AWESOME DAWSON

THE BLOND BOMBER FROM TEXAS STILL HAS A LOTTA RHYTHM LEFT IN HIS ROCKIN' BONES

The Sixties weren't kind to rockabilly. The few stars who weren't killed in plane and car wrecks were left for dead by public indifference in the States. "I went on Gene Vincent's last U.S. tour in 1960, and it was a complete failure," recalls Dawson. "Gene was the headliner, and he was dead, commercially speaking, by then. We were playing municipal auditoriums in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for about 50 people. Yet when he and Eddie Cochran went over to England, they were like royalty. And they still are."

Meanwhile, back in the States, Dawson had other problems to contend with, like his prepubescent singing voice quickly losing altitude. "I had to learn to sing again," growls Dawson. "It wasn't helping that I was singing in the same key as the original records. I got laryngitis and couldn't do anything for a year."

And what did Dawson do when he got his voice back? He started working as a drummer. "I was hired out as a drummer when I wasn't doing anything," he says, "which was a lot of the time back then." In 1962 and '63, Dawson managed to pummel the skins on two No. 1 hits from fellow Lone Star artists: "Hey Paula" by Paul and Paula, and Bruce Channel's "Hey! Baby," which also featured Delbert McClinton on blues harp. But Dawson sat in on a few, well, slightly more obscure dates, too. Ever hear the country version of "A Hard Day's Night" by Johnny Latrell? From the early Sixties until the English resurrected his rock career in the mid-Eighties, Dawson supported himself working as a studio musician doing jingles and commercials. You may have heard him as the low-down bass voice behind the Hungry Jack pancake commercials ("Hungry Jack--gobble 'um down and the plates come back"). Despite the rockabilly layoff--or maybe because of it--today Dawson's gifts for writing and performing rock-house ravers remain healthy and intact. And his attitude ain't bad, either; the aging contender believes the music is still a thriving thing. "I think now rockabilly's more popular here than it is overseas," he says. "It's in a little bit of a lull over there, especially in England. And that's the way it kinda does. But here, I'm excited about it."

Once a bastard son of country and R&B, these days rockabilly is viewed as a distinct, separate form of American music. Last May, no less a venue than Carnegie Hall hosted a two-evening folk festival celebrating traditional music from bluegrass to conjunto to, yes, rockabilly--and Dawson knocked 'em dead. He's a little late, of course, to make it as a teen idol, but he still looks good up there under the spotlight, whether it's in Carnegie Hall or some smoky dive. What does Dawson have planned? He lets loose a weathered laugh. "I'd just like to be in a place where I can go wherever I want and have a big crowd waiting for me when I get there.

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