Mr. Rockin’ Bones is Still Tearing It Up
Ronnie Dawson hit the ground running in Waxahachie, Texas about sixty years ago, and he hasn’t slowed down since — in fact, he runs ten miles a day and lives on a mixture of carrot, apple, and spinach juice. It serves him well. With the release of More Bad Habits (Yep Roc), American audiences can discover (again) the reason he’s revered as a deity by British rock fans, and his songs have been covered by the likes of Southern Culture on the Skids and Izzy Stradlin — this man is flat-out rock and roll.
Speaking with “the Blonde Bomber” before a show in Phoenix, he shared his outlook on a lifetime in the music business as “It should be fun. I’ve had people come up to me after a show and tell me that they had a real good time — they had lots of fun. Rock and roll should be fun.”
While his early work — dozens of singles on various labels (“Pressed maybe a 1000 at a time – I never saw any money from ’em”) — command top dollar in collector circles, Dawson had to find interesting ways to support himself musically when he didn’t have a record out. He’s sung jingles (recently for CiCi’s Pizza) and played drums on Bruce Channel’s “Hey Baby” and Paul and Paula’s “Hey Paula” — “Made about $5 a piece for those, I guess, but it helped,” he says with a laugh.
After losing a record deal with Dick Clark’s Swan Records during the payola scandal of the 1960s, Dawson toured with the Lightcrust Doughboys and released records under the names “Snake Munroe” and “Commonwealth Jones.” It wasn’t until the mid-’80s and contact with a British record collector that his recording career started anew. His early tracks were reissued on a compilation entitled Rockin’ Bones to rave reviews, and Ronnie found himself a major star across the big pond. “Yeah,” he says, “those English cats are great — they have the clothes, the look, all that stuff. They loved my music and knew it better than I did!” He went on to record new records — Monkey Beat and Just Rockin’ and Rollin’ , that were mainly for the British crowd. In fact his debut release on Yep Roc is his first American recording since the ’60s. Strangely enough, it’s also his first American stereo record, which tells you something about just how long he’s been putting out music.
More Bad Habits is an infectious party record, made for juke joints and fast ragtop cars. With subject matter ranging from food (“Mac Attack” and “The Frim Fram Sauce” — “I don’t know what it means either!” Dawson hooted when asked what the song refers to. “I got it off a Nat King Cole Trio record. I’m hoping somebody down South can tell me what it is!”) to fast cars (“Waxahachie Drag Race”), the record showcases his rocket-powered guitar twang, along with one of the best voices since Jerry Lee Lewis. It’s refreshing to hear such great raw music in an age dominated by drum samples and electronics. Call it whatever you wish — “People call it rockabilly, rock and roll, whatever. It’s just whatever sounds good to me at the time. I want people to feel like dancin’ when they hear it, have a smile on their face” — rock and roll rarely gets more impassioned and direct than this.
The closing track on More Bad Habits is a live-in-the-studio cut entitled “Party Slab,” and if Dawson and crew can raise that much ruckus in front of a handful of people, it’s scary to imagine him in front of a large crowd. His live shows are legendary. You’d be hard-pressed to believe a man in his sixties could be as wild and energetic as he is, but from Carnegie Hall to the Conan O’Brien show, Dawson has honed his live act over the years and it shows. His band includes kids that weren’t born when he began recording, but that’s all right to Ronnie. “These people come up to me when I’m playing, kids, 18, 19 years old, and tell me that Monkey Beat is their favorite record, and that they wanna play guitar for me.”
And play they do, although few guitarists are going to best Dawson and his Fender Strat. Revered by the likes of the Cramps — “Ronnie’s the man. He’s an animal” — and the Reverend Horton Heat, Ronnie Dawson is a living legend of rock and roll. A drag-racing, rippin’ and roarin’ good time legend, that is. Although he feels like he’s gonna be playing for another 100 years — “At least! It’s all I know how to do!” — don’t let the chance to check him out pass you by. You’d be missing a good time. Guaranteed by the Blonde Bomber himself.