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The story of a man - Jimmy Dawkins
Jimmy Dawkins was born October 24, 1936, in Tchula, Mississippi. His family moved to Pascagoula in the early 1940´s when Jimmy's father got a job there. Jimmy stayed in Pascagoula until he moved to Chicago in 1955. Dawkins started playing guitar at an early age:
"My uncle was living with my mother and dad and me, and he had a old guitar lay around on the bed, and I drag it off the bed at early years. Maybe I was three or four or five. I don´t know. But I loved the guitar as far back as I can remember."
Jimmy's mother bought him his first own guitar in 1952. He spent much of his time practicing and his friends called him John Lee Hooker or Muddy Waters. But Jimmy's favourite artists was the New Orleans bands, e.g. Fats Domino, Guitar Slim and Smiley Lewis.(Listen to Blue Monday on Blisterstring for a cool tribute to Smiley.)
Jimmy moved to Chicago in 1955. He got a job at a box factory and he worked there for two years. The last year at the factory Jimmy started to gig around the Chicago blues scene. His first musical jobs was as a lead guitarist for harmonica player Lester Hinton. In 1956 Dawkins began his solo career. Through the next three years Dawkins played with Left Hand Frank, Eddie King, Jimmy Rogers, Smokey Smothers, Koko Taylor and many more.
Anyone who have seen Jimmy Dawkins live knows he doesn´t move much on stage. In his younger days though, he used to be more acrobatic:
I used to play the guitar in my mouth and teeth and all that stuff and over my head and squattin´ down on it and all that, right there at 39th and Drexel, at the Rhumboogie club. I used to be quite acrobatic and I used to tear up a lot of my little $5 suits and Goodwill pants...
Jimmy's first for sure recorded work was with Johnny Young on his "Chicago blues" album. But Dawkins himself says he did some recordings for the King/Federal label around 1960. Anyhow, in the sixties Dawkins began to get a reputation as a good session man and he did recordings with Wild Child Butler, Little Mack Simmons and Luther Allison. Dawkins guitar playing in the sixties is intense and almost monotonous. He already had developed his own unique sound and style.
1969 Jimmy made his first solo album. In Living Blues 108 he recalls how he got in contact with Delmark:
I met Bob Koester (...) through Magic Sam. Goin´ to his [Sam´s] house, calling him up because I couldn´t learn the lead to Funky Broadway. (...) He helped me. He say bring him a six pack - and it always was a six-pack of king size Buds, and I went over to his house and he was going to show that to me and he happened to remember that Bob Koester was looking for me, so we just jumped in the car and ran down to Delmark. That´s how the contract come by with Bob - because I couldn´t learn a song.
"Fast Fingers" won the Grand Prix du Disque of the Hot Club of France
as the best blues album of the year. It´s a very good and solid album.
The first song, It serves me right to suffer is a killer. Dawkins plays
cool, laid-back guitar and he "talk-sings": "It serves me right
to suffer, it serves me right to be alone...". The entire album is very
good and Dawkins makes it clear why he used to be called fast fingers (One reader
of this site have told me Jimmy never liked being called Fast fingers). This
album might also be the most West Side of all Jimmy´s albums. He mixes
solo and rhythm effortlessly. In Living Blues 108 Dawkins said he wanted a heavier
sound on the album. I´m glad he didn´t get it. It would have killed
Jimmy now got famous in the hard-core European blues-circuits and he started to tour in Europe. Jimmy's dark and moody blues seemed to fit perfect in the European blues myth. (The negro who used to play in the fields now got his hands on electronic instruments and plays a hard and violent music created through years and years of slavery. You know the story). In 1971 Jimmy recorded an album on Vogue. He is backed by French musicians and Mickey Baker on second guitar. The band is not, to put it mildly, very tight, but Dawkins shines with some nasty guitar playing. In November the same year Jimmy recorded another European album, "Tribute to Orange". Orange is the city where Jimmy received the award for Fast Fingers. The lyrics are aggressive and at times bitter, but the band is even worse than on the Vogue album. Cousin Joe clinks on the piano at random intervals, Gatemouth Brown toys with wahwah effects and Ted Harvey gives the listener an example of his ability to play when he´s asleep. Dawkins tries to do something and the album has some bright moments, but in my opinion the band destroys what could have been one of Jimmy´s best albums, sometimes his guitar is awesome. On the CD reissue there are recordings with Big Voice Odom and Otis Rush from Black & Blue 33.510. Buy that one if you want to have "Tribute to Orange".
1971 was a very productive year for Jimmy. He recorded the two European albums above and also another one on Delmark. "All for Business". This album is solid, heavy and uncompromising Chicago blues. The band is tight and Dawkins plays more concentrated guitar than he had done before. Otis Rush plays second guitar and he delivers some of his most fluently recorded guitar work ever and he complements Dawkins perfectly. The album highlights are the two instrumentals (three on CD), the slowblues Born in poverty, the cool and heavy Down so long (my favorite track) and the title song All for Business. The only drawback, in my opinion, is that Dawkins doesn´t sing on more than one track (two on the CD). Big Voice Odom does a great job, it would just have been nice to hear Dawkins simple and heartbroken voice on a couple of more tracks.
