As rock ‘n’ roll began to emerge in the Ozarks, there were a few clubs, especially around Fayetteville, where college students and young adults could kick back on a Friday or Saturday night to hear music with a good beat that you could dance to. One venue in particular, The Rockwood Club, would be a force in the 1950s and 1960s. Though ownership passed hands a few times, its most famous owner, Huntsville native and former Fayetteville resident Ronnie Hawkins, used the club to provide some young Canadian musicians experience with playing to American audiences. Hawkins, a rock ‘n’ roller with hit songs of his own, had settled in Canada by the early 1960s. He sent one young man, Richard Manuel, and his group, The Revols, to Fayetteville to be the Rockwood Club’s house band for a few weeks in 1961, sometimes sharing a billing with a group known as The Del-Rays.
At other times, Hawkins would bring down his band, The Hawks, to play as well. Many musicians passed through The Hawks, but those most memorable were Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Manuel. When this lineup parted ways with Hawkins in the mid-1960s, they returned to Fayetteville to play several dates at the Rockwood Club as Levon and the Hawks, living in the no-longer-existant Iris Motel on College Avenue. By the late 1960s, those exact same members would be known as The Band and would have hit songs with “Up on Cripple Creek” and “The Weight.”
Oh, and The Del-Reys? The two key members, Earl and Ernie Cate, would become The Cate Brothers Band with a hit song of their own, “Mr. Union Man,” and continue to perform engagements to this day.
But to focus only on Hawkins, The Band and The Cate Brothers Band would be a disservice to the club located south of town near the Fayetteville airport. Many big names, such as Wanda Jackson and Jerry Lee Lewis, performed there, and Sun Studio musicians Sonny Burgess and the Pacers played there repeatedly.
So did many local bands who hoped to make it big. Echoes of the Ozarks would like to periodically salute those local bands in and near the Ozark region through a series to appear on here known as “Ghosts of The Rockwood Club.”
Featured today is Mike McAlister, who performed at The Rockwood Club on October 14, 1960, after returning from Canada, presumably courtesy of Hawkins. Not much is known of McAlister except he recorded with Hob-Nob Records in Harrison. This 1958 song, “Twenty One,” which he performed as a duo named Mike and Nancy, celebrates adulthood with a sound that has Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly influences all over it. The chorus: “Just leave me alone, I’m on my own, I’m 21!”