Dale Hawkins, Forever Rocking
May 23, 2002 - By Sheree Homer - email@example.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 - firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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
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
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.
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