WESTBROOK — He’s been called a Maine treasure and is among a small group of musicians recognized as the state’s bluegrass pioneers.

Over the past three years, he wrote and recorded an album of songs praising the state’s pine trees, millworkers and mountains. The songs are on a CD released last week titled “I Love the State of Maine.”

If anyone could be pardoned for being from away, it’s Al Hawkes.

Born in Rhode Island to Westbrook High School sweethearts, Hawkes, 84, spent the first 10 years of his life outside Providence before his family moved back to Westbrook, where he has lived ever since.

Despite his birthplace, a love for the state always ran through his blood. Getting out of the city in the summer to visit relatives here as a child, he said, “was like being let out of a cage.”

He admits Maine has its flaws. There could be more jobs and better salaries, he said. He’s sad for the people affected by the closure of mills throughout the state. The past couple of years have been particularly difficult and divisive, he said. That’s partially what inspired the CD.

“I hope that some of the songs on the album make people smile, be a little bit happier about the state of Maine,” Hawkes said.


Aside from two cover songs – including one by Rudy Vallee, another renowned musician from Westbrook – Hawkes wrote all the music and lyrics on the album. And all but two of Hawkes’ original tunes were written in the past three years.

First released in 1975, “Snowmobile Sal” was inspired by a girl his son met at a warming shack while riding trails in Windham.

Hawkes started writing “I Was Born on a Mountain Top in Maine” 10 years ago. It describes a time when Hawkes was dirt biking on Sabattus Mountain with the same son, about seven years before he was killed in a car accident.

The title track came to Hawkes three years ago. Initially it was called “I Love the Coast of Maine,” but after a while he questioned why he’d just write about the coast.

“Why don’t I just do some nice things about the entire state?” he remembers thinking.

He changed the name and some of the lyrics to that song. Then the rest of them started coming.

“Every so often a song would pop in my head,” Hawkes said.

After so many years playing music, he wasn’t sure if he was making up the tunes on the spot or remembering old melodies he’d heard long ago. So he did some research.

“I found out mine were original,” he said.

There’s a tribute to the city of Westbrook, two songs about Down East and another on the North Woods.


Throughout the album, the lyrics repeatedly reference the ocean, the air and the people – whom the title song declares are “of the finest kind.”

Hawkes, no question, is one of them.

After his 80th birthday, then-Sen. Olympia Snowe delivered a tribute to him in the Congressional Record, calling Hawkes “a Maine and national treasure.”

He has received countless state and national accolades, including being recognized as a member of the first generation of bluegrass musicians by the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Kentucky.

Another of his claims to fame is for being half of the first interracial bluegrass duet, along with Alton Myers, whom he met while they were both looking through old records in a used furniture store at Portland’s Woodfords Corner.

Hawkes was known not only for his musical talent, but also for recordings of other bluegrass artists that he did in a building at Hawkes Plaza, where he sold televisions and erected a large colorful sign that’s become an icon along Route 302.

In the basement of his house, just down Hardy Road from Hawkes Plaza, is where all the people who played and sang on the Maine tribute album came to rehearse and record. That included members of the Westbrook Middle School chorus, who join in on the “Song of Westbrook.”

Chorus teacher Lisa Andrade said she’d hear the students singing or humming the tune around school. “It was the type of song that would get stuck in your head,” she said.

Hawkes sings lead vocals on all the songs and, on some, does the harmony as well. Backed by a band of musicians he’s played with or admired, he also plays the guitar and mandolin on some tracks.


Hawkes said his fingers have slowed down a bit, but insists it’s a result of getting older and having arthritis, more than an effect of his Parkinson’s disease. His diagnosis, however, is the other reason he made the album.

Hawkes recalled the moment 15 years ago when his doctor in Boston told him what was wrong with him.

“I said, ‘What the hell is that?’ ” he said.

By donating all proceeds from the album to the Maine Parkinson Society, he hopes to raise awareness about the disease, as well as money for the organization, which provides respite for caregivers and funding to help find a cure.

“I want to help people that have Parkinson’s and have it worse than I do,” he said.

Hawkes has noticed how the disease has affected his equilibrium and his sleep, but he doesn’t shake, which is what would make playing instruments more difficult. He plans to make more recordings and to play as long as he can express his passion for music.

“I don’t play as well as I used to, but I still have the same feelings for the songs,” he said. “That’ll never change.”

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