Dawson's Peek

A look at the long career of rock & roller Ronnie Dawson

Why, then, does Dawson's music still matter; still, simply put, rock? He's an expert guitarist with a classic rock & roll voice and also a demanding bandleader. "I have a problem with undisciplined music," Dawson says. "It should be fun, but it should have dynamics, be in tune, and the beat shouldn't be turned over. That's an unpardonable sin for me, turning the beat over." Most important, Dawson has that elusive rock & roll charisma -- no amount of volume, speed or greasy festooning can make up for it. His vitality and sense of joy are as unself-conscious as they are boundless. He's not really a songwriter: The songs he most often picks couldn't be sillier -- "I tell people to write me some graveyard songs, or songs about motor-sicles, or wild women, or junk food; it's the furthest thing from my philosophy" -- but his ability to magnetize a ditty couldn't be more serious. In conversation, he's a thoughtful, sincere, even peaceful man -- Dawson is writing a book, tentatively titled Who? -- as genuine as a '63 Stratocaster. In front of a crack rhythm section, in a beer joint just big enough for dancing, he'll be gone, seriously gone.

Ronnie Dawson has that elusive rock & roll charisma -- no amount of volume, speed or greasy festooning can make up for it.
Ronnie Dawson has that elusive rock & roll charisma -- no amount of volume, speed or greasy festooning can make up for it.

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Thursday, Aug. 3
Off Broadway

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"I don't call what I do rockabilly," Dawson says. "To me, it's rock & roll. Rockabilly was from that time period when Elvis didn't really have a drummer, when he was doing 'That's All Right Mama,' or early Carl Perkins, when W.S. Holland was beating on the side of his bass with sticks. It's a softer thing. My shows are more holy rollin', like that old-time religion in Assembly of God churches. My shows still have teeth, but I like to see people smiling, see people hug one another. That's what I'm about."

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