It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our dear friend and hero, Norton artist Dale Hawkins.
Rock and roll instigator Dale Hawkins-- Delmar Allen Hawkins on certificates of entry and exit-- was born to set the world upside its head, and he shot that rattlin’ noggin down the alley like a dolemite bowling ball that caught fire halfway down the lane. Such was the infernal, unquellable energy of Dale Hawkins.
Louisiana- hatched and bred Dale grew up dredged in music, black and white. His father was in a country western band—that alone could account for influences, but it was Saturday night patrols with his sheriff grandfather that ignited the flame. Hearing rough, raw blues in the flesh on one hand, country on the other, and both black and white spiritual mayhem throughout, young Dale’s head fast became a cauldron, stewing a signature sound born of the swamps, a unique and staggering blast that would soon set the national charts on red alert with the brain bashing Susie Q, his second record. (The first was the effervescent See You Soon Baboon—an answer disc to Bobby Charles' Later, Alligator—cut at local radio station KWKH and released on Checker. Dale believed that the Chess Brothers issued it, believing from the sound of the recording that Dale was black.) Five-star records followed on the Checker label – Little Pig, Baby Baby, Tornado, La-Do-Dada, My Babe and one of the greatest albums of the fifties OH! SUZY Q.
Dale picked guitarists like they were winning race horses. James Burton, Roy Buchanan, Kenny Paulson, Scotty Moore, Fred Carter, Jr. (who would go on to play in Dale's cousin Ronnie Hawkins' band the Hawks) and Carl Adams all blasted on his Checker recordings.
He continued in the music business long after his first fricasees, producing a slew of records, notably the Five Americans’ smash hit Western Union. Susie Q would continue to resound throughout the sixties with versions by the Rolling Stones and Creedence Clearwater Revival (who’d reprise the riff again on Green River). Dale worked promotion for RCA in the seventies, helping along the careers of Mike Nesmith and Harry Nilsson. In recent years, Dale was featured on countless rock and roll festivals, offering his original Checker sides with the spark and drive of a teenager.
In 1987, we connected with Dale and interviewed him for our KICKS magazine. Our friendship with Dale resulted in the Norton release of DAREDEVIL, a collection of unreleased material featuring the original 1956 demo of Susie Q. Plans were underway at Norton for an album of all new material pairing Dale with the Flat Duo Jets, but the project was scrapped when Dex and Crow signed with Geffen Records. (Dex Romweber wrote Baby Are You Hiding From Me, which appears on the Flat Duo Jets RED TANGO album, for Dale to record with the Jets. It was not to be.)
In 2006, Dale was diagnosed with cancer, but bounced back several times over the past few years. His final major appearance at the 2009 Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans reunited Dale with his original guitarist James Burton for their first full set in fifty-two years and the pair turned in a powerhouse set backed by Deke Dickerson’s Ecco-Phonics.
Billy and I spoke with Dale at length by telephone a few days before his passing. He was in pain, obviously, but the tearful words spoken were also about his frustration in realizing that his days of participating in music were drawing to a close, that he would not be making the funny joke phone calls to Nortonville any more, that he wouldn’t be planning the next big moment that would send everyone into orbit, that we would not all rock 'n roll and make a joyful noise together... again.
Dale was energy incarnate. To say it was a joy and a privilege to work with him would be an understatement. It was an honor to have him as a friend, and we are all so supremely fortunate to have his music in our lives forever.
God bless Dale Hawkins. Dale, we love you, always.
(Dale Hawkins appears on the Norton label on DAREDEVIL (LP/CD 256) and Number Nine Train/On Account Of You (45-055)
Dale Hawkins in New Orleans at 2009 Ponderosa Stomp
Photo by Jacob Blickenstaff 33-13.com