Delmar Allen Hawkins, aka Dale Hawkins, was born in 1936 in Goldmine, Louisiana, just 30 miles from Ferriday, hometown of fellow northern Louisianan Jerry Lee Lewis. Dale's dad, a hillbilly musician in his own right, died when Dale was a kid. This event cast the young Hawk loose to live with various share-cropper relatives around the Shreveport area. Some claim he acquired his early love for black music, those blues, so essential to his "swamp bop" sound, while working in the share-cropper fields.
Then again, he might have just as easily come by this love at Stan Lewis' Shreveport store, Stan the Man's Record Shop. Here Hawkins worked as a counter clerk when he wasn't playing gigs on the Bossier City strip, a blue zone just across the Red River from Shreveport. Stan Lewis happened to be the biggest distributor of Chess/Checker records in the region, and Leonard Chess knew him well.
In '56 the Hawk cut his earliest demos in the studios of Shreveport's KWKH radio late at night, during dead air time. At that point he was trying to get signed to Chess, just like his friend Bobby Charles had with the song "See You Later Alligator." The title of Dale Hawkins' first demo: "See You Soon Baboon." Apparently Stan the Man dug it. And apparently Leonard Chess dug "Susie-Q," which he released in '57 after a bit of a tug-o-war with Atlantic Records over the song. Hawkins went on to record roughly 30 sides for Checker from 1957-1961.
Besides cutting all those classic records for Checker ("My Babe," "Cross-Ties," "Baby Baby," "Mrs. Merguitory's Daughter," "Little Pig," "Tornado," "Susie-Q," "Worried About My Baby" etc.), Dale Hawkins also cut his teeth as producer, working with Johnny Horton at KWKH. Eventually he went on to produce hits for the Uniques, Five Americans, and others. Does anyone know if he also produced the Arena Twins' version of "Little Pig"?
Dale Hawkins also hosted the teen dance show "Big Big Beat" on WCAU-TV outta Philadelphia, which I think was also called "The Dale Hawkins Show" at some point. Couldn't find any youtube action for either of those (which sorta makes me doubt my sources --like if it ain't on youtube by now, did it ever really happen?). But here's a clip from "American Bandstand," Dale Hawkins lip-syncing along to "Little Pig," circa '58. Hey, the guy can dance too!
And if all that's still not impressive enough for you, Dale Hawkins also discovered and/or hired young guitar wizzes James Burton* --that's JB at age 15 playing that unmistakable & immortal lick on "Susie-Q"-- and Roy Buchanan --RB plays lead on "My Babe."
If you'd like to hear a pretty funny interview with Dale Hawkins, check out the Norton Records 20th Anniversary Party special broadcast of WFMU's "Music to Spazz By" with Dave the Spazz.