He traded five trapped rabbits for his first guitar, and first performed on WCMI-AM in Ashland, Kentucky. At 16, he won a talent competition and a job on WSAZ-AM in Huntington, where he formed Hawkshaw and Sherlock with Clarence Jack. They moved to WCHS-AM in Charleston, West Virginia in the late 1930s. In 1940, at 19, he married Reva Mason Barbour, a 16-year-old from Huntington. During 1941, Hawkins traveled the United States with a musical revue.
He entered the US Army in 1943 during World War II, and served as an engineer stationed near Paris, Texas where he and friends performed at local clubs. As a staff sergeant, he was stationed in France and fought in the Battle of the Bulge, winning four battle stars during 15 months of combat. He was also stationed in Manila and performed there on the radio. After he was discharged, Hawkins became a regular on WWVA Jamboree from 1945 to 1954 in Wheeling, West Virginia. In 1948, he signed a recording contract with King Records in Cincinnati, Ohio.
His first two recordings with King, "Pan American" and "Dog House Boogie", were top ten country hits. A minor hit, and the song that become his signature tune, was "The Sunny Side of the Mountain." "Slow Poke", recorded in 1951, was another notable King recording. He stayed with the label until 1953. In 1951, Hawkins and his wife adopted 4-year old Susan Marlene. They divorced in 1958, and Susan remained with her adoptive mother and visited her father when possible. Beginning in 1954, Hawkins was a regular performer on ABC Radio and TV's Ozark Jubilee in Springfield, Missouri, where he met his second wife, Jean Shepard.
After a few years with Columbia and RCA Records, he joined the Grand Ole Opry and returned to King; and in 1962 he recorded his biggest hit, "Lonesome 7-7203". It first appeared on the Billboard country chart as a March 2, 1963 release, three days before Hawkins died. The song was absent from the charts for the two weeks following his death, but re-appeared on March 23 and spent 25 weeks on the chart, four of them at No. 1, an accomplishment that eluded him in life. On March 3, 1963, Hawkins, Patsy Cline and Cowboy Copas performed at a benefit concert at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kansas for the family of disc jockey "Cactus" Jack Call, who had died in January after an automobile accident.
Among the performers was Billy Walker, who received an urgent phone call and needed to return to Nashville immediately. Hawkins gave Walker his commercial airline ticket and instead flew back in a private plane in Walker's place. On March 5, Hawkins, Cline and Copas left for Nashville in a Piper Comanche piloted by Cline's manager (and Copas' son-in-law), Randy Hughes. After stopping to refuel in Dyersburg, Tennessee, the craft took off at 6:07 p.m. CT.
The plane flew into severe weather and crashed at 6:20 p.m. in a forest near Camden, Tennessee, 90 miles from Nashville. There were no survivors. Fans around the world mourned the loss; Hawkins's wife, Jean, was pregnant at the time with their second son, Harold Franklin II. Hawkins was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens in Goodlettsville, Tennessee in "Music Row" with Copas and other country music stars. The location of the airplane crash in the still-remote forest outside Camden is noted by a stone marker, dedicated on July 6, 1996. Hawkins is remembered in "Love Never Dies" on Martin Simpson's 2003 album, Righteousness and Humidity.
In the song, Simpson meets an old truck driver who used to play guitar: "I gave old Hawkshaw a Gibson one time, it was a J-200, man, such a sweet neck! And they say it stood up like a country grave marker, right there in the middle of that plane wreck." Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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