronnie learned the camel walk a move not dissimilar from Michael Jackson’s moonwalk, but three decades earlier, and his back flips became an integral part of his live act.  After finishing his service, he moved to Helena, where he formed a touring band The Ron Hawkins Quartet with Willard ‘Pop’ Jones on guitar and brothers Jimmy Ray and George Paulman on guitar and bass, respectively.  Ronnie sang but didn’t bother to learn to play a physical instrument.

The guys performed in various dives, their selections built mainly on the Bo Diddley beat.  Another guitarist, Levon Helm, who’d grown up around Turkey Scratch, a glorified field near Marvell, Arkansas, who had in the past been in a band with his sister Linda called The Jungle Bush Beaters wanted to be in Hawkins’ group badly enough to learn to play drums.  At the suggestion of Harold Jenkins (later known as country and western star Conway Twitty), the group headed for Canada in 1958.  In the spring of 1958, Ronnie recorded ‘Hey Bo Diddley’/’Love Me Like You Can’ in a studio in Toronto.

They played a place called the Grange where they were more readily accepted by the locals than they had been back home and this is where they shortened their name to The Hawks.  Harold Kudlats who managed a roller rink and got to meet all the big bands back in the late 40s and early 50s like Glenn Miller, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and later on he had Harry James, Gene Krupa, Billie Holiday, R&B singers Nat King Cole and Ben E. King and rock acts Bill Haley & the Comets and Chubby Checker all playing at his roller rink.  One day Conway Twitty arrived on his doorstep and asked for his help to book him in Canada.  He got Conway booked and he went on to be a superstar, and Kudlats opened up the Harold Kudlets Agency.  Later Conway recommended Ronnie Hawkins to Harold Kudlats and Ronnie christened him as Canada’s Colonel.  Kudlats booked Hawkins and The Hawks throughout Canada and the Eastern US and he helped Hawkins secure a record deal with Roulette Records.

Morris Levy the head of Roulette Records thought that Hawkins could be a potential heir to the conceptual throne left vacant when Presley entered the Army.  Ronnie and the Hawks cut the record ‘Forty Days’ at their first session for Roulette, which peaked at #45 on the Billboard Hot 100.  The second Roulette single, was a remake of Young Jessie’s ‘Mary Lou’, that reached #26.  Obediah Donnell Jessie an African American R&B and jazz singer and songwriter who had this deep baritone voice, but he didn’t want people to think he was old, so he took the recording name Young Jessie.  His mother was related to Blind Lemon Jefferson and his brother became an actor, playing Otis Day in the hit movie Animal House.  Young Jessie joined The Flairs, an American doo-wop group from LA with Richard Berry who composed Louie Louie when he was with the Pharaohs and later Jessie was a member of the Hunters and Coasters.  Jessie’s biggest seller was ‘Mary Lou’, released in June 1955, with Dub Jones and other members of the Cadets.  Buddy Knox with The Rhythm Orchids did a cover of ‘Mary Lou’ in 1957.

Samuel Bihari from the Modern record label, using the pseudonym Sam Ling, took half of Jessie’s royalties, and Jessie was also exploited by Levy as Jacqueline Magill is listed as the co-writer of ‘Mary Lou’ along with Ronnie Hawkins on this Roulette release.  She is a bit of a mystery, and she was reportedly Morris Levy’s girlfriend, but Levy (and Roulette) had a reputation for playing fast and loose with songwriting credits.  Ronnie’s version of the tune ‘Mary Lou’ cooked in a way that differed from Jessie’s.  ‘Mary Lou’ and ‘Need Your Lovin’ were recorded along with six other titles that were included on Hawkins’ first album Ronnie Hawkins during a session on April 29, 1959 at New York’s Bell Sound Studios.

I was not able to find out any information as to whether or not there was a real person named Mary Lou that relates to the title of this song.  If there was, her identity was probably kept secret, so as to avoid law suits.  The singer expresses his discontent about being involved with this girl named Mary Lou who made a real fool out of him.  It was a crying shame the way she took everything from him including his money, a watch, a diamond ring and the keys to his Cadillac.  He hires a detective to track her down and she is caught and put in jail, but she bribes the judge with sexual favors to pay her bail.  Mary Lou travels around making a fortune and treating all men like fools and driving them crazy.  She showed up back in town saying she was sorry, but then she took his ‘65 Ford and a two dollar bill.

Ronnie Hawkins is older here and he appears to be a bit listless in the video below, not doing any of his cartwheels.

I’m gonna tell you a story
‘Bout ol’ Mary Lou
I mean the kind of a girl
That make a fool of you

She make a young man old
And an old man pay
The way she took my money
Was a crying shame

Mary Lou, Mary Lou
She took my watch and chain
Mary Lou, Mary Lou
She took my diamond ring
She took the keys to my Cadillac car
Jumped in my Caddy and she drove afar

Put a detective
On her trail
The post office thought
They’d chase her by the mail

She got picked up
And then was put in jail
Stroked the judge
Just to go her bail

Mary Lou, Mary Lou
She took my watch and chain
Mary Lou, Mary Lou
She took my diamond ring
She took the keys to my Cadillac car
Jumped in my Caddy and she drove afar

She left Detroit
To go to Kalamazoo
Made her a fortune
Out of fools like you

Met her a rich man
Who was married and had some kids
Stroked that cat
Until he flipped his lid

Mary Lou, Mary Lou
She took my watch and chain
Mary Lou, Mary Lou
She took my diamond ring
She took the keys to my Cadillac car
Jumped in my Caddy and she drove afar

She came back into town
About a week ago
Told me she’s sorry
She had hurt me so

I had a ‘65 Ford
And a two dollar bill
The way she took that
Lord, it gave me a thrill

Mary Lou
She took my watch and chain
Mary Lou, Mary Lou
She took my diamond ring
She took the keys to my Cadillac car
Jumped in my Caddy and she drove afar

Written for FOWC with Fandango – Video, for Ragtag Community – Past, for Scotts Daily Prompt – Tune and for Word of the Day Challenge Prompt – Listless.

10 thoughts on “A Gold-Digging Woman

  1. Good to learn Ronnie Hawkins history before he hooked up with The Band (or is that vice versa?) Didn’t realize he was American! He had a little bit more pep in his step when he was on “The Last Waltz” but not quite peppy enough for backflips. Wish I could see some videos of him from back in those days.

    Liked by 1 person

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