Good at being the best

The youngest man in rock and roll, Ronnie Dawson gets hitched and grows up (sort of)

More Bad Habits sounds at times as though it were recorded in New Orleans by a bluesman who just learned how to play country in a punk-rock club. Songs such as "Toe Up From the Flo Up," "Chili Pepper Mama," "Bayou Beauty," and the burn-it-all-down closer "Party Slab" are scattered in the best sense of the word, the sound of a man on a quest to pack everything he's ever heard into two minutes and 58 seconds and go off in search of more everything.

He likes to point to two songs off of Just Rockin' & Rollin'--"Mexigo" and "Veronica," both Tex-Mex-tinged throwdowns, rock and roll made at the last bar on the border--as proof of his willingness to try anything once, or twice. He mentions how he was inspired to do both after sharing the Carnegie Hall stage with conjunto accordionist Mingo Saldivar in 1994, when both men were brought to New York City as part of a roots-revivalist showcase. Wearing a big grin, Dawson says they're "conjuntobilly" songs.

Above Ronnie and Christy's fireplace hangs an enormous yellow-and-black poster advertising a show featuring Dawson and the late Carl Perkins. Dawson says he keeps it there to remind himself of his place in rock-and-roll history: "Below Carl Perkins," he says, not at all joking. Yet Dawson--who spent much of the 1970s and '80s making what he calls "country-rock," meaning songs that sounded as though they were written by Jimmy Webb and performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young--is a study in evolution. Where Perkins and Gene Vincent and their lot backed themselves into a corner in 1956, Dawson moves forever forward. And to think that when he was a child growing up in Oak Cliff, he never even wanted to perform in public. It wasn't until a friend forced him to, during a Future Farmers of America talent show, that Dawson discovered what he'd end up doing for the rest of his life.

"I was a sophomore, and I'd just play at home," Dawson says, recounting a story he seldom tells. "I was bashful. My buddies knew I could play, and they went by my house and got my guitar and took it to school. The teacher said, 'We got a guy here and somebody said he could play gee-tar. I don't really think he can.' I looked up there, and it was my guitar. I was on the spot, and I had to play, and when I did, I went crazy. I never said anything to anyone. I went to school and walked next to the walls and did my work. That was when it started."

It's somehow appropriate, then, that the very same week More Bad Habits hits stores, Dawson's 1958 semi-hit single "Action Packed" also appears--this time, on a four-disc boxed set from Rhino Records titled Hot Rods & Custom Classics: Cruisin' Songs & Highway Hits. Indeed, "Action Packed"--credited to Ronnie Dee--is the first song on the box's first disc, coming before songs by the likes of Gene Vincent, the Beach Boys, Junior Brown, and Hank Williams. Then, on May 19, "Action Packed" and "Rockin' Bones," also recorded in 1958, will appear on yet another Rhino box, Loud, Fast & Out of Control: The Wild Sounds of '50s Rock.

It is not a little ironic that of the men with whom he shares space on that box--among them Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry--only Dawson continues to record, continues to be relevant. Only he keeps jumping on tables, strutting through audiences, going into studios and making records better than the last. Berry, Lewis, and so many others were long ago sealed in plastic and put in storage. Not little Ronnie Dee.

And to think, Dawson couldn't even stand "Action Packed" when he first heard it. He didn't even want to cut it, preferring instead to do "Green-Eyed Cat," "Rockin' Bones," anything but the song first recorded by Johnny Dollar. He just didn't like it, couldn't play it, couldn't sing it--not a thing went right during the sessions.

"I don't think I've ever told anybody this, but when I actually did the song, I was mad," he says now, laughing. "I was pissed-off. That's probably why it's got that edge on it. I can listen to it right now, and I sound really weird on it on a couple of places. Funny, ain't it?"

Ronnie Dawson performs March 20 at the Sons of Hermann Hall.

Till tomorrow, tomorrowpeople
A few weeks ago, tomorrowpeople guitarist-songwriter Mike "Buzz" Gibson had resigned himself to the inevitable. He hoped it wouldn't happen, sort of convinced himself it couldn't happen. But deep down, he knew the accountants at Universal Music Group were bound to look at the bottom line and erase the tomorrowpeople's name from it--no matter how many thousands of dollars Geffen Records had put into the band's major-label debut (well into the six figures), no matter how many potential singles the album contained. So as of February 26, the tomorrowpeople were no longer signed to Geffen Records--which itself no longer exists, having been swallowed whole by Interscope Records, UMG's now-dominant label.

The same goes for Slowpoke, though that comes as far less of a surprise. Hell, with the amount of publicity the label put into promoting Slowpoke's 1998 album Virgin Stripes, you would have thought the band was dropped before the album even hit stores.

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