Born Delmar Allen Hawkins, 22 August 1936, Goldmine, Louisiana
Singer / songwriter / rhythm guitarist / producer
Dale Hawkins is often labelled as a rockabilly singer. This reflects a trend to call all white rock and rollers from the 1950s 'rockabilly'. But rockabilly in its true meaning contains many elements from country & western (or hillbilly, if you want). The Country Music Foundation even classifies rockabilly as a subgenre of country music. These country ingredients are largely absent from Dale's music. As a youngster he was exposed to many Afro-American musical influences and he recorded for a label (Chess-Checker) that concentrated on black music. "I couldn't be a C & W singer", he told Hoss Allen back in 1958. "I got to have that beat". When rock n roll went out of fashion, many white rockers reverted back to their first love, country music. Not so Dale Hawkins. He has always remained faithful to his original rock n roll style.
Dale was born into a family of musicians. His father, Delmar Hawkins Sr., played a variety of instruments in local hillbilly bands and is said to have been one of the original Sons of the Pioneers. Dale's brother Jerry Hawkins recorded three singles for the Ebb label in 1958-59, and Ronnie Hawkins was his cousin. At 11 Dale acquired a guitar by selling newspapers ; at 16 he left high school for the US Navy where he remained for a year and a half. After the Navy he returned to Shreveport, Louisiana, where he worked in Stan Lewis's record shop by day, singing and playing guitar in local clubs at night. His demo tape of "See You Soon Baboon" (sort of an answer song to "See You Later Alligator") impressed Stan Lewis, who had strong bonds with Leonard Chess and acted as a talent scout for the Chess label. This led to Dale's first release, "See You Soon Baboon"/ "Four Letter Word (Rock)", in June 1956, on the Checker subsidiary. Neither side caught on, but the second Checker single would become a genuine classic. The combination of Dale's vibrant vocal, James Burton's hypnotic guitar riffs and the drummer's unorthodox use of a cowbell made "Susie-Q" into an innovative and irresistible record. It peaked at # 27 pop and # 7 R&B in the summer of 1957, although these chart placings scarcely reflect the record's enduring influence. "Susie-Q" has been revived many times, most successfully by Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1968 (# 11). Hawkins wrote the song all by himself, but had to share songwriting credits (as happened quite often at Chess) with Stan Lewis and Eleanor Broadwater, wife of the powerful dee-jay Gene Nobles.
James Burton soon left Dale's band to join Bob Luman and then Ricky Nelson, but Dale always succeeded in recruiting some of the best guitar pickers in rock n roll : after Burton he worked with Carl Adams, Fred Carter, Kenny Paulsen, Roy Buchanan and Scotty Moore.
After "Susie-Q", Hawkins had two non-charting releases before returning to the Billboard listings with "La-Do-Dada" (# 32) in the autumn of 1958. His only album for Checker (titled "Oh! Suzy-Q!" - sic) was also released at this time. While "Susie-Q" and "La-Do-Dada" were excellent recordings, the same cannot be said of Dale's last two chart entries, "A House, A Car And A Wedding Ring" (# 88, late 1958), and "Yea - Yea (Class Cutter)" (# 52, spring 1959). Both were covers of teen-pop songs. "A House .." (with the superior "My Babe" on the flip) was first recorded by Englishman Mike Preston and "Yea - Yea" by Dicky Stop on Chicago's tiny B.E.A.T. label. Much better singles like "Little Pig"/"Tornado", "Liza Jane" (with some outstanding guitar work from Kenny Paulsen), "Every Little Girl" and "I Want To Love You" failed to chart. Generally, Dale's Checker output continued untarnished by chart-fixated opportunism. The backing on these recordings (1956-61) is always good and in many cases brilliant.
Between 1961 and 1971, Hawkins recorded for Tilt, Zonk, Roulette (a so-so live twist album), Atlantic, ABC-Paramount, Abnak, Bell and Lincoln. As his recording career petered out, he threw himself into other aspects of the music business. As a producer, he scored hits with "Not Too Long Ago" by the Uniques, "Western Union" by the Five Americans (# 5, 1967), "Do It Again A Little Bit Slower" by Jon and Robin, and "Mr. Bus Driver" and "Keep On" (the latter a # 12 UK hit), both by Bruce Channel of "Hey Baby" fame. Around 1970 Dale relocated to Los Angeles and became the A&R director of RCA's West Coast division, working with Harry Nilsson and Mike Nesmith, among others.
In 1981 Hawkins went into drug rehab in North Little Rock, Arkansas, to overcome an addiction to amphetamines and hard liquor. He decided to stay there and set up a crisis centre for adolescents mired in drug abuse and other problems. He returned to performing and recording in the mid-1980s and made some notable new recordings in the 1990s, like "Fool's Paradise" (where he was reunited with James Burton) and "Summertime Down South". From 1987 onwards, he undertook a number of trips to Europe, especially Finland. Several unissued Checker tracks were eventually released between 1997 and 2007.
Dale Hawkins died on February 13, 2010, after a three-year battle with colon cancer. His most important musical legacy lies in those extraordinarily good Checker recordings, still a landmark of pure, carefree rock n roll.
More info :
Discography : http://pcuf.fi/~tapiov/discographies/dalehawkins.htm (By Tapio Vaisanen, one of Dale's greatest fans.)
CD's : There are two good overviews of the Checker period, with a large overlap : "Rock 'n' Roll Tornado" (Ace 693, 30 tracks, 1998) and "Dale Rocks" (Bear Family BCD 16826, 35 tracks, 2007), both annotated by Bill Millar. "Fool's Paradise" is a collection of 14 rare Dale Hawkins tracks (Beveric BRCD001, 2000), compiled and annotated by Tapio Vaisanen.
Acknowledgements : mainly Bill Millar and Tapio Vaisanen.
Dik, March 2012
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