The first half of the seventies were good years for Dawkins. He toured in Europe and in Japan. Downbeat critics voted him the best rock/pop/blues act deserving wider recognition. He appeared on national television and he made several albums. Jimmy also had a very popular column in the blues magazine "Living Blues". The French label MCM recorded a series of "Direct from Chicago". Magic Slim, John Littlejohn, Willie James Lyon, Jimmy Johnson and Dawkins among others were recorded. The project was a good idea but the recordings were made in empty blues clubs. The sound and inspiration therefore wasn´t always on top but I think the two Dawkins albums are OK. He plays some aggressive guitar and it is an example of how Dawkins sounded live at the time.
After the success with Fast Fingers the big record company's became interested in Jimmy. Unfortunately, it would show, Excello had the best deal. In 1972 Jimmy went to London and made "Transatlantic 770". It could have been a very good album. There is a couple of nice Al King covers, Think twice before you speak and High cost of living and some very hard numbers like Stoned Dead and No more troubles. Also included is a remake of All for Business which I must admit I like. But the LP is heavily overproduced and Jimmy is buried somewhere deep in the mix. Excello didn´t do much for Jimmy. There are some live recordings from Montreaux but otherwise the Excello deal proved to be a disappointment. Jimmy continued to tour but he didn´t seem to care about his music as much as he used to. In 1974-75 he visited Sweden a couple of times but he didn´t make much of an impression on the Swedish blues critics. In 1975 Jimmy´s excellent band, Jimmy Johnson, guitar, Sylvester Boines, bass and Tyrone Centuray, drums, backed up Otis Rush on his highly acclaimed Live in Japan album.
Dawkins maybe was tired but in 1976 he returned for the third time to Delmark, the album "Blisterstring" was the result. "Blisterstring" gives me the same kind of feeling as when I listen to Otis Rush´ "Cold Day in Hell" or "Screamin´and cryin´". The albums are uneven where the artists mixes fantastic moments with some uninteresting parts. Jimmy Dawkins never before or after have played as exciting guitar as he does on this album. He shifts between holding a tone for a long long time, often leaving a solo hanging in the air, and hitting the listener with clusters of notes played with tremendous aggressivity and force.. His singing is for the first time accented, and it´s tormented and out of control. Jimmy tries and tries to spit out his feeling and the growls he produces gives me the blues. Delmark has re-released "Blisterstring" on CD with four additional tracks. The CD is of course a must for a Dawkins fan but beware that this is tough, intense and very ´70´s blues.
Between 1976 and 1981 Dawkins didn´t make any recordings. He cut back on his club work and tours.
My first thoughts of Jimmy Dawkins musical situation in the eighties was that
it was a lost decade. But as I began to write this story it struck me how wrong
I was! In 1981, on an European tour, Dawkins recorded one of his best albums,
"Hot Wire 81". The songs
are long but they never become uninteresting. The band is very good. The drummer,
Jimi Schutte, (Why don´t you visit Jimi´s
homepage) must be one of the best Dawkins ever played with. Dawkins´
singing is the best he ever have done, and the guitar playing is thoughtful
Dawkins only made two more solo albums in the next eleven years, but he got deeper involved in the music business than never before. He started his own record label, Leric Records. Dawkins wanted to record the unknown musicians who never got any tributes; James "Tail Dragger " Jones, Little Johnny Christian, Queen Sylvia Embry and Nora Jean Wallace. Sometimes Jimmy contributed with his guitar playing, but he stayed in back, pushing forward his artists.
1984 Jimmy made "Feel the Blues
"on JSP. It could have been a good album, but (in my opinion) it´s
not. There are some good songs, e.g. (If you got to) love somebody,
but nothing happens. It´s strange, the musicians are good, although I never
liked Professor Lusk´s organ playing, the songs are OK, but... I have
to tell for the sake of honesty that this album gets rather positive reviews
by other critics.
The next seven years Jimmy kept playing, he even appeared at the Chicago Blues Festival in 1987, but I must admit I thought he would never for real taking care of his own career again.
The first signs of Dawkins comeback in the big league was the live recordings ha made on Iceland, "Blue Ice " (Platonic 001). There are nothing new in the five songs Jimmy plays on the album, the big thing is his attitude. His guitar sounds uglier than ever and his singing has developed. The final step back in the serious business was "kant sheck dees bluze ", cut on the Earwig label in 1991. The band is topnotch Chicago with Ray Scott on drums, Johnny B. Gayden on bass, Professor Eddie Lusk on keyboards and Billy Flynn on rhythm guitar Somehow though, the band never really works with Jimmy, they just deliver another session as backup-musicians. Gayden and Scott have done some fantastic works with other artists (Listen to Scott on Buddy Guy´s I smell a rat on Buddy´s Isabel-album), but here they are too routine. Another drawback is Nora Jean Wallace´s two songs. She sings good, but I don´t like it here! I consider this album as a kind of stepping stone for Jimmy. He got the opportunity to just play and sing with all his force. The songs are a bit too long and the solos sometimes don´t lead nowhere. Buy it anyway, enjoy (?) Dawkin´s guitar tone. A friend of mine compared Dawkin´s sound on this CD with a vacuum cleaner...
1994 Jimmy recorded for a new label, Wild Dog Blues. I had never heard about that label or the musicians in the backup band (except the drummer Ray Scott). but the result is awesome! I rank this album, "Blues and Pain ", among Jimmy´s top five recordings. I just have to quote the liner notes from the CD:
The album highlights are the two slowblues, No pain and Down with the blues, the minor key Lonely guitar man and the intense and menacing instrumental Gitar Jive. Buy this CD. Listen to some real blues!. One of the best seventies style blues album yet recorded. But I have to admit there are some boring tracks also, program your CD-player...
When the next Wild Dog CD came, "B phur real ", I had very high hopes, but the magic is just not there. The sound and the songs are similar to "Blues and Pain" but something is missing. The most interesting song is the title track. It sounds like Fool on heah from "Blues and Pain". Jimmy moans and groans, screams and shouts, which blues men are for real. His conclusion is: "Watch me, I´m for real..." I agree Mr. Dawkins!
A third Wild Dog album, released on Ichiban International, hit the market in the fall of 1997. Jimmy Dawkins have gained weight and lost his hair. He looks mean. The music have also gained weight. If "B phur real " sounded heavier than "Blues and Pain ", then "Me, my guitar and the blues " is even heavier. You can play this loud, very loud, and maybe that´s the best way to enjoy this album. Of the ten tracks on the album about six are straight shuffles, two are "slowbluesish" and one is more like ordinary rock music. Jimmy´s singing is hard and grunting, the guitar´s still ugly, but the subtleties that can be there doesn´t exist here. The best track is the last one, Cold as hell, otherwise this album is a move down to the (uninteresting) rockblues market. Hopefully Jimmy´s next album will reveal the blues man again. After listening to the album at quite some time the past three months my opinion of the album have slightly changed. I still think it´s too heavy, but when I play it at the right moment the heaviness just kills me! The opening track has a serious down to earth groove and the title track is as good as Jimmy gets when he plays a slowblues. In a way this is the best album yet in the nineties from Dawkins, although I prefer "Blues and pain" Check this new one out.
Jimmy´s status as a one of the last guitar heroes from the West Side grows in the midnineties and he plays regurarely at the Chicago Blues Festival and is active in the Chicago clubs when he´s not on tour abroad.
Jimmy made a Swedish tour in February 1999, after more than ten years since his last visit to Sweden, in May he did an outstanding performance at the Mönsterås Blues festival and in July played at the Åmål Blues festival.
The rumour says Jimmy Dawkins will release a new album sometime next year. let´s hope this new millenium gives Jimmy Dawkins the worship he deserves!
The new album, West Side Guitar Hero, was finally released in 2002 and almost at the same time a collection, American Blues, of the three Wild Dog/Ichiban cd´s came. Jimmy continues to tour, as he did in 2001, but the major breaktrough some is hoping for in my opinion will not come. Mostly becasue Jimmy´s didn´t get the superstar status in the 1960´s as Buddy Guy, BB King or Otis Rush got. It´s too late now. But Jimmy could still be an even bigger cult blues icon if he reconsidered on these two things:
1) Jimmy´s live shows are unique, but the songs are not. Jimmy has written some real strong songs, All for Business, Welfare Line, Lonely Guitar Man, but rarely does he play them live, you´ll hear the standards of standards - Rock Me, Boogie Chillun, That´s Alright etc. If Mr Dawkins could trust on his own material his status would grow.
2) Jimmy who once had the best band around - Sylvester Boines, Tyrone Centuray, Rich Kirch, now plays with local backup - the real groove never gets there.
Does this sound negative? I still think Jimmy is one of the most personal and intense bluesmen ever!
In early 2004 Tell me baby was released. The album has got more attention in the media than the first Fedora release. Jimmy has played international blues festivals and he continues to be around, even if not in the absolute limelight. Jimmy´s work with Leric music, have made he now holds the rights to not only his own songs, but many other well known blues songs. I guess that kind of work takes a heavy part of his musical life.
If you want to read more about Dawkins I recommend you to get a copy of
Living Blues 8 and 108, Blues Revue 19, Jefferson 34 and 124. I have used Kent
Erssons article from Jefferson 34 to get the storyline between 1936-1976.
If you want to find more Jimmy Dawkins links on the Internet go to the Link section of my Dawkins pages. If you know some more links, write to me.