Photograph by Dale’s mom
A Fond Remembrance
There is a category of people who, even if they die, don’t really feel dead. Dale is one of those for me. Too original, too alive, to ever not be a presence.
When I try to figure out why he was larger than life I keep coming back to the simple idea that he was true to himself. Yes, maybe that is too simple, or just trite, but maybe “being true to yourself” is underrated and easier said than done.
Like most people, I first came to know Dale Hawkins through his music: “Susie Q.,” “La-Do-Dada,” “Number Nine Train,” etc. This music erupted with excitement, joy, and utter aliveness. We are lucky that there are artists who can give that to us.
One musical pet peeve of mine is white people who try sounding like elderly black people when they sing the blues.
Dale sang a lot of blues: “My Babe,” “Wildcat Tamer,” “Boogie Chillun,” “Wildcat Tamer,” “Boogie Chillun,” “Number Nine Train,” and many others, but he never sounded like anybody but himself. And to my ears his voice was a kind of natural combination of rural ingredients, with a touch of both black and white in the phrasing.
Besides knowing his music, I was very lucky to get to know Dale the man a little. He was a true sweetheart.
Here are a few things I’ll mention:
• He always had a twinkle in his eye. I cannot picture Mister Dale without that twinkle.
• Sometimes Dale would tell stories on stage that would suddenly and endlessly lose direction. (Which only seemed to rev up him up more.) But even as his words became jumbled, you always knew what he meant because you could always FEEL Dale Hawkins. His feelings were always crystal clear.
• It was only after seeing a few Dale shows that I realized that even though he was a great guitar player he only pretended to play guitar while on stage. Not many people can be cool enough to get away with pretending to play the guitar. Most of us would look like fools. But every time Dale swung that guitar around or pointed it to the heavens, he turned us all into…believers. There is probably only a very short list of people who could get away with faking the guitar. Elvis is the other who comes to mind.
• We know Dale as a rocker. But, for whatever it’s worth, I thought his best singing in his later days came with ballads—which he sang with unadorned but subtle emotion.
• I simply liked being around him. He made me feel more alive. I loved watching him respond to music. If he heard a good beat his body immediately started moving to that beat—no matter where he was, or what he was talking about.
• It’s like he was more receptive to music than most people…which, if the rest of us could only know, is probably a very valuable gift indeed.
Hamlet seems to be talking of Dale Hawkins when he says:
He was a man, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again.
Thank you Dale for being yourself.
A few songs from the life of Dale Hawkins:
1. My favorite Dale song is probably his version of “Boogie Chillun,” which we were lucky enough to have on our 2009 OA CD. Dale recorded it in 1965 but it had never been released before. It’s a masterpiece:
2. “Mumbly Peg.” This is a song Dale wrote and played for an American Bandstand-type show he had in Philadelphia. It’s so swinging, so hep. My favorite line: “Rita Hayworth has a twitch / and that’s nice.”
To purchase, please visit www.nortonrecords.com/index2.html.
3. Here is a youtube clip that seems to be from that show.
4. From that same Norton album (called “Daredevil,” and perhaps the best Dale Hawkins intro you could ask for), here is a ballad written by the fabled Lieber and Stoller called “Everglades.” This one could be on a David Lynch soundtrack.
5. In 1969, Dale put out an album called “LA, Memphis and Tyler, Texas,” that garnered little attention but that, in retrospect, is an A+ effort. Reissued in 2007, and called by ranked by discerning Mojo Magazine as the eighth best re-issue of that year, this album deserves your attention:
To purchase, please visit www.cherryred.co.uk/revola/artists/dalehawkins.
6. For a wonderful view of Dale, check out Lauren Wilcox’s profile of him which originally appeared in the magazine in 2005 and was subsequently republished in THE OXFORD AMERICAN BOOK OF GREAT MUSIC WRITING.