EXPIRED: 02/13/10 – Dale Hawkins, 73, was only 15 when he wrote the words and music to “Suzy Q”, but nearly 60 years later that’s what we’ll remember him for more than anything. And maybe that’s the saddest part of all. Hawkins never quite got over the fact that he wasn’t able to match his initial foray into the music business.
Hawkins was definitely considered a pioneer rocker and is often called the inventor of swamp rock boogie. “Suzy Q”, a song that has been covered by nearly every bar band from coast to coast, was recently chosen as one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. The cover version that Creedence Clearwater Revival did on their debut album in 1968 helped launch their career and today is probably better known than the original.
After a string of other minor hits, Hawkins hosted a teen TV dance show called The Dale Hawkins Show, on WCAU-TV in Philadelphia, but it wasn’t what he wanted to do so he dropped out of the performing scene and moved back south to raise a family. By staying put he became a sought after producer and record executive and made hits like “Western Union” by the Five Americans, “Judy in Disguise” by John Fred & His Playboy Band, and several well-received albums by the Uniques. At one point, 3 songs he had produced made the Billboard Top 100 at the same time. He also worked with international names like Mike Nesmith and Harry Nilsson as A&R Director of RCA.
But trouble brewed. Hawkins got addicted to Benzedrine. And since sold his rights to “Suzy Q” for just $200, he couldn’t reap any of the benefits of CCR’s mega hit cover version.
He dropped out of the music business and started to freefall.
After bottoming out and entering rehab, Hawkins put a lot of effort into developing Little Rock, Arkansas’ first crisis center, with a suicide hotline for teenagers. Then, in 1986, he received word from record label MCA, which had bought the entire catalog of Chess Records. that he was owed $64,000.
Hawkins started to make music again and slowly built up a little home studio.
In 2006, he was diagnosed with colon cancer and began radiation therapy, while continuing to perform occasionally. The following year, he was inducted into The Louisiana Music Hall Of Fame. And Mojo, UK’s music magazine, ranked his final album, “Back Down to Louisiana,” as #10 in the Americana category in their 2007 ‘Best Of’ issue.
His cancer got him just before Valentine’s Day 2010. But the music still lives on (and makes a great gift – even for yourself.)