The story of Roy Hawkins is another in the history of the blues which is filled with tragedy, injustice and mystery. The pianist who wrote the classic, now standard, “The Thrill is Gone,” has slipped into obscurity and is known but to a few, and those are the hard core aficionados of the genre which keep his name alive.
Based in Richmond, California, which is across the bay from San Francisco, he was discovered by producer Bob Geddins, who recorded his early sides. These were then leased to Modern which was based out of Los Angeles.
Between 1948 and 1951 Roy Hawkins was one of Modern Records’ best-selling artists, and one of their brightest prospects for the future. The sides he cut for Modern had a profound influence on the next generation of blues and soul giants, and his biggest hits were revived by such notable ‘fans’ as Ray Charles, James Brown and B.B. King.
Hawkins cut “The Thrill Is Gone,” for Modern in 1951 which was a minor hit on the Billboard race charts. He then was in a near fatal auto crash which cost him the use of his right arm. He was afterward regulated to playing the chitlin circuit as far away as Texas with a hired pianist to support him. He was reported to have returned to the Bay Area in the late ‘60’s after B.B. King had a huge Grammy winning hit with “The Thrill is Gone,” only to discover that his name was left out as composer and as such received no royalties for his song. He was reported to have last been seen or heard of selling vacuum cleaners.