Ronald Monroe Dawson, singer and guitarist: born Dallas, Texas 11 August 1939; married 1996 Chris Davis; died Dallas 30 September 2003.
The rock'n'roll singer Ronnie Dawson sustained a 50-year career on the strength of his live performances, although the big hit eluded him. "My guitar plays itself," he said modestly in 1990. "I just plug it in."
Dawson was born in Dallas in 1939. He was raised in Waxahachie, Texas, and, from 1935 to 1941, his father ran Pinky Dawson's Manhattan Merrymakers dance band, which played every day on KRLD. Deciding that music was a precarious business, he bought a petrol station, but encouraged his son's musical talent. The young Ronnie played French horn in the high-school band and double-bass every Sunday in church. However, he excelled as a guitar player and he was soon copying the records of Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley.
Dawson formed Ronnie Dee and the Dee Men for club dates, but they were good enough to play the talent show at the Big D Jamboree in Dallas and win for 10 consecutive weeks in 1957. He was signed by Ed McLemore, who introduced him to Jack Rhodes, who had written the standard "A Satisfied Mind" and several songs for Gene Vincent, and Rhodes came up with two frantic rockabilly songs for Dawson, "Action Packed" and "Rockin' Bones". "They couldn't get that bones sound right," Dawson revealed,
and we did two sessions with different rock'n'roll drummers. Then we hired a middle-aged doctor who didn't even play full-time. He nailed it on the first take.
"Rockin' Bones" was released on Rockin' Records, which was owned by McLemore, as by "The Blonde Bomber - Ronnie Dawson". The echo-drenched record sounded like something from outer space and Dawson with his "bog brush" haircut certainly looked different. "I didn't think so," he said, "everyone in my town had one."
Bob Crewe and Frank Slay, who ran the Swan label in Philadelphia, saw Dawson as a potential teen idol and invited him to record for them. They took away his guitar and had him sing "Ain't That a Kick in the Head" with a full band. He mimed to the record on Dick Clark's American Bandstand, but the payola scandal meant that Clark, who had an interest in Swan, would not play their records any more.
Dawson returned to Dallas and, from 1961 until 1969, he sang and played with the Levee Singers, who often appeared on national television shows, and did session work. One day, at the end of somebody else's session, he tore into "Do, Do, Do" and this led to more rockabilly recordings, released either under the name of Snake Munroe or Commonwealth Jones. The original versions of Dawson's singles, whether under his own name or a pseudonym, are highly sought by record collectors today.
During the 1970s, Dawson made commercials in Dallas and formed a country-rock band, Steelrail, for club dates. Then Barney Koumis of No Hit Records in the UK went to Dallas and called every R. Dawson in the telephone book until he found Ronnie. As a result, Ronnie Dawson played at the Powerhouse in Birmingham in 1987 and followed it with several more UK appearances. He attributed his action-packed performances to a diet of carrot, apple and spinach juice.
A compilation of his old recordings, Rockin' Bones, was released by No Hit and albums of new material followed, Rockinitis (1988) and Still a Lot of Rhythm (1989), then later Monkey Beat (1995), Live at the Continental Club (1996), Just Rock and Rollin' (1996) and More Bad Habits (1999). His records lacked his youthful exuberance but his voice had matured well and, to my ears, sounded even better.