Listen to this song by rockabilly foot soldier and R&B crossover phenomenon Dale Hawkins. It’s “Suzie Q”, his hit from 1958 as taken from the album Oh Suzie Q, soon to be covered by the Rolling Stones on their 1964 12×5 album, and even more famously by Credence Clearwater Revival.
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Dale Hawkins hails from Louisiana, and brings something of the swamp to this rockabilly blues number, the song which would make him a star. Hawkins was one of the only white artists on the Chess Records label, laying down some of the dirtiest rockabilly guitar, and primitive bluesy stomps ever commited to vinyl, while clearly under the influence of labelmate Bo Diddley.
Hawkins’ sound attracted a number of guitar luminaries to his side. Some of these included Roy Buchannan, Elvis Presley sideman Scotty Moore, and another great guitarist who would later play with Presley, James Burton, who plays the central riff here on this song.
If ever there was a case for the benefits of ‘more cowbell’, then “Suzie Q” is certainly exhibit A. In addition to standard rockabilly instrumentation, the song is driven forward by the clatter of the cowbell. To my ears, this makes it a bit edgy, and unpredictable somehow, and the song comes off as even more lustful in turn.
The song embodies the core nature of rock ‘n’ roll, tracing it back to its origins in the blues, and adding in a bit of country swagger at the same time. Additionally, Hawkins added some of the percussive sounds of Louisiana folk music into his sonic stew. And in mixing these elements together, Hawkins became one of the architects of Swamp Rock or Swamp Boogie, a style which influenced later artists such as Tony Joe White, J.J Cale, and Little Feat. It’s no wonder that back-to-basics CCR chose it as a cover version, later to have a hit with it.
Dale Hawkins would make modest success of his career, with ‘Suzie Q” being his greatest achievement. He continued to champion rock music as a TV host (‘The Dale Hawkins Show”) and as a producer.
Dale Hawkins has been inducted into both the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
He still performs today.
For more music and information about Dale Hawkins, check out the Dale Hawkins MySpace page.