Bad news seems to come in bunches. How else to explain the fact that another rockabilly legend by the name of Ronnie has been diagnosed with cancer? Ronnie Dawson's career has many interesting parallels to that of a Ronnie named Hawkins. Both are southerners (Dawson from Texas, Hawkins from Arkansas) born in the thirties to highly musical families, and when you listen to their earliest recordings you'll appreciate that the guiding muse behind these cats was the blues. Check out the intensity of "Who's Been Here", where a very young Dawson digs deep into a raw delta source, conjures up a drone note on guitar, and pleads as though he were standing squarely at the crossroads.
Their common path to long-term recognition and self-fulfillment was a circuitous one, stretching to countries far removed from their birthplaces. By 1959, Hawkins had already pulled up stakes and made Canada his permanent base, marking a watershed year for the fledgling Canadian rock 'n' roll and r&b scenes. The Hawk's contributions are beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say that he's been the reigning eminence grise for Canadian musicians for over four decades. Dawson, meanwhile, had to shuttle across the Atlantic Ocean in the 80's and tour extensively in front of adoring British fans before he could really impress the folks back home.
Both Ronnies are unrepentant rockers, equally blessed with magnetic personalities, natural humor, and the innate ability to click with people from all walks of life. Each would achieve a modicum of success in the late fifties, although the Blonde Bomber--as Dawson is often referred to--remained a regional attraction only. He never achieved that short-lived place in the international sun that the Hawk did with his "Mary Lou" hit.
Dawson, originally marketed as Ronnie Dee, was on the verge of stardom when the payola scandal turned the record biz upside-down, and he quickly became another downsizing fatality as his label went into full mode retreat. Also known as The Waxahachie Wildman --an apt moniker referring to his place of upbringing and the kinetic energy of his stage show--Dawson would emerge from semi-obscurity in the late 80's when English rockabilly revivalists begged him to visit the UK to perform his seminal rockabilly classics such as "Action Packed" and "Rockin' Bones".
That led to the type of success that had eluded him way back when, and Dawson went on to perform at Carnegie Hall, appear on the Conan O'Brien show, and several of his tunes were also featured on movie soundtracks ("Simpatico", "Primary Colors"). Pure rock 'n' rollers swooned over the raw excitement of his comeback recordings, and those privileged to see him in the flesh and blood were rapturous in their praise (click on the commentary section of "www.ronniedawson.com" and you'll get the message).
Thanks strictly to the efforts of dedicated cultists (extra-special kudos going to Britain's Barney Koumis, an avid record collector who put out Ronnie's first three comeback albums), Dawson's second go-round finally gave him the exposure that had been denied him by the music industry. Rock 'n' roll purists can get a torrid introduction to his early sessions by checking out a dual CD on Clear Sound Records: 'Rockin' Bones-The Legendary Masters'; while 1999's 'More Bad Habits' on Yep Rock Records is a cruisin' masterpiece, featuring blazing guitars, crazed lyrics, relentless rhythms, and the boundless enthusiasm of a sixty year old man-teenager who taps into a time machine that actually works.
Another shared characteristic of the two Ronnies comes to mind. Both gentlemen have been extremely generous in tutoring and championing new generations of rock 'n' rollers. As I write this, Hawkins' cancer is in remission, but the prognosis for Dawson is less encouraging. Having brought so much light to so many through their music and showmanship, let's pray for the full and complete recovery of both of these legendary figures. I'm sure Ronnie Dawson would greatly appreciate your kind wishes and words of encouragement, so e-mail him at "email@example.com".
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