It's 30 years since Louisiana born guitarist Dale Hawkins' last recording session, and over 40 years since he made "Susie Q". The good news is that he's back with a new album, "Wildcat Tamer", on which he shows that he's much more than just a Rockabilly/Rock & Roll musician.
If you needed proof that Hawkins was still alive, the opening title track, credited to Tarehill (Tarheel) Slim, provides all the evidence you need that not only is he alive, he's also kicking too! It's the only straight rockabilly number here, and is replete with twangy guitar, and Dale Beavers pounding away on bass like his life depends on it.
Hawkins' trademark is finely honed guitar coupled with a strong driving beat. This is reflected in his songwriting, particularly on tracks like "Born in Louisiana", where he relates how Hank Williams and Elmore James inspired him to play. When it comes to guitar picking, too, Hawkins' roots show through: "Wildcat Tamer" is a musical journey from acoustic country Blues (the excellent "Goin' Down the Road"), to driving Rock and Roll ("Natural Man") by way of swamp rock ("Change Game"). The styles may change, but the quality remains consistently high.
Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene" (listed as "Irene") is beefed up by an irresistible Chuck Berry beat. It's guaranteed to get the crowds going, although Hawkins does ham up the vocals a bit, giving the impression that he's playing at a hoedown. Chuck Berry also gets another nod with the inclusion of "Promised Land." The Berry beat is there, but the song is given added edge by some judicious slide guitar work.
Just in case anyone has forgotten Hawkins' legacy, he offers a reminder on the final track, a re-recording of "Susie Q." No doubt about it: it's a classic. There's not much else you can say about a song that has received over 2 million radio plays!
Hawkins describes himself as "... an American singer... not just a rockabilly guy." "Wildcat Tamer" proves his point. What is on display is a prime example of southern American music. It offers evidence, if it were still needed, of the link between Blues/Rhythm & Blues and their Rock & Roll offspring. It may be forty years since "Susie-Q," but Hawkins can still cut it, and his enthusiasm for writing and playing appear undimmed. "Wildcat Tamer" is a very welcome return from one of America's pioneering musicians.
Contact Vince Kershner (Vince@mysticmusic.com).
This review is copyright © 1999 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.