Our Arklahoma Heritage: Pioneer rocker had Madison County roots, adopted Arkansas as home
A Louisiana-born and bred singer -songwriter, who had family ties in the small Madison County town of St. Paul, had a career that spanned half a decade as an artist, producer, disc jockey and record executive before his death in 2010.
Delmar Allen (Dale) Hawkins Jr., a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, specialized in creating a sound (called “Swamp Rock” by some) that helped shape rock and roll music.
Hawkins was successful in many roles in the music industry: singer, songwriter, recording artist, producer, arranger, band leader, musician, TV host, disc jockey, and promoter.
Different sources have reported different birth dates for Hawkins (given the practice in the 1950s for promoters to alter birth dates to make their clients more appealing to a younger audience), but he was most likely born on August 22, 1938, on Goldmine Plantation in Louisiana. His father, Delmar (Skipper) Hawkins was a road musician and, at one time, a member of the Sons of the Pioneers, while his mother, Estelle Taylor Hawkins, was a teacher. He had one brother, Jerry, who went on to become a recording artist on Ebb records and head the Musicians Union in Shreveport. Hawkins’s father left when Hawkins was three years old. Although Hawkins grew up not knowing his father, he spent much of his youth with his father’s family on his aunt Annabel Hawkins’s farm and attended a few years of school in St. Paul (Madison County).
Hawkins often listened to Hank Williams and Hank Snow on the radio. He learned about gospel music at a church in St. Paul and from musicians he met in Louisiana. He learned blues music while picking cotton in Louisiana, with country blues singers, and by following his maternal grandfather, federal marshal Jessie Clinton Taylor, on his rounds to clubs and cafés. Hawkins bought his first guitar at the age of thirteen with money he earned selling Grit newspapers. Hawkins joined the navy at the age of sixteen and served for a year and a half. He moved to Bossier City, and, while attending college, worked part-time at Stan’s Record Shop in Shreveport.
There, he met Leonard Chess (Chess Records/Checker Records) and later recorded his first hit on Chess’s Checker label, the self-penned “Suzie Q” (1957). Stan Lewis, owner of Stan’s Record Shop, and E. Broadwater also received co-writing credits, though in a later interview, Hawkins stated that the writing credits were taken out of his control and should have been given to himself and James Burton. Hawkins was one of the few white artists who recorded for Checker, a label that produced rhythm and blues records. Hawkins performed at the Apollo Theater in New York City two weeks before the reputed first white artists, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, arrived on the scene.
He produced a big hit for the Five Americans, “Western Union” (1967), as well as John Fred and the Playboys’ “Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)” (1968), and Bruce Channel’s “Mister Bus Driver” and “Keep On” (1968). While in Texas, Hawkins served as Southwest vice president of Columbia Records. In 1968, he moved to Los Angeles to become RCA’s West Coast Head of A&R (Artist & Repertoire). For the next three years at RCA, he worked with artists such as Harry Nilsson and Michael Nesmith. In the early 1970s, Hawkins got hooked on prescription drugs and moved his family back to Louisiana. He and Paulette divorced. In the late 1970s, Hawkins battled chemical dependency at a Veterans Administration hospital. He moved to Arkansas in 1978. During the 1990s, Hawkins worked as a volunteer disc jockey for community radio station KABF and was a featured performer at White Water Tavern in Little Rock.
He lived in North Little Rock for more than twenty years, recording at his Hawk’s Nest Studio. In 2005, he was diagnosed with colon cancer and began chemotherapy while continuing to perform in the US and abroad. In October 2007, The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame honored Hawkins for his contributions to Louisiana music by inducting him into The Louisiana Music Hall Of Fame.
It was recognized by the UK's music magazine, Mojo, as #10 in the Americana category in their 2007 Best of issue, while "L.A., Memphis & Tyler, Texas" was awarded #8 in the reissue category. Hawkins died on February 13, 2010, from colon cancer in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was buried two days later at the Riverside Cemetery in rural Madison County to rest for eternity in his adopted home state of Arkansas.