Pittsburgh Music Story‎ > ‎Blues‎ > ‎

Ernie Hawkins


 Venues Rock Doo Wop Radio Jazz Pop Blueshttps://www.facebook.com/pittmusic

Internationally Renown Finger Picking Acoustic Guitar Virtuoso
Ernie Hawkins is an internationally renowned finger picking style acoustic guitar virtuoso who plays and sings blues, ragtime, and gospel. His recordings and performances have been acclaimed in the pages of Blues Review, Vintage Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Fingerstyle Guitar, SingOUT! and many blues publications. Ernie has toured the U.S., Europe and Japan.  He has appeared on "A Prairie Home Companion", “Mountain Stage”, “WoodSong’s Old-Time Radio Hour” and XM Radio.  Hawkins has released six solo CDs on the Corona Records, O rchard and Wildebeest labels along with his own Say Ho imprint. .His recording of  "Whinin Boy'" was voted best "tribute album" and "best cover song" in the 2011 Independent Music Awards.  On his recordings Hawkins follows the blues, ragtime and gospel traditions of his mentor Rev. Gary Davis and the Piedmont blues men such as Skip James, Blind Willie McTell,  and Son House. 

As a sideman Hawkins recorded the song “I Belong to That Band” with singer Maria Muldaur on her Grammy nominated 2001 acoustic blues album “Richland Woman Blues”.  Maldaur's album reached number 9 on the Billboard Blues chart and Ernie toured with Maldaur as her guitarist.  Hawkins was also featured on the compilation disk "Gary Davis Style - A Tribute to Reverend Gary Davis"  released on Memphis Archives in 2003.. 

Ernie teaches guitar and blues at Jorma Kaukonen's Fur Peace Ranch Guitar Camp,  Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop.and other major guitar camps.  He has released several instructional DVDs. 

“Ernie Hawkins is a true living apostle of the True Living Blues. He delivers a huge measure of Soul in every note, and that’s what the Blues are about!”   Maria Muldaur

"He is without a doubt one of the finest practitioners of the Piedmont style of playing. It transcends categories, though. Ernie can certainly play Rev. Davis' compositions as he learned from the reverend himself, but it goes way beyond that. He is able to do this without sacrificing his personal style that he has developed in his years as an artist. He is able to channel the reverend without submerging Ernie Hawkins." Jorma Kaukonen (Hot Tune and the Jefferson Airplane)

“Hawkins is one of the most accomplished and impressive acoustic guitarists of our time. Ernie proves why he belongs in the ranks of the greats.” Mark Gallo Minnesota Blues mnblues.com


Pickin In Pittsburgh

Ernest Leroy Hawkins was born in Pittsburgh on September 22, 1947. His father was a steel worker and his mother a homemaker. Ernie began playing music age 13 learning from the caretaker Pete of his uncle Willie's farm. Pete, who had been a 
member of the Lilly Brothers string band, taught Ernie bluegrass and country songs on banjo, mandolin, guitar, and bones.  During his high school years Hawkins hung out at Walsh’s bar in the East Liberty section of Pittsburgh where he sat in with the Dixie Travelers bluegrass band.   Ernie bought a 1919 Martin guitar for $80 from the attic of a friend’s aunt and began learning blues listening to old blues records.  At age sixteen a friend gave Ernie a copy of the Reverend Gary Davis album “Harlem Street Singer”. He was amazed with Reverend Gary Davis music and became a devote disciple.

Studies with Reverend Gary Davis

The 
Reverend Gary Davis became famous among young folk and blues musicians during the 1950s because of the acoustic finger-picking guitar style that he created.  Guitarists Ry Cooder, Jerry Garcia, Jorma Kaukonen, and many others were influenced by the Reverend.  Davis'  “Piedmont” style blues and gospel songs were recorded by Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Jackson Brown, Joan Baez and others during the 1960s.

