By Ossie Bladine • Editor • 

The many faces of Shawn Hawkins

Ashcan Orchid
Ashcan Orchid
Shawn Hawkins and the Offenders
Shawn Hawkins and the Offenders
Road Altars
Road Altars
The Stood Ups
The Stood Ups

Shawn Hawkins has enjoyed an anomalous music career — one that’s taken him across the country and back. But he has never played a gig in his hometown of McMinnville.

That will change next Friday, Sept. 6, when Hawkins performs at the Oregon Blues & BBQs fest in the Granary District.

Locals may remember him as Shawn Pincock, the name he graduated under at Mac High in 1990. He played trumpet in middle school and high school, but never played in any local bands — despite a failed attempt to form a heavy metal band at the age of 16.

After graduating, Hawkins enlisted in the Marine Corps. During his tour of duty, he rediscovered the music he grew up listening to with his parents — the likes of Waylon, Willie and Merle.

He moved to Portland when his service ended and started making outlaw country music. In the process, he kicked off a colorful 15-year career as a professional musician.

Hawkins began with a pair of honky-tonk rock bands, the Speedway Playboys and White Line Fever. Then he put away the cowboy hat and donned the pinstripes as frontman for the rockabilly group The Stood Ups, where his band persona was Flip Nickel.

He returned to outlaw country as Shawn Hawkins and the Offenders, then grew a sweet beard and assembled a gypsy folk-rock group called Ashcan Orchid. Ashcan Orchid featured several musicians he’d played with over the years, including well-known singer and songwriter Kate Mann.

The band gained momentum with its release of “The Woods,” but had to disband when Mann returned to her native New Mexico.

Next, Hawkins created Saint Diesel, which he termed “a psychedelic country-roots thing.” It featured a cello, surf guitar, drums and singing saw, which Hawkins played.

“I just got a hankering, and it came to me pretty naturally,” he said of the saw. “I can’t play anything that I don’t pick up naturally.”

Today, at 41, Hawkins has settled in the Eastern Oregon hamlet of Mitchell. He is living on a cattle ranch with his sweetheart, and is in the process of launching a brewery in partnership with Mitchell native Robert Cannon.

Hawkins and Cannon are now performing as a duo called the Road Altars, and that will be Hawkins’ vehicle in his hometown debut. He calls the act a “roots conglomeration” that blends his rockabilly orientation with Cannon’s blues and jazz orientation.

“I usually play harmonica to his stuff and he’ll play slide guitar or guitar to my stuff,” Hawkins said.

The Road Altars duo has the music scene all to itself in Mitchell, a town of 165 that bills itself as “the gateway to the Painted Hills.”

But Hawkins said, “I make more money out here in a night than I would in Portland. People are just anxious to see something out here.”

Hawkins said his various music outfits all flowed in the roots vein. But he said, “My songwriting doesn’t seem to always fit what I’m doing at the moment.”

That’s led to a backlog of songs, waiting until a fitting opportunity comes along.

For example, he said, “I had written a whole pile of songs about ghosts and serial killers and weird stuff like that, and Kate had also written a lot of that stuff,” that didn’t work for the Ashcan Orchids.

Hawkins has developed the Mile Nine Studio in the basement of his Mitchell home so he can record locally.

Given the number of unusual instruments he plays, and his genre-crossing nature, he gets a lot of contract work from other artists. He’s also hosted a few bands from out of town. 

A love of all kinds of music has driven him from one creative freight train after another, he said.

You can catch his next stop from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6, in The Granary District. In the meantime, you can stream samples of his work at www.saintdiesel.com.

Ossie Bladine can be reached at obladine@newsregister.com.

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