Love of God and music has brought two music greats together.
Marion (Manny) Hawn, a native of Columbia City, Ind. now living in Rome City, has been in the music business nearly 50 years and has rubbed shoulders with such greats as Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, and worked with Sam Phillips of Sun Records. Robert (Bob) Dabney of Sturgis, Mich., was a Los Angeles native raised in Oregon. He began performing at the age of 19 with Jimmie Lawton and The Ghost Riders (formerly known as The Lawmen). Like Manny, Bob Dabney traveled the circuit working the same venue with the great Jimmie Rogers and honed his talents in teaching and song writing. He became close with Michael Jackson, teaching him keyboard and wrote music for Jackson’s New Artist Division, which was established to help new artists in the performing business.
While Manny traveled around Memphis and Nashville, many times as a fill-in at the Grand Ole Opry, Bob spent most of his music career in sunny Los Angeles. Both retired and settled in this area, but it was only about a year ago that the two found themselves at Marion Mennonite Church, located west of Howe on SR 120. The two have been participating and adding to the music worship of the congregation since then.
Pastor Ron Roth described the musicians as passionate in their love for the Lord and the church body, having a strong Christian faith and a rock solid faith in God. “They are very musically talented and dedicate their gifts of music to the Lord. They add an energy to the church – the Body of Christ – that is contagious and an excitement that keeps us moving forward!”
Although their two paths never crossed before attending Marion Mennonite, the two set now and reminisce of the old days – amazed at what they have in common and the number of people that they both knew and worked with.
The two have formed a new band called Manny’s Jam, commanding a premier performance at Chicago Joe’s Restaurant in downtown LaGrange recently. Added to Manny’s Jam is Nikki (Steider) Carpenter of Wolcottville, a close friend of Manny. Nikki routinely performs at Wolcottville United Methodist Church and is a special performer at Marion Mennonite. She performs with the Cross-Country Band.
“They are great,” Joe Albergo, owner of Chicago Joe’s, said of their performance. “I had met Manny and he shared some of his experiences with me. I had a nightclub in Chicago and wanted to bring some of that feel to LaGrange.”
All three musicians were inspired and encouraged by family members. Both Bob and Manny had mothers who were in the music business and continued to encourage. Manny’s mother attended Julliard. “There was always a piano in the house. My brother found an old guitar and she used old piano wire to string it for me. I would sleep with it and play until blood ran down my hand,” Manny said and explained that he got into the music business after he left the army. “I would jam at service clubs and one day someone said they needed instruments tuned for Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Earl watched me tune the banjo. He never left anyone touch his banjo but no one told me that. He picked it up and played it and then offered me a job in Memphis as a studio musician. Johnny Cash, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins would drop in and set and talk and jam. One day I picked up the bass guitar. Carl Perkins suggested I move to Decca Records in Nashville but I wound up at Capital and got to work with Elvis on a sound track for Blue Hawaii. Elvis was real down to earth and always talked about quitting. He was like a buddy and comfortable to be around. While I was contracted to Capital Records, I also met and worked with Ricky Nelson. I was with him on three tours and was on-call all the time. I came back to this area to play for people that can’t go to Nashville.”
Manny has spent the last 18 years with local bands such as The Country Travelers and Wild Country.
Bob Dabney started recording at the early age of 4. “I studied drum and guitar for years and started professionally at the age of 19 with The Ghost Riders, with Jimmie Lawton as lead singer. I was with them for three years.” Bob also wrote music for Jimmy Whakely. One song, “Haven’t Lived Enough,” was recorded by Whakely in the 1970s. Brian David Willis also received drum instructions from Bob for many years. “I promoted him to play professionally and he became the drummer for Quarterflash, famous for ‘Harden My Heart.’ It was before I retired that I gave Michael Jackson music lessons in his home and wrote some music for the New Artists Division,” Bob related.
Manny plays a number of instruments by ear. They include bass, lead and rhythm guitar, keyboard, harmonica, mandolin, banjo, fiddle, organ and piano. Bob began on the drums but also plays guitar, piano, accordion, keyboard, bass guitar and performs vocally.
Nikki was recognized as talent at the age of 8, while singing solo in her church. “I was too shy to stand up and speak in front of people, but I didn’t have a problem singing,” she said. She received piano and vocal instruction from Eunice Cords. “Although I’m not really playing piano anymore, I can read music, which is an advantage that (amazingly) a lot of musicians I know don’t have,” she added. “I’m looking forward to performing with Manny and Bob. I’ve know Manny several years, and he is a sweet, kind man who has come to mean a great deal to me. I’ve only recently met Bob, but have enjoyed singing with him thus far. Both Manny and Bob have been deeply involved in the music industry in their lives, and I can learn a lot from them. We all have a deep love of God and music is an excellent way of communicating with others.”
Manny’s Jam classifies their style of performing as “old-time rock and roll, classic country and gospel.” They can be reached for engagements by phoning Bob Dabney at 269-651-1916 or Manny Hawn at 260-854-4491.