DALLAS ROCKABILLY RONNIE DAWSON made a promise at his father’s funeral in 1960. His dad, Pinkie Dawson, had led a Western swing band years earlier but quit after being injured in a car crash that killed two of his band members; between his rheumatic heart and the need to support his family, Pinkie just couldn’t justify sticking with music after such a scare. “When he quit playing, he started to die emotionally,” recalls Ronnie, who was only five at the time of the accident. “He’d still play around the house with friends, and when he played, he was a different person, and I loved that person. He’d holler and jump and dance around his bass. Otherwise, he was a pretty serious guy: a disciplinarian, very straight. I swore when he died that it wouldn’t happen to me. I was gonna do something with my music.”
Ronnie kept his promise—even to the point of avoiding marriage so he’d never have to feed more than one mouth—and it worked. For nearly three decades, he stuck with a career that, despite a promising start, had more downs than ups, except he chose not to see them as downs. Singing in commercials, woodshedding with an artsy progressive country band: It was good work in the music business, even if it wasn’t quite the same as knocking ’em dead every Saturday night on everyone’s favorite radio show, the Big D Jamboree. And today, finally, at 57, the long, lean rocker has become the bopcat topcat. The just-released Rockin’ Bones: The Legendary Masters (Crystal Clear Sound), a collection of his recordings from the fifties and sixties, is his third CD out this year, and he has toured almost nonstop since last spring.
In the cultish rockabilly world, Ronnie Dawson is the biggest cult hero of all—and he deserves to be. At a time when nearly