Guitarist Ernie Hawkins was Pittsburgh's best-kept blues secret until the late '90s when he resumed his solo career as a Piedmont blues player. Like his contemporaries Stefan Grossman, Roy Book Binder, and Jorma Kaukonen, Hawkins studied with Reverend Gary Davis in the '60s and boasts a revivalist repertoire that runs the gamut of Delta blues, country blues, ragtime, and gospel. Hawkins two "comeback" acoustic blues albums, Blues Advice and Bluesified, proved him to be a remarkable interpreter of the music of Davis, Blind Willie McTell, and Skip James.
Born in Pittsburgh in 1947, Hawkins picked up the guitar and banjo as a teenager, initially playing bluegrass and country music before delving into the pre-war blues of McTell, Mississippi John Hurt, and Blind Blake, among others. In 1965, Hawkins moved to New York City, where he spent a year learning ragtime guitar from Reverend Gary Davis. Hawkins spent the next decade in college and graduate school, but he remained active in music, eventually encountering and playing with bluesmen such as Mance Lipscomb, Robert Pete Williams, Fred McDowell, and Robert "Nyles" Jones (aka Guitar Gabriel). In 1978, Hawkins put aside his psychology career and became a full-time musician.
After recording Ragtime Signatures in 1980, Hawkins moved to Austin, TX, where he worked solo and also with electric blues and rockabilly bands. He returned to Pittsburgh in the mid-'80s and for the next ten years filled the lead guitar slot with local R&B act Gary Belloma and the Blues Bombers. 1996's Blues Advice signaled Hawkins' welcome return to the ragtime blues vein and it foreshadowed some of the traditional gospel directions Hawkins took on Bluesified, his 2000 release. Hawkins' reputation as one of the leading Gary Davis practitioners earned him a spot on the Andy Cohen-produced compilation Gary Davis Style -- A Tribute to Reverend Gary Davis, as well as a recording session with Maria Muldaur for her acoustic blues album, Richland Woman Blues.