By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
With age comes self-consciousness, which is why rock 'n' roll has always been--on the creating end at least--the province of the young. A 15-year-old can go "huhhn!" or shout "aw, rock it now!" and pull it off, whereas David Crosby, attempting the same thing (maybe even feeling it) comes off only as profoundly sad. Ronnie Dawson is one of the few artists who have been able to keep that youthful joy while adding the layers of insight and ability that age brings. With the release of this double-disc helping of archival recordings that date back to the beginning of his career--and include many left turns and byways heretofore only alluded to in interviews--Dawson's career seems well on its way to finally being completely documented.
Documented also is that bright moment when (rhythm-and-) the blues--carried in the licks and the likes of T-Bone Walker and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown--collided with the country that kids like Dawson grew up listening to. Presented here in all its glory, taken off of the acetates and 45s of the time, this means going native--boomy, underproduced mono tracks--but the energy of the music cuts through the technology of the time like a red-hot knife.
The history starts in 1957. Dawson never lags, whether sentimentally crooning "My First Love" or--as he does in the classic "Action Packed"--maintaining that he's gotta have a rocket ship (not a Cadillac, uh-uh) in order to get to where he's going. Writers and players are unknown, parts missing, but this artifact (as opposed to relic) only seems more accurate because of it. Alternate takes abound, but the finest progress made on Legendary Masters isn't in shining new light on favorites like "Rockin' Bones" but in documenting the other phases of Dawson's career, like his more blues-flavored forays as Snake Monroe ("Who's Been Here?") and Commonwealth Jones ("Muddy Coffee") to his "pussy rock" pop period as the Johnny in Johnny and the Jills ("Pauline") and with Dick Clark's Swan label ("Hazel"). It's all here, including a few tracks from his stint with the Levee Singers like "Ghost Riders in the Sky," a crowd pleaser to this day.
A number of other minor revelations hide on Legendary Masters, like the genius of Dawson mentor Marvin "Smokey" Montgomery (Light Crust Doughboys), who appears again and again as songwriter, sideman, and bandleader. If ever a tribute was laid in between the lines, it would be in the number of times Montgomery's name pops up.
First and foremost, however, stands Dawson and his commitment to the music, giving his braggadocio on "Action Packed" or his feral yell on "Muddy Coffee" the absolute ring of truth. Hear it for yourself and marvel.