The Making of Dale Hawkins
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268 The Making of Dale Hawkins —David Anderson and Lesley-Anne Reed The iconic status afforded Dale Hawkins’s mid-1950s recording of the rockabilly classic “Susie Q” led numerous writers to include only a vague sketch of his life leading up to the recording and to frame his career after as a variation on the motif of the onehit -wonder. Anderson and Reed aim to correct Hawkins’s dual fate of being glossed over and pigeonholed. Building on numerous interviews with Hawkins, the authors successfully flesh out the years leading up to the momentous recording. They argue against the urge to fit Hawkins into a stereotype of white male youth of his era, emphasizing his unique path to a musical career. The resulting biography is compelling in itself, just as it invites readers to reconsider at-times-romanticized notions of post– World War II southern youth and the birth of rockabilly. Hawkins’s early experiments in the studios of Shreveport’s KWKH with Merle Kilgore and Johnny Horton developed both the interest and the skills that led him to later work in studio production. Between the mid-1960s and the early 1970s he produced top-forty hits for a variety of artists, including the Five Americans, Michael Nesmith, and Harry Nilsson. During the late 1960s, Hawkins briefly hosted The Big Big Beat, aka The Dale Hawkins Show on WCAU-TV, then Philadelphia’s CBS-affiliate. After a nearly twenty-year hiatus from music, Hawkins returned to performing in 1999 with the release of Wildcat Tamer on Mystic Records. This was Hawkins’s first album of new material in thirty years. The same year he made his first appearance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, followed by a date at the Chicago Blues Festival, where he took part in a historic reunion of Chess recording artists. He also appeared in a film by Robert Mugge, Rhythm ’n’ Bayous: A Road Map to Louisiana Music, and performed at its 2001 debut at film festivals in Mill Valley, California, Denver, and New Orleans. THE MAKING OF DALE HAWKINS 269 I. Beginning in early 1956, patrons of Stan’s Record Shop, a tiny shotgun structure that sat at the head of Texas Street in downtown Shreveport, Louisiana, could make their purchases in quite the unconventional manner, thanks to Stan’s singing counter clerk. The clerk, a then-eighteen-year-old Delmar Hawkins—skinny and loud, with a mop of dark hair that never seemed to lie flat—sold the latest releases from independent rhythm-and-blues labels like Chess, Atlantic, and Aladdin, not by their titles, but by a lyric or a guitar lick that a customer recalled. “I could sing it, bam, I knew right what it was,” Hawkins—known to most of the shop’s regulars as “Del”—remembers, “I knew the songs, I liked the songs.”1 And after his customers headed home with the latest Chicago blues recordings from Howlin’ Wolf or Muddy Waters, or uptown R&B by the Clovers or Charles Brown, Del slipped into the building’s back room and continued to practice singing the same records he sold. Mastering these R&B records note-for-note, he began to realize, held the key to a completely new life—and a completely different Del Hawkins. Two blocks west of Stan’s Record Shop, where a dull curve in the road turned Texas Street into Texas Avenue, Shreveport’s Municipal Auditorium hosted the Louisiana Hayride—KWKH’s radio barn dance—where the weekly playbill read like a veritable who’s who of up-and-coming white country and rockabilly artists. By 1956, Hank Williams was gone, nothing but his ghost remained, and Elvis Presley’s appearances were less frequent since he had signed with big-time label RCA in late 1955, but on the same stage one could still see up-and-coming singers like Johnny Horton and David Houston or stellar musicians like pianist Floyd Cramer.2 But Del Hawkins, a musical dilettante with no performing experience to speak of, rather than immersing himself in the honky-tonk sounds coming from down the street at the Hayride, chose to sequester himself inside Lewis’s cramped shop, occasionally jamming with an entourage of younger local musicians, some still in high school. Later, he ventured out to play music in the smoky nightclubs an rural high schools throughout north Louisiana, all in order to create the wailing, white rhythmand -blues—or rock-and-roll—sound that he would become known for...


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