Dale Hawkins, Rock 'n' Roll Tornado
Delmar Allen Hawkins was born on 22 August 1936 in Goldmine, Louisiana, some 30 miles from Ferriday. His mother, Estelle, taught in the tiny farming community's only school while his father, Delmar Sr, played a variety of instruments in local hillbilly bands. There was one other sibling, Jerry, (16 months younger), whose three singles on Ebb have long intrigued rockabilly collectors though they made little impression at the time. The Hawkins parents separated in 1939 and their father died in an accidental fire. Dale was shunted around a succession of share-cropping relatives in Mangham, just South of Shreveport, and Bossier City where he attended high school. He was exposed to country blues in the cottonfields where he toiled alongside black field hands after school. Battered instruments emerged during breaks and Hawkins joined in on a guitar he'd obtained by selling newspapers. The experience left an indelible imprint on all that was to come. At 16, he enlisted in the Navy where he remained for a year and a half.
The road to Chess-Checker Records by Lonnie Johnson, Howlin' Wolf and Guitar Slim filled the jukeboxes and Hawkins, who took a job as a counter clerk in Stan Lewis' Shreveport record store, helped te sell them, becoming an expert on the R&B hits of the day. At night, he sang the blues in clubs along the Bossier City strip across the Red River from Shreveport, which was the hot spot for local bands and the stuff of greasy high school dreams.
In 1956 Hawkins paid Bob Sullivan, KWKH's engineer, $25 for some post-midnight studio time when the station went off the air for a couple of hours. Hawkins' friend, Bobby Charles, had got on Chess with 'Later Alligator' and Hawkins hoped to follow suit with a demo tape of 'See You Soon Baboon'. This boiled down to a management deal with Stan Lewis who pitched the tape to Chess, whose owner, Leonard, was a frequent visitor to Stan The Man's Record Shop, the main Louisiana distributor of Chess Records. Hawkins' first single, released in June 1956 on the Checker subsidiary coupled 'See You Soon Baboon' and 'Four Letter Word', both products of the KWKH studio. The Jones brothers, Alton and John, played the same clubs and bars as Hawkins and Al co-wrote 'Swing Daddy Swing' for Dale's brother, Jerry Dale. helped Al Jones get a deal with Poplar Records where Jones recorded the near-hit 'Mad Mad World'; the song appeared as 'Wild Wild World' on Dale's "Oh! Suzy Q" album but Dale believes he was the first to cut it.
In an interview with Randy McNutt in 1986, Dale Hawkins recalls: "I had a little band in '57. Played in the clubs around Shreveport, Louisiana. I was just a kid then, working part-time in a record store in town. I was into a lot of blues, and I liked what Scotty Moore was doing on guitar with Elvis. But we sort of had our own sound in Louisiana that came from our heavy blues influence. Our band had the riffs for "Suzy-Q" for some time, and we kept putting them together until one day I finally said, "That's it." It was just sheer sound. And, it worked. We went into the studios at KWKH Radio in Shreveport to cut the song. I know that sounds unusual today, but they used to do a lot of recording there. We cut the session one night between midnight and one a.m., when transmitters were changed. We sent the tape to Chess Records in Chicago, and Leonard Chess said he wanted it. After some weeks went by, though, we got tired of waiting for the record to come out. I sent a copy to Jerry Wexier at Atlantic Records, and he put out the word: Chess had better do something or get off the pot. Two weeks later, our record was released. It broke in different parts of the country at different times. We got instant calls. We knew it was a hit after only a week and a half, man. At that time, the independent labels were coming on strong because the big ones weren't into that stuff so heavily yet. And our little record, it just sounded so much like Louisiana. James Burton and I played guitar on the session. The special sound of the guitar came from a reverb thing done in Chicago. The overall sound was our own, though, from our area of the country. Just a little bit of the blues, man."
In 1998, Ace Records issued a compilation CD titled "Dale Hawkins, Rock 'n' Roll Tornado" which contained a great collection of Dale's Checker records, plus many unissued material. This CD is considered the best rock 'n' roll compilation of the decade by many rock 'n' roll fans and record collectors. Also worth mentioning is the 10" vinyl album "Dale Hawkins, Born In Louisiana" on the Finnish Goofin' label. This album containes both recordings from the 50s and 60s as well as some new recordings from the late 90s. Included is a 4 page Dale Hawkins discography by Tapio Vaisanen.
Official Dale Hawkins Web Site:
Tapio's Extensive Dale Hawkins Discography: