Dale Hawkins: Singer, songwriter and guitarist best known for his seminal Fifties hit 'Susie-Q'

As with "Bo Diddley", "What'd I Say" and "Johnny B. Goode", Dale Hawkins' 1957 record, "Susie-Q" contained an explosive riff which became one of the cornerstones of the new rock'n'roll music. It is still familiar, and it could be argued that John Fogerty wrote several variations for Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Dale Hawkins was born on 22 August 1936 on his grandfather's cotton farm in Goldmine, Louisiana. He was a first cousin to another rock'n'roll singer, Ronnie Hawkins, although they developed their careers independently. "We had very little money," Hawkins told me in 2007, "and the doctor changed $12 for bringing me into the world. My grandfather paid him off at $2 a month."

Hawkins' parents divorced when he was three, and his father became a touring musician, albeit briefly, with the Sons of the Pioneers. By the time he was nine, Hawkins was delivering newspapers and shining shoes so that he would have enough for a $10 guitar. Hawkins joined the Navy on his 15th birthday and served on a destroyer in Korea. When invalided out, he joined his mother, who had moved to Shreveport, Louisiana. He worked in a record store by day and played clubs at night.

In 1956, Hawkins was impressed with Bobby Charles' record, "See You Later, Alligator". He wrote a follow-up, "See You Soon, Baboon" and Stan Lewis, who owned the record store, recommended Hawkins to his friend Leonard Chess, of Chess Records of Chicago. The single did little business, but Hawkins had written "Susie-Q", which had been the name of a dance in the early 1940s. The record began, unusually, with a cowbell and a drum, then his friend, 15-year-old James Burton came in, delivering bursts of wild guitar. It was topped by Dale Hawkins' atmospheric vocal and the result was unlike any other record around.

Leonard Chess was unsure of its potential and a disc jockey told Hawkins to send it to Jerry Wexler at Atlantic. Wexler loved it and told Chess to either "shit or get off the pot." Chess released "Susie-Q" and it became a hit. When Hawkins followed "Susie-Q" with "La-Do-Dada", Dean and Mark Mathis, who became the Newbeats, sang harmonies. "James Burton had left me then for a job with Bob Luman and I got Joe Osborn for that record. He ended up playing on over 250 Top 10 records, and I was selling fish bait to get by."

Hawkins cut an excellent version of Little Walter's "My Babe", this time with another fledgling guitarist, Roy Buchanan, and a British pop song, "A House, A Car And A Wedding Ring". He worked on teenage pop shows and he showed Buddy Holly how to give "Maybe Baby" a New Orleans feel.

However, it is for "Susie-Q" that he will be remembered. Over the years there have been many versions of the song. "I still like mine the best," said Hawkins, "but Lonnie Mack's is very good and José Feliciano's is very different. I like Creedence's of course, but the most disappointing version is by the Rolling Stones. They didn't get the feel of the song at all."

When Hawkins' wife was pregnant he came off the road and ran a label, Abnak, in Dallas. He had seen what to do at Chess and he had success with the Uniques, John Fred, Bruce Channel and especially the Five Americans, who took "Western Union" into the US Top 10 in 1967. Hawkins returned to his own career with the album, L.A., Memphis & Tyler, Texas (1969).

After becoming indoctrinated in the Los Angeles lifestyle, Hawkins went into drug rehab in Little Rock and stayed on to manage a Crisis Centre. He released the albums Wildcat Tamer (1999) and Back Down To Louisiana (2007), on which he worked with his son Jeff and Joe Osborn. When I met him in 2007, he was writing and producing for the Irish tenor, Red Hurley.

Spencer Leigh

Delmar Allen Hawkins Jr, musician: born Goldmine, Louisiana 22 August 1936; married three times (two sons); died Little Rock, Arkansas 13 February 2010.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions