During a concert at Laguna Beach's Cliff Restaurant on May 5, Bob Hawkins suffered a heart attack while performing with the Ken Garcia Band. Incredibly, Hawkins, a veteran guitarist and fixture of the Orange County music scene, finished the set before heading off to the hospital. The feat of endurance was typical of Hawkins, says friend and bandmate John Hall. "Bob is a working man's musician, out performing almost every night of the week. We don't have a lot of guys like Bob. He's a dyed in the wool Orange County musician."
Hall plays with Hawkins in OC rock band Hautewerk. He also happens to be the CEO of Santa Ana's iconic electric guitar and bass manufacturer Rickenbacker. To offset Hawkins's staggering medical bills, the company is auctioning off a classic Rickenbacker 360 JetGlo guitar–a model popularized by the Beatles–signed by Michael Stipe, Bill Perry, Peter Buck, and Mike Mills of REM. All proceeds from the auction, which runs from July 17 to July 27 on eBay, will go straight to aid Hawkins's recovery.
"It's been very overwhelming and humbling," says Hawkins. "I have to tell myself that people are doing all this for me." After his open-heart surgery, Hawkins is now back on his feet but has been ordered to take it easy. Hawkins performed at last Thursday's benefit at San Juan Capistrano's Coach House but won't be returning to his busy concert and guitar-teaching schedule anytime soon. Despite the long rehabilitation ahead, returning to performance has buoyed Hawkins, he says. "I was fine standing there holding a guitar. Three weeks ago I couldn't lift anything."
Hawkins, who has spent the better part of the last forty years in Orange County, describes Laguna Beach as his spiritual home, although he lives in Aliso Viejo today. A founding member of Laguna stalwarts Missiles of October, Hawkins has worked with songwriter and folk musician John Stewart and currently performs with Shana Morrison Band. "I've been around these parts for many years," Hawkins says. "It's nice to know that I have touched so many people."
It's not the first time Rickenbacker has auctioned off a guitar for altruistic purposes. "In 2008 at Abbey Road Studios, we auctioned off a guitar featuring just Peter Buck's signature to benefit Cancer Research UK," says Hall. "We got about $15,000 for that one. Hopefully this one will bring in more." The logistics of getting each of the members of REM to sign the guitar were complicated. "I worked with [REM's] equipment manager DeWitt Burton. We ended up flying the thing around the country to get all the signatures," explains Hall, adding that Michael Stipe and Bill Berry rarely sign instruments, which greatly increases the guitar's value.
For now, Hawkins is taking it easy and focusing on his health. "I didn't realize how much stress I was creating for myself," says Hawkins, who drove all over Orange County to give guitar lessons before the heart attack. His teaching schedule will probably change, but nothing can keep Hawkins offstage. "I'm playing with Shana Morrison Band in Kansas City in August," he says. "I don't want to retire the guitar."