Dale Hawkins, Forever Rocking

May 23, 2002 - By Sheree Homer - homersm2001@yahoo.com
(PART ONE) ) Dale Hawkins turned the rockabilly world on its ear with his 1957 smash "Suzie Q." He had invented a technique that was never used before, by switching from two beats per measure to four. It was also ingenious to flip the riff at the end of the song. "Suzie Q" sounds as good today as it did back in '57. There have been covers by both Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Rolling Stones, but neither can duplicate the original's elements of power, uniqueness, and pure raw energy. A later version is done by Hawkins himself, which is featured on his 1999 release, Wildcat Tamer, his first album since 1969.
           James Burton developed the infamous "Suzie Q" riff alongside Hawkins. They grew up together. Burton was only fifteen years old at the time. Hawkins remembers the recording session as if it was yesterday: "We cut Suzie Q at KWKH in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1956 during one morning. James was a good guitar player - period. I was more into blues than most people at the time. The original "Suzie Q" is heavily blues in its origination. It took awhile to get the blues feel together. It had to be recorded in one take as [there weren't any] extra tracks to dub over, so we had time to rehearse it. I am a perfectionist, so I put James through boot camp. He played [the riff] over and over until it was the way I wanted it to sound. I don't think anyone else could have done it but James. "Suzie Q" could not have been nearly as good as it was if it hadn't been for James' playing." They remain close friends to this day.
           Hawkins is all about sound, how a song resonates. "Any song that is a hit, you will hear a sound. It would catch your ear, and you would listen." His songs are definitely ear catching and make the listener sit up and take notice. They are toe tapping feel good songs. His songs are personalized that come straight from his heart.
           While most artists would write the lyrics before the music, Hawkins prefers to write the music first. But he is not just any artist either; he is an innovator, a groundbreaker, and a mover and a shaker, originating from the finest era of music, the 1950s.
           The 1950s was probably the most competitive era of any other because there were so many great artists at the time, all with hit songs. It was very difficult to get a song into the Top Ten, due to the stiff competition. For the most part, Elvis Presley dominated the charts, especially from 1956 to 1959. Hawkins acquired a few hits during this time, four to be exact. Unfortunately, he had more success on the charts as a producer than an artist. There he had fourteen, including "Everybody's Talking" by Nilsson, in which he was the staff producer. Hawkins has worked with some of the best session players around: Kenny Brown, Roy Buchanan, James Burton, Floyd Cramer, DJ Fontana, Scotty Moore, and many more, too numerous to mention. He has fond memories of these sessions: "I have been really blessed in a lot of ways to be able to have worked with musicians like that."
           It saddens me to realize that there are people out there who do not know who Dale Hawkins is. I feel everyone should know him, and not just for "Suzie Q" alone. He has so many great rockabilly tunes, "Baby Baby," "Liza Jane," "My Babe," "See You Soon Baboon," heck every song on Oh! Suzie Q- The Best of Dale Hawkins is worthy of recognition. This album is a must have for any music lover. These songs transport the listener back to a simpler more innocent time.
           However, rockabilly and later rock and roll was seen as a threat to the rigid and conservative 1950s. Rhythm and blues, or race music as it was called then, was being injected into the mind of the middle class white American teenager, "so called" sinful thoughts were being implanted. However, this music was just being used as a form of release for all their frustrations and pent up energy. This was the teenagers' outlet; something they could call their own.
Gospel, country and western, and rhythm and blues had finally developed into one style with many variations. Rock and roll had opened the floodgates to new avenues of opportunity, as it did not have a color. "Music gave white and black alike something to share, and it was good." Hawkins became the first white artist to record for Chess Records' subsidiary Checker, and the first white artist to play the Apollo Theatre. They did not care what color he was as long as he could rock.
           And rock he does. His style and enthusiasm is reminiscent of the late great Carl Perkins, who was "real [a genuine artist]," according to Hawkins. Hawkins always gives 110%. He loves performing and will continue to do so for as long as he can, whether it is for a small or large crowd. After awhile, "performing becomes a way of life." "Never get away from music, your true love. As long as people appreciate you, you are going to keep trying. There are diehards that want you to keep playing. How are you going to stop? I'll work; I don't care, for ten people or ten thousand. I am going to hit it as hard as I can for as long as I can." Recently, I saw Hawkins along with Kenny Brown, James Burton, and DJ Fontana at the first annual Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans. They blew the roof off the joint. They performed nonstop hits for thirty-five minutes or more, but the love that was being exchanged between them and the audience could have provided them with enough energy to play for three hours straight. Hawkins' youthful looks and personality, combined with his boundless energy, left the audience begging for more. The audience was very thankful for Hawkins' artistry, which was shining bright. He sang his classics, such as "Suzie Q," "Little Pig," and "This Train/My Babe" along with a few of his newer cuts, such as "Wildcat Tamer" and "Goin' Down the Road."
           "This Train" is a traditional gospel song, written by Sister Rosetta Tharpe. She was a black lady who was able to get airplay when most black artists could not. Willie Dixon adapted the song's lyrics for radio, and it was copyrighted. The new version was entitled "My Babe." This song revved up the crowd in New Orleans. It was my favorite of the night because I enjoyed the exchange of Hawkins' singing with Brown and Burton's guitar playing. All the songs that Hawkins sang were unrehearsed as there was not a set list. They did whatever came to their minds. There was a true love for the music and for one another, a real brotherhood: "Kenny Brown is probably the best slide guitar player that ever lived, and James is probably one of the best guitar players I have ever played with." I am sure the feeling is mutual.            The next stop for Hawkins is Paris, France, which he will play in June, then on to Green Bay, Wisconsin in July for the largest rockabilly festival ever held. According to Hawkins, "they are trying to get some of the ones that are still here and get people introduced to our music who don't know anything about us." Sanford Clark, Joe Clay, The Collins Kids, The Comets, The Crickets, Narvel Felts, and Billy Lee Riley are a few of the other artists that will be appearing there. It should be a fun time for all.
           The interview with Mr. Hawkins was conducted on May 15, 2002. Many Special Thanks to Dale Hawkins, Tapio Vaisanen, and Johnny Vallis for their help and support. You guys are great.

