Pete Johnson’s Blast From My Past: Ronnie Dawson – “Monkey Beat”

One of the things I truly love and enjoy about being involved with the music business is discovering artists that I had been previously unaware of. For me, Ronnie Dawson and this album “Monkey Beat” is the classic example of finding a real honest to God, Rock and Roll mainline shot of serious no holds barred Rock and Roll, and Rockabilly, done right. I guess it was the early or mid 1990’s that I came across this album on a label that was distributed by one of the companies I worked for. The sheer number of labels and releases I have worked for or handled clouds my mind a bit. I do not remember if it was a label through Rykodisc or Select-o-Hits. In the end, I guess it does not matter.

What sticks with me is the sheer intensity of Ronnie Dawson as a performer, guitar player and singer. I think I only caught him live once or twice. I remember a show at Maxwell’s in Hoboken. It was always a treat to have artists of this stature come to your town, and you get to wander over and just catch a show with the minimum of fuss. I think there was a show in NYC at the Rodeo Bar one time with Sleepy LaBeef as well. That was a good bill. Anyway, Ronnie live was incredible and Ronnie on record was incredible. I am highlighting this record for one simple reason. It was the first one I heard, and much like with drugs, you never recapture the thrill of the first time. I remember getting this album in a promo packet and I pulled this one out first because I had some vague nagging memory of reading his name somewhere.

I like the German label Bear Family Records, and I find their releases to be among some of the best musical compilations and liner notes ever done on individual artists. So I think it was exploring one of their releases I came across him. I remember seeing the cover and going, “This looks good”. I was 100% wrong. It was GREAT! Another level over the second hand rockabilly I had been exposed to up to that time. I have always found with artists that are products of their time they play music slightly differently than the people that copy them. It is an indefinable, but palpable thing, an authenticity that the human spirit recognizes immediately. The first song was “Wham Bam Jam”, a song that still encapsulates Ronnie’s music. Much like with AC/DC, I do not listen to Ronnie for variety or progressive growth in the music. I listen to Ronnie to get a high quality dose of rock and roll.

The opening guitar sound on “Up Jumped the Devil” is still one of my favorite sounds ever recorded. “Snake Man” also gets me every time I hear it. Rockabilly slide guitar is one of my faves. Whenever I listen to Ronnie images flash in my mind of what I have seen from playing live music. If you have ever performed a rocking set in front of a great crowd you get these images that you associate with performance. The one I associate with Ronnie is of seeing him sing into a mic, and the mic will be shaking slightly from the band and music pounding out from the stage amps. You only see this when you get up close. I see it when I hear Ronnie recordings. Even if he did not do them live with a band kicking it with him, it sounds like he did and that is all that matters to me.

By the time I got to the eleventh track, Ronnie’s cover of the Coaster’s “Down in Mexico”, I was convinced this album was one of coolest records I ever heard. The beautiful thing about musicians doing covers is that it is an endorsement of the artist who did the song originally. This one tune led me to discover just how great, funky and cool the music of the Coaster’s actually is. The other cover Ronnie did that led me to discover some great music was his cover of “Sick and Tired”. That one led me back to really getting into Fats Domino. “V8 Ford Boogie” is so good and another guitar solo I regurgitate playing live. I am including a live Ronnie performance on Conan. He does “Monkey Beat City” and it shows why I love him and why you should too. Standing there cool and confident, singing the tune with a hint of smile that shows he knows he is delivering the goods to you. He is more reliable than Fed Ex. Go out and buy this record, and thank me later. ;o)

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