Delmar Allen Hawkins was born in 1936 in Louisiana, on his grandfather’s cotton farm in Gold Mine, where he grew up. His father and other family members were musicians who toured Arkansas and Oklahoma in the 1930s and ’40s. His cousin Ronnie Hawkins was also a rockabilly recording artist. According to Kauppila (2013), young Hawkins grew up absorbing a wide range of musical influences, including country and rhythm and blues (R&B) shows that he heard on Shreveport radio station KWKH (home of the Louisiana Hayride), blues from black sharecroppers with whom he picked cotton on his grandfather’s farm, and black gospel singers in local churches. He bought his first guitar at age thirteen with money he had saved from his paper round. The rhythm guitarist was influenced by the contemporary rock and roll style of Elvis Presley and in particular the guitar sounds of Scotty Moore, but also blended that with the uniquely heavy blues sound of black Louisiana artists to create swamp rock.
He left home at fifteen and lied about his age in order to join the US Navy. He served on a destroyer during the Korean War. Upon his military discharge, he moved to Bossier City and attended a business college in in the neighboring city of Shreveport, under the GI Bill, in 1956. He formed a band played on the Bossier Strip, a nightlife area that catered to off-duty military personnel from nearby Barksdale Air Force Base. The band recorded “See You Soon, Baboon” (intended as an “answer” record to Bobby Charles’s “See You Later, Alligator”), at KWKH studios during off-air hours. Dale and James Burton were college buddies, and in 1957 they recorded "Susie Q" with Burton on the signature riff and solo. Stan’s Record Shop was the regional distributor for Chicago label Chess Records, so owner Stan Lewis sent the song to Chess. The record was released in April 1957 on the Checker subsidiary as one of the first singles Chess released by a white artist. "Suzy Q," with its crackling bluesy guitar and insistent cowbell, was one of the first rock ’n’ roll records to feature lead guitar instead of saxophone and eventually reached No. 27 on the Billboard pop charts and No. 7 on the R&B charts.
Dale Hawkins and James Burton came up with “Susie Q” as they improvised around Burton’s guitar flourish, and later wrote the song kind of worked itself out. The song’s title is most likely to have come from a popular dance craze of the mid-1930s, but other influences have been suggested. The song’s melody came from a 1954 song by the Clovers, “I’ve Got My Eyes on You.”
The song was recorded at the KWKH Radio station in Shreveport, Louisiana. When it was released, Stan Lewis, the owner of Jewel/Paula Records, and Eleanor Broadwater, the wife of Nashville DJ Gene Nobles, were also credited as co-writers to give them shares of the royalties. This was common a practice and guaranteed the song was promoted although more often than not the artists were short changed. Many artists would cover the song including The Rolling Stones (1964); and Creedence Clearwater Revival (1968) among many others.
In 1958 he recorded Willie Dixon's "My Babe" which featured a Roy Buchanan’s solo on Telecaster. The single reached No. 7 on the R&B chart. Though he had a few more minor hits in 1958 and 1959, he was unable to duplicate the success of “Susie Q.” In addition to Burton and Buchanan, many notable musicians passed through Hawkins’s bands, including guitarist Scotty Moore and drummer D. J. Fontana (both of whom played with Elvis Presley), and future country stars Floyd Cramer and Conway Twitty. In 1960, he hosted his own teen dance party television program, The Dale Hawkins Show, on WCAU-TV in Philadelphia.
He was never able to repeat his earlier successes as a singer but continued recording after leaving Chess, with Tilt and Zonk labels, and two for Atlantic, but none were hits. In 1962 he moved back to Shreveport and became a producer for the Jewel and Paula labels run by his former boss, Stan Lewis. Later he served as president of ABNAK Records in Dallas, Texas, where he had hits with, The Uniques, "Not Too Long Ago" (1965) , the Five Americans, “Western Union” (1967), Jon & Robin's "Do It Again – A Little Bit Slower" (1967).
At Bell Records where he produced Bruce Channel (1968), Ronnie Self, James Bell, the Festivals, the Dolls, and the Gentrys); and A&R director, RCA West Coast Rock Division, working with Michael Nesmith and Harry Nilsson.
Dale Hawkins became disillusioned with the music business and relocated to the South, where he worked briefly in the insurance and automobile industries. In 1969, he returned to singing with the album “L.A., Memphis & Tyler, Texas” which featured a young Ry Cooder on guitar. Though the album did not sell well at the time, it is now regarded as a “lost” classic.
Sadly, the 70s found Hawkins plagued with drug problems, and he eventually he relocated to Arkansas, where he went through a rehabilitation program. In 1986, after MCA Records bought the Chess catalog, he received a check for $64,000 and built his own studio. In the 1980s, after recovering from an addiction to prescription drugs, he opened a crisis center for teenagers in Little Rock. In the 1996, he produced Kenny Brown’s "Goin Back to Mississippi" album. Two years later, Ace Records issued a compilation album, Dale Hawkins, Rock 'n' Roll Tornado, which contained a collection of his early works and previously unreleased material.
During 2000s Dale Hawkins enjoyed a career resurgence, playing festivals and then in 2007 he released Back Down to Louisiana on Plumtone Records. Dale Hawkins died in 2010, from colon cancer in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was 73.
Kauppila, Paul "Dale Hawkins." In knowlouisiana.org Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 2010–. Article published April 2, 2013. https://www.knowlouisiana.org/entry/dale-hawkins/.
Kauppila, Paul "Dale Hawkins" knowlouisiana.org Encyclopedia of Louisiana. Ed. David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 2 Apr 2013. Web. 23 Jun 2016.