Ronnie Hawkins on John Lennon Yoko Bag One and The Whole Peace Party

“In December 1969 John and Yoko were fully committed to their War Is Over If You Want It peace campaign. When I got the phone call from London that they were coming to stay with me, I was thrilled, though I admit I didn’t know that much about the Beatles personally. I just knew about all the hits they had played on the radio. I was a bar act back in 1969, playing the current popular songs every night. I had a band working with me called Robbie Lane and the Disciples, and they learned all the Beatles and Rolling Stones and all that other Limey stuff. Still, while I knew their songs were big, I didn’t have any earthly idea that the Beatles were going to stay around as long as they did. Anyone else in the world having had that happen would have just done cartwheels and started biting themselves in the arse. 

When they arrived, I thought I’ve got to get into them a little bit. See where these big-time people were at. In the case of Yoko, she was educated. She could speak four or five languages and she was phoning everybody in the world from the ambassador of Japan to Princess Margaret and Peter Sellers. And John was an absolutely wonderful cat, unbelievable. I just observed him and his whole attitude, his whole thing on life. He just seemed to be a real good guy. He wasn’t conning people in any way. He was very gifted in some special sort of way. And I didn’t realize how powerful he was. John would reach for a cigarette and seventeen lighters came out. It was like the sprinkler system coming on at a golf course.

While John was signing his ‘Bag One’ lithographs, somebody managed to slip on a copy of my new album, which I’d recorded in Muscle Shoals a couple of months earlier under the production genius of Jerry Wexler. And it turned out that John liked it a lot, especially the version of the old Clovers’ hit “Down in the Alley,” which Jerry Wexler had recorded in its original version.

But I must say that I didn’t take advantage of anything because I didn’t want to bug them. At the time, it seemed like everyone was trying to mooch off John. I gave them the best of everything I had because they were the stars. My wife, Wanda, and I moved out of our master bedroom for them. Of course, I didn’t know at the time that they were going to get stoned, pass out and turn the bathwater on, which overflowed and resulted in the brand-new ceiling caving in on us. Nor did I know that somebody would manage to set the garage on fire. Or that fans would be climbing over the fence to catch a glimpse of John. Our security guy, Heavy Andrews, was charged with assault for chasing off a journalist who’d been trespassing. In the meantime, it was funny how I suddenly got all of my friends back. I did my best to keep them away from John, but the media I couldn’t control. You wouldn’t believe the number of people who rang me up and pretended they didn’t know that John and Yoko were staying there.

 Macrobiotic cooks were brought in to prepare John and Yoko’s special food. Despite that diet, I caught John and Yoko down at the fridge a couple of times in the middle of the night having a quick slice of bologna. At that time, the Beatles had already broken up. But nobody knew about that yet. We knew about it because we heard them talking on the phone about things to do with the Beatles. I mean, I hadn’t kept up with the Beatles personally at all. I didn’t know anything about John’s private life. Or Yoko’s private life. Until they came to my house and told me all that shit about how that Indian guru was chasing those teenage girls.

Wanda and I accompanied John and Yoko and the whole peace party in the private train carriage to Ottawa for the historic meeting with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. That was wonderful, man. I’d never been on one of those private coaches ever. I didn’t even know they existed. It was like the party that President Clinton threw for me in Toronto in 2002. I didn’t know that there were suites like that. I’d never been in one before. I mean, twenty-four-hour room service. Two master suites. I could remain on the road forever if I could stay in one of those private carriages. john lennon yoko ono pierre trudeau

During the meeting with the prime minister, I wasn’t paying too much attention. Wanda and I were just tagging along on that trip and seeing unbelievable things. To meet Pierre Trudeau and all those people, to eat at those unbelievable restaurants—it was mind-blowing. And then on the plane flight back to Toronto from Ottawa, with the former Prime Minister Lester Pearson on board. That was very special, too.

When I heard about John being shot, I was back in Arkansas. I’d gone down there to visit my mum and dad. Within five minutes, I had the U.S. TV networks onto me wanting comments. It was a terrible time for any of us who’d had the great pleasure of meeting John”.

Ronnie Hawkins (1935 -2022)

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