Dale Hawkins Forever Rocking
June 6, 2002 - By Sheree Homer - homersm2001@yahoo.com
(PART TWO) Dale Hawkins was born Delmar Allen Hawkins in 1936. Even though some sources cite differently, 1938. The record labels wanted to artists to appear younger than they were, so they lied about the year in which they were born. It was an issue of longevity. His birthplace is Goldmine, Louisiana, which is thirty miles from Ferriday. Ferriday is the birthplace of the killer, Jerry Lee Lewis. Lewis is one of Hawkins' favorite performers: "I love Jerry Lee. I would be doing a promotional tour and stop into a distributor and tell him to play "Great Balls Of Fire." He is FANTASTIC."
           Hawkins enjoys listening to all genres of music, even opera. However, the two styles that have influenced him the most are bluegrass and blues. "Bluegrass was a love of mine." He loves artists such as Bill Monroe, Jimmie Rodgers, and Hank Williams. Blues also had a big influence on him, such as artists Lightning Hopkins and Lonnie Johnson. "I liked it all. I love bluegrass and blues." These styles, along with country and gospel, were the foundation for rock and roll.
           Hawkins started his singing career as young as three and a half years old. His first songs, "You Are My Sunshine" and "White Cliffs Of Dover" were sung a cappella (without instrumental accompaniment). He also started playing guitar at a young age. Both were mastered without receiving any lessons. "I got a guitar when I was young and got a book and just learned the chord changes." Songwriting came at a later date when Hawkins was seventeen. "Songwriting is a great thing. I wrote a lot of songs." He tries to finish every song he starts to write and then gets it down on tape.
           Thirty- nine of his songs, from 1963-1970, were misplaced or not even known to have existed for many years. They were recently discovered and can be downloaded at www.emusic.com. On the site, there is a version of "Suzie Q" that was performed live in New Orleans a few years ago.
           "The New York Times rated Suzie Q as one of the Top 100 songs to have influenced the business more than any other. Even little kids know that song." It continues to be the most requested song at Hawkins' shows. However, his favorite song to perform is "Hat Trick," from his latest installment, Wildcat Tamer. "I think "Hat Trick" is a great song. You get to be freer with what you are doing. It is a good song to perform." Hawkins is just as proud of his newer material as he is of his classic tunes. They are similar in feel, as the sound seems to jump right out of the speakers. He is also honored to be considered a rockabilly artist, "although I don't consider myself to be stone rockabilly [as he also has a heavy blues orientation]. It's [just] great to be here and to know that people still like you."
           He has been very fortunate to have worked with some of the best session players of all time and to have been friends with some of the legends of rock and roll. Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, and Gene Vincent were a few of his friends. "I got lots of stories about Buddy," he says with a hearty laugh. "Whenever Buddy got to New York, he and I got together and went down to the Brooklyn Paramount to talk to Little Richard. We had fun together, hung out and had a good time."            Hawkins met Eddie Cochran on a tour they did together. "We toured together for five days. We had a lot of respect for each other. He was a heck of a musician and a pretty smart man because of the way he had his business set up. He was a good guy with some good songs. I think he played all the instruments on "Summertime Blues."
           It was a tragedy when Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran got killed because they both were so young. Holly, 22, got killed in an airplane crash, and Cochran, 21, got killed in a car accident. "It was a heavy hit to the music industry. There was no telling how far those guys could have gone." In 1987, Hawkins laid down some of Holly's songs with The Crickets (Holly's backup band). He was playing tribute to the friend he had lost so long ago.
           His session players are like family to him, his brothers and his kids. There is a lot of love between them, which is easily recognizable on stage at the shows. "The main reason for the Ponderosa Stomp was it might never happen again. They are my brothers, my kids." Kenny Brown's first session was with Hawkins, and James Burton and him go way back. It was like old times for them to be back together playing again. Besides the session players, he has two sons. One is a musician who plays guitar. I think most fans would be surprised to know that Hawkins has a master's degree. Most musicians of his generation dropped out of school early to pursue their dreams or to help their families out financially. He dropped out too but was persistent in receiving his degree. He did when he was forty-nine years old. "I was really proud of that. I did most of it through correspondence."
           Last year, Hawkins was inducted into the United Kingdom's hall of fame, alongside Hank Williams and Jackie Wilson. "Hank Williams, to me he was something else and Jackie was my buddy and one of the best singers ever." It was a great honor to be bestowed upon him. This begs the question as to why he has not been inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame? Hopefully, this will happen soon, and he will finally get the recognition he so rightly deserves.            Thanks again to the great Dale Hawkins for his kindness and support with these interviews.

Back to the "Take Note" Main Page


Promotional Products, Discount Labels, Post-it Notes, Rubber Stamps, etc.