Back to Articles

Std Time #1

More Bad


Touson Weekly


Std Time #2

The Nashville Scene

(Issue Date: December 5, 1996)

Action Packed

Nashville's music scene

by Jim Ridley

Ever since Elvis first swiveled his hips, every generation has declared, at some point, that rock 'n' roll is dead. Ronnie Dawson has spent the past four decades proving it can't be killed. Since the late 1950s, when he recorded a string of singles as a teenage rockabilly sensation in Dallas, Dawson has slugged it out, night after night, at the fringes of an industry that has never known quite what to make of him. He's responded by barnstorming the world with a guitar slung low across his hips, playing the twangiest, raunchiest red-meat rock 'n' roll this side of Link Wray.

:Dawson arrives this coming Wednesday at the Exit/In on a double bill with Wayne Hancock, whose low-fi brand of honky-tonk and Western swing was, for many years, as unfashionable as Dawson's ferocious rockabilly. In the past two years, both musicians have discovered a large new audience, largely on the strength of live shows and LPs that have been passed among connoisseurs with genuine fervor.

"Wayne was just a guy I met in Austin," says Dawson, who is as quiet and unassuming in conversation as he is brash and hellacious before a crowd. "He came up to me at a club and said he wanted us to tour together, and we finally got everything worked out. We're having a great time. He's got a wonderful steel player, and we all end up onstage together every night."

It's especially pleasing that Dawson and Hancock would return to Nashville in triumph. Both men came here years before and left in frustration after butting heads with Music Row--except that where Hancock couldn't get his foot in the door, Dawson had it slammed on his fingers.

Still rockin' bones Ronnie Dawson Photo by James Bland

"I just chalk it up to experience," recalls Dawson of his "not very pleasant" association with Columbia in the late 1960s. In the late 1950s, Dawson had been affiliated with Big D Music, whose roster of artists featured Gene Vincent, Sonny James, and the piano-pounding eccentric Esquerita. However, by the mid-1960s--when Dawson's voice finally changed--he had been run through the music-industry wringer, including an ill-fated attempt by Dick Clark's Swan label to turn him into a crooning teen idol. He even cut some startlingly raw R&B sides under the name "Commonwealth Jones" for Columbia in the early part of the decade. (Samplings of all these styles may be found on the fine Crystal Clear Sound compilation Rockin' Bones: The Legendary Masters, which contains Dawson's signature songs "Rockin' Bones" and "Action Packed" along with Chris Dickinson's affectionate, informative liner notes.)

In the late '60s, Dawson was brought back to Columbia to record with hitmaking producer Billy Sherrill, who strapped him into the same Procrustean technique that made superstars of George Jones and Charlie Rich. "He recorded me under the same conditions as Tammy Wynette," Dawson says. The young Texan with the aggressive guitar sound was shoehorned into lush orchestrations and grandiose ballads--and the recordings sank without a trace. From then on, Dawson vowed he would never let anyone else dictate the sound or content of his records, a decision that marginalized his career for much of the next two decades.

"I won't say I'll never record a stone country album again," Dawson says today. "But if I do, I'm not going to let anyone else produce it. Certainly not Billy Sherrill."

Still, Dawson holds no grudges against Nashville. Wednesday night marks his first local gig since a series of shows with the Planet Rockers a few years back. Dawson's recent Rockinitis album contains a few tracks cut with the Planet Rockers overseas, and their guitarist, Eddie Angel, now a member of Los Straitjackets, was one of a handful of musicians Dawson handpicked for his raucous new Upstart Records LP Just Rockin' and Rollin'. The two rockabilly enthusiasts met in London in 1990, and Dawson says it was "probably just destiny for us to meet." Dawson hopes Angel will show up at the Exit/In Wednesday night if he's in town.

If Angel does make an appearance, he'll have to fight to share the spotlight. It's onstage that Dawson makes most post-grunge rockers look and sound like arthritic codgers. Last spring, at Austin's Continental Club, the 57-year-old showman kicked off his post-midnight set by duckwalking the length of the club, pausing along the way to slap the standing-room crowd high-fives. When he returned to the stage, he chopped his hand across his strings, and the speakers shook with a buzzsaw roar. Dawson leered at the audience for a moment, then leapt off the monitors and launched into a stuttering tommy-gun solo that ordered Dick Dale to take a hike.

"I just want it to be fun, so you can pat your foot along with it and smile," Dawson says. "You can't ever let up, or people'll know about it." Amen to that. Ronnie Dawson and Wayne Hancock play Wednesday night at 9 p.m.

Russian Language

Rockabilly Central | Tours | Chicago | Swing | Photos | Articles | Reviews | Movies | Links

Get Smart! lisa wertman marc koch frank loose kansas chicago One For All remotes