Dale Hawkins – The Father of Swamp Rock Boogie


A little introduction

Seen by many oldies music fans as the architect of the “swamp rock boogie,” Louisiana-born singer-songwriter, and guitarist Dale Hawkins attained lasting recognition by his 1957 hit “Suzie Q,” that helped define the shape of classic rock and roll music in the 20th century. He combined with the then-new style of rock and roll with his Louisiana-style blues which was evident in “Suzie Q.” Hawkins’ association with Chess Records was long and fruitful, having recorded for the label since the late 50s music era. Aside from recording, Hawkins also served as a record producer, having worked The Uniques (“Not Too Long Ago”), The Five Americans (“Western Union”), Jon & Robin (“Do It Again – A Little Bit Slower”), Bruce Channel, Ronnie Self, and so many others.

Hawkins also served as a record producer, having worked The Uniques (“Not Too Long Ago”), The Five Americans (“Western Union”), Jon & Robin (“Do It Again – A Little Bit Slower”), Bruce Channel, Ronnie Self, and so many others. Hawkins also held high positions at Abnak Records, Bell Records, and RCA West Coast Rock Division. Hawkins died in 2010, aged 73, after a long battle with colon cancer. He was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame for his groundbreaking contributions.

Made in Louisiana

Dale Hawkins was born Delmar Allen Hawkins in Gold Mine, Louisiana on August 22, 1936. He was the son of a teacher and a country musician. Dale had a cousin, Ronald “Ronnie” Hawkins, another rockabilly pioneer who went on to have substantial success in Canada.

Dale Hawkins took an early interest in music. He moved to Louisiana’s Bossier City where he learned all about blues music from the African-American farmers he had worked with. Hawkins managed to buy his first guitar through his earnings from selling newspapers.

The birth of swamp rock with “Suzie Q”

By the mid-1950s, Hawkins was gigging at local clubs in the neighboring city of Shreveport, playing his own brand of rock and roll style heavily tinged with Louisiana blues. He cut his first single, a novelty tune titled “See You Soon, Baboon” which was the answer of the Bobby Charles’ hit “See You Later, Alligator.” It didn’t fly on the charts.

However, Hawkins’ follow-up “Suzie Q” (over the years, the spelling has variously changed into “Susie Q,” “Suzy-Q,” etc.) introduced a new rock genre, the swamp rock (or swamp rock boogie). It was released on Chess Records’ subsidiary imprint Checker. This time, it became a Top 40 hit, peaking at #27 (it also went to #7 on the R&B singles chart) in mid-1957.

Although his following singles on Checker such as “La-Do-Dada,” (#32 pop) “A House, a Car, and a Wedding Ring,” (#88 pop) and “Yeah, Yeah” (#52 pop) did not have the impact that “Suzie Q” had, Hawkins had otherwise gone on to have a long and successful music career.

Making further history

Hawkins’ invention of swamp rock opened doors to the following generations of rockabilly artists. Hawkins made further history as the first white artist on the predominantly black Chess label. He was also the first white artist to perform at Harlem, New York City’s Apollo Theater, a historic venue renowned for showcasing African-American talents.

Later life and career

Hawkins became a record producer by the mid-1960s, and his production credits include hits such as “Not Too Long Ago” by the Uniques, “Western Union” by the Five Americans and “Do It Again — A Little Bit Slower” by Jon & Robin. Hawkins also went on to hold executive positions at Abnak Records, Bell Records’ southwest division and RCA West Coast Rock Division.

Hawkins’ substance abuse — particularly to Benzedine — stalled his music career for a while. In the 1970s, he went into a successful rehabilitation in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he eventually resided for the remainder of his life. Into the 1990s and beyond, he had continued producing, and had been enjoying some sort of revival in his own music career.

Hawkins, aged 73, died in Little Rock on February 13, 2010, due to colon cancer which he had battled for many years. In 2007, he was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame for his groundbreaking contributions. His body of work has been re-evaluated favorably by today’s music critics.

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