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Dale Hawkins: 'Susie-q' Man Is Down But Not Out

ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER PLACE: The first in an occasional series providing updates on early rock performers.

January 12, 1986|JOHN ANDREW PRIME

SHREVEPORT, La. — The album cover pictures the soul of '50s rockabilly. The singer jabs his finger mockingly, a slight sneer on his face, his guitar casually, nastily slung over his shoulder.

That was Dale Hawkins of Bossier City, La. The song was "Susie-Q," a fast-paced tune that hit the Top 30 in 1957 and has since entered the pantheon of rock 'n' roll, with recordings by artists as varied as Jose Feliciano and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

The years since "Susie-Q's" release may have been good to the song, but less so to the singer.

Hawkins--born Delmar Allen Hawkins on the Goldmine Plantation in northeast Louisiana in August of 1938--was hard to find until recently. Popular rumors had him doing a variety of things, from cooling off in the federal pen to taking vows as a Baptist preacher.

The preacher report made him laugh, but not the prison remark.

"You heard I was in the joint?" he asked. "I wasn't, but I would have ended up there if I'd gone on the way I was. I was hooked on prescriptions, but I shook loose."

Hawkins was sitting in the living room of the Bossier City home of his old friend Dean Mathis, keyboardist with the '60s pop group the Newbeats.

His addiction, he said, began shortly after his rise in pop circles and ended with the start of this decade. "It wasn't the scene where's you'd see the guy behind the curtain with the needle. The way I got dependent was just having to 'stay with it.' First you'd take something to keep yourself going. Then you'd take something to make you stop.

"The hard drugs? No--if someone came around me with a needle, I'd run. Booze? The liquor companies would have gone out of business if they'd had to depend on me. To me, it was the legal drugs."

Looking at Hawkins, who spent eight months in a rehabilitation center in Little Rock, Ark., you'd be tempted to discount his drug addiction, and even his tales of life as a rock 'n' roll singer. He spoke in pleasant tones, sported curly, mostly brown but slightly graying hair, wore a neat, expensive-looking plaid suit and carried a smart leather briefcase.

That fits Hawkins' present work and life style. He is a regional sales representative for the Nestle Co. But music is still part of Hawkins' life, as you can tell from a peek inside the briefcase. It bulges with music books and magazines on the revival of interest in rockabilly in Europe and, recently, the United States.

He moved from recording to producing in the '60s, working with such artists as the Mathis Brothers, Joe Stampley & the Uniques, the Five Americans and Bruce ("Hey Baby") Chanel. He worked for a variety of labels, including Bell and Abnak Records. He later worked as an A&R executive for RCA Records.

But he let his career slide.

Though several compilations of his hits, including "Susie-Q" and "My Babe," have been re-released over the years, there hasn't been a new Hawkins LP since the late '60s. But that might change.

Encouraged by songwriter Merle Kilgore, Hawkins has been recording a new LP and plans to make his first club appearance in years next month in Bossier City. After the recording is complete, Hawkins will shop around for a label and consider his next step--reminding people who he was, and still is.

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