Thanks for the great story. That is one unique Hawk GT. Great trip.
Mike Larson - Sedona, AZ
Some of you might remember I purchased a 1989 Hawk GT off of eBay. My goal was to ride it 1500 miles, on some of America’s best roads, from Asheville, NC to Kansas. In part 2 of this series you’ll find out if a 22-year-old, 650cc motorcycle could make it? How would a vintage bike perform on everything from The Dragon to I-40? Read on and enjoy.
The Hawk had about 15,000 miles on it. It was updated with a VFR front end, pedal brakes, a VFR real wheel; M4 high pipe exhaust and the old gauges had been replaced with a trick Koso digital gauge cluster. Before buying, I asked the seller if he felt the bike was up to the trip. “No problem,” he said.
So, I shipped a box of riding gear to North Carolina and hopped a flight to Asheville. The former owner picked me up at the airport and drove me to his home. We threw on a magnetic tank bag, strapped on a Wolfman rear bag and I headed out. My buddies thought I’d never make it.
Day #1: Does it get better than the roads in Western North Carolina? Deals Gap. The Dragon. It’s sport bike nirvana. So how did a 22-year-old 650 twin do? Very well, thank you. When the roads are technical enough a lot of horsepower isn’t needed. Great brakes and plenty of lean angles are however. The VFR front with its adjustable forks, dual discs and pedal brakes really made a difference. The Hawk steers a little slower than a modern sport bike, like my KTM 950SM, but it’s rock steady and very confidence inspiring. As long as the straights aren’t too long, it’s still a winner.
Day #2: The day’s ride across Tennessee highlighted two of the Hawks worst features: a rock hard seat and a 3-gallon gas tank. Is this by design? By the time your butt aches, the tank is empty. The 5-gallon tank from a Bros 650 and a call to Mr. Corbin can fix the problem. Just south of Nashville, I turned south on The Natchez Trace and followed it to Tupelo, MS. where I planned to spend the night. This was my second trip on The Trace. It’s a beautiful, leisurely, ride that is sure to be enjoyed. Stop and smell the roses, read the historical markers and enjoy the ride. When riding The Trace on a bike with a 3-gallon tank remember, gas stations are few and far between. I hit reserve about 30 miles outside Tupelo and pulled in on fumes.
Day #3: Highway 6 from Tupelo, MS. to Clarksdale, MS. is called the The Mississippi Blues Trail. From Elvis to Muddy Waters, Sam Cooke to Ike Turner, this is Ground Zero for American Blues. The day started with a visit to Elvis’s modest birthplace in Tupelo. Elvis’s roots were in Gospel and the Blues. His hit “Hound Dog.” was originally recorded by Big Momma Thornton. His backup group was The Jordanaires, a Gospel quartet. After paying my respects to The King, I headed west stopping briefly in Oxford, MS. Oxford is a beautiful little college town. It is the home of Ole Miss and such famous writers as William Faulkner and John Grisham. But it’s approaching lunch time and I want to get to Clarksdale. I decide not to try and find the missing burial place of legendary blues man Robert Johnson. Instead I decide to: Visit the Delta Blues Museum, have lunch at Morgan Freeman’s restaurant/blues club called “Ground Zero,” discover the real story of Clarksdale native Ike Turner, as opposed to his cinematic portrayal.
The Delta Blues Museum is housed in the old railroad station. On the side is an outdoor stage where concerts are still held. It’s a treasure trove of blues history. One surprise, most of the visitors that day were from England and Germany. I guess the Blues is universal. I picked up a Sun Records T-shirt and headed out to lunch.
Ground Zero Club and Restaurant is Morgan Freeman’s tribute to Delta Blues. A reproduction of a 1940’s juke joint, it serves good food and live Blues. It’s just down the street from The Delta Blues Museum. Morgan must have been in Hollywood since I didn’t see him there but I enjoyed my lunch just the same.
All I knew about Clarksdale native Ike Turner was his music. He was portrayed in his ex-wife’s autobiography, “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” as a drug-addicted, wife abuser, who rose to fame on the back of his wife’s talent. My interest was piqued when at his funeral, legendary producer Phil Spectre said, “Ike made Tina the jewel she was and B.B. King told me at a party with Ray Charles sitting there, that Ike Turner was the only guitar player he wouldn’t play behind. That’s how good he was and Ike could play circles around Eric Clapton and Eric knew it.” That’s high praise from someone who worked with all of them.
Rock historians have credited Ike with recording the first rock and roll record. “Rocket 88” was recorded by Ike Turner and The Kings of Rhythm in 1951 at Sun Studios in Memphis. He was already a huge star when, at a concert in St. Louis, Anna Mae Bullock, hungry for fame, stepped out of the audience and grabbed the microphone. A few days later Ike hired her as a backup singer. He gave her the name Tina Turner.
They enjoyed enormous success with Ike writing most of the music and the arrangements. Ike says they were never married. After their breakup both went thru hard times. Eventually Ike spent time in prison for drug and weapons charges. After his release from prison he enjoyed many years of sobriety and toured the world playing Blues festivals. He has been nominated for many music awards and has won two Grammy’s.
As the Hawk and I left Clarksdale I pondered the question, who was Ike Turner? The abusive, drug addicted husband, who owes his success to his superstar wife? Or the musical Svengali, whose memory was trashed by a vindictive ex-wife? Ike’s story is a fuller picture than most of us know.
In my next episode, our Hawk hunts Duc’s in the Ozark Mountains.
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