DALE GIGS NEW ORLEANS: JUNE, 1998
North Louisiana has nurtured many great roots musicians, including Leadbelly, Webb Pierce, Johnny Clyde Copeland and Dale Hawkins. Hawkins is best known for writing and recording "Suzy Q", a 1957 release that was a hit on both the R&B and pop charts. The song soon became a bandstand classic for generations of aspiring young rockers, including Creedence Clearwater Revival, which recorded it in 1968. Creedence founder John Fogerty - who tore it up at Jazzfest - recently cut "Suzie Q" again, and will release it as a single on Tuesday. Coincidentally, that's the same day that Hawkins will perform at the Mid-City Lanes with local rockabilly stars Joe Clay and Johnny J & the Hitmen, offering a rare opportunity to catch a passionate, important pioneer who's still playing in peak form.
The bluesy, swamp-rock sound of "Suzy Q" is indicative of Hawkins' extensive background in Southern music tradition. Born and reared in rural Richalnd Parish, Hawkins absorbed blues, country music and gospel; like his contemporaries Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, he distilled these diverse, yet related influences into a cohesive personal style. Singing and playing guitar, Hawkins began working the rough-and-tumble country circuit around Shreveport and Bosier City. At the same time he closely followed new developments in blues and R&B through his day job at Shreveport's Jewel Records.
The phrase "suzy q" refers to a dance step, and can be heard on many old blues records from the 1920s and 30s. But Hawkins personalized it into a tale of a sultry siren, propelled by a catchy lick laid down by guitar virtuoso James Burton, who was only 15 when "Suzy Q" was recorded. (Burton recently played the House of Blues with Jerry Lee Lewis, sounding brilliant as ever). When "Suzy Q" took off, Hawkins hit the road, appearing on Dick Clark's "American Bandstand" and performing at such famed venues as New York's Apollo Theater. He continued to record, but never experienced another comparable hit, in part because many listeners and radio programmers wrongly assumed that Hawkins was black. The era's rigid, prejudicial boundaries hurt Hawkins career in both white and black markets.But the raw, bluesy sound of "Suzy Q" represents only part of Hawkins' Eclectic talent. He toured as a guitarist with such sophisticated artists as pianist Ramsey Lewis, Jr. and vocalist Dinah Washington, and sang harmony on a session with the great doo-wop vocal group Harvey Fuqon and the Moonglows. A wide range of studio experience make Hawkins a skilled producer, as heard on such mid-'60s pop hits as "I See The Light." Despite some non-musical ventures, Hawkins has remained active ever since. He's known as a live-wire performer, and has numerous projects in progress at his Hawk's Nest studio in North Little Rock, Arkansas.
"I haven't played New Orleans since the 60s," he said recently during a telephone interview between sessions. "Johnny J. and his band will be backing me up there, and I'm really excited about it. I've been working hard here - I have a new album that I'm shopping around - and I wanted to get out for a while, play live and have some fun. "We play a little bit of everything he said, "and that will includes "Suzy Q."
A DALE HAWKINS' webpage.
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