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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Hawkins would not be the only one in his family to give birth to new strains of rock music. His cousin Ronnie Hawkins from Arkansas would move his brand of fiery R&B north to Toronto and form the Hawks, who would leave him to back an electrified Bob Dylan, and then subsequently become the Band.

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.

Enjoy!

2 thoughts on “Dale Hawkins Sings “Suzie Q”

  1. This is a monster of a song. James Burton was just a teen when he penned the guitar riff. According to Burton he picked the riff up from Howlin’ Wolf’s Smokestack Lightning. Regardless it’s some pretty sweet finger-picking from a teenager. If you ever get a chance to track down a song by Hawkins called Someday, Someday, don’t hesitate to get it. It’s a beautifully odd little duet with a great guitar riff running through a Leslie Speaker.

    rock on, Dale.

  2. Hey Morgan,

    Yes, the ‘Smokestack Lightning’ connection is pretty obvious now that you mention it. I love Burton’s playing, and he’s particularly good with the swampy stuff. I love his work on Elvis On Stage February 1970 with Elvis’ take on “Polk Salad Annie”. His guitar on that is similar to his work here – really spare, yet kind of menacing too.

    Cheers for comments and for recommendations too!

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