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Musician Ronnie Hawkins’ four top tips for success

ANTHONY JENKINS/The Globe and Mail

There's a reason it's called teamwork

If you have a hockey team and they practise every day together for a couple of years, and then you have another team of amazing players that doesn't practise, that first team is going to win. It doesn't matter if you've got Bobby Orr, the best team is great because of how they work together. I hired Ricky Danko and Robbie Robertson when they were 16, 17 years old. It took them years to develop and that was from playing and practising every night. Eventually they got real, real good.

Stick to your roots but know when to add branches

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Rockabilly is the only kind of music I could ever do halfway decent. I didn't have the voice to sing like some of those great cats like Ray Charles or any of those people. When rockabilly was hot, I just did that. When other things started to become big, I kept doing the rockabilly and I would hire other people to add to the sound. When Motown hit big, I hired three black singers to perform with me and that kept the clubs full. When the British invasion happened, I hired Robbie Lane and The Disciples to perform with me because they did all of the English stuff. If you can't play what your audience is looking for, you better figure out how to do it or you'll probably be out of a job.

Live fast, die old

About 10 years ago, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. They told me that I had 90 days to live and what we did in those days – the drinking and partying – it would have killed Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime, let alone a man with terminal cancer. We had a film crew come up to film my final days. They were going to film me until I dropped dead, so I think they were a little disappointed that they had to change the end. I don't know who cured me in the end – I worked with a young healer, with doctors, with alternative medicine. In the end, I'm just thankful to be alive and I try to be thankful every day. I thank the big Rocker.

Talent scouting for dummies

People say I'm a great mentor or a great discoverer of talent, but all it is is that I see somebody who can do something really well and I think, boy I wish I could do that. If I think that, I figure there's got to be a few more people out there who would feel the same way, so I bring that person into the band.

This interview has been condensed and edited by Courtney Shea

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