Ernie graduated from Taylor Allderdice High School in 1964. The day after his last class was over he moved to New York City in search of Reverend Gary Davis.  Ernie found a job as a clerk with Bond’s Clothing manufacturing company making $52 a week. He then got a hold of Rev. Gary Davis by phone to ask if he could take guitar lessons. Davis agreed saying “Come see me.” Ernie found Davis sitting in a little storefront church in Queens and began his studies.  He meet with Gary three times a week for almost a year.  Davis only charged him $5 for lessons that lasted entire afternoons.  Ernie became Davis's driver taking him to coffeehouse gigs at coffee houses and blues clubs. Hawkins also spent time playing with playing with Son House and Fred McDowell while in New York.

College Years

Ernie returned to Pittsburgh in the late 1960s where he enrolled in the University of Pittsburgh. There he studied phenomenological psychology and existential philosophy earning a B.A. in 1973. While at Pitt he performed with Niles Jones, a blues player who had a hit in 1970 with song the "Welfare Blue" and who was "rediscovered" in the 1990's as Guitar Gabriel. Excelling in his field of study Hawkins earned a graduate school scholarship to the University of Dallas. He attended graduate school for five years earning a Phd. in 1978.

Early Recordings and Rockability

Rather than pursuing an academic teaching career, Hawkins returned to the guitar as his vocation.  Back in Pittsburgh in 1980 after the Three Mile Island nuclear leak he began his recording career releasing his first single “Harrisburg Radiation Blues.”  Working with a Pittsburgh producer Hawkins recorded his first album "Ragtime Signatures" on the Wildebeest label,  It featured guitar rags, the Gary Davis standards “Cocaine” and “Slow Drag” and  three of Ernie's originals. Taking up the electric guitar Ernie played in several  bands around Pittsburgh during the early 1980s.

Invited by a friend Hawkins moved to Austin, Texas in 1984 to try to break into the blues and rockabilly scene.  As gigs were tough to get with all of the talented competition in Austin Hawkins took a day job as a substitute teacher.  When he mother became ill Hawkins returned home to Pittsburgh. 

Pittsburgh Blues Band Years

Hawkins moved back to Pittsburgh in 1985 and played with the a rockabilly band "The 8 Balls" performing at the Decade Lounge.    Later in 1985 he joined the R&B/Blues band Gary Belloma and the Blues Bombers as lead guitarist.  He spent 10 years with the Bombers playing in Pittsburgh area blue joints like Gene's Bar on Route 51, Buffalo Blues in Shadyside, the Hollywood Show Bar, and Rolands in the Strip.  The Blues Bombers also appeared annually at various blues festivals in Pittsburgh and Washington County. Hawkins appeared two Blues Bombers recordings Bombs Away (1992) and Attitude Adjustment (1995).

Hawkins was instrumental in organizing the Pittsburgh Blues Festival and helped bring several blues legends including Rev. Gary Davis, Mance Lipscomb, Fred McDowell, and Robert Pete Williams to Pittsburgh for appearances.. 

Solo Career

In 1996 Hawkins left the Blues Bombers to begin his solo acoustic guitar career.  He released his first solo CD "Blues Advice" on the Orchard label in 1996.  "Bluesified" his second release in 2000 featured Maria Maldaur  and the Merle Travis’ standard, “I Am A Pilgrim”.  The title track of "Bluesified featured former Houserocker Marc Reisman on harp, bassist Dave Pellow and drummer George Hied.     Ernie released "Mean Little Poodle"in 2002.  "Rags and Bones" was released in 2005.  

Hawkins' award winning 2010 Corona Records release "Whinin Boy" features the Ernie Hawkins band.   The ragtime sounding combo is comprised of  Paul Cosentino on clarinet, Roger Day on tuba), Joe Dallas trombone, Marc Reisman on harmonica, James Moore on  trumpet, bassist Dwayne Dolphin, and percussionist George Heid who also produced the recording.
Ernie Hawkins Music
Ernie Hawkins Band -What'cha Gonna Do
The Blues Bombers - Money Tree