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His underground classic Rockin’ Bones was released in 1959, but Ronnie Dawson had to wait until the 1980s to gain true acclaim. To mark 20 years since his induction into the Rockabilly Hall Of Fame, Vintage Rock profiles the late, great Blond Bomber… and speaks to those who knew him best

Ronnie Dawson was a rare rocking talent who seemed to operate in reverse: the man known as the Blond Bomber actually got better as he got older. He achieved regional success in his native Texas back in the 1950s, but it was between 1988 and his premature passing in 2003, that the singer enjoyed heroic cult status across Europe’s revivalist circuit. While many of his peers’ careers had packed up early, Ronnie burned more brightly second time round.

“Ronnie’s UK fans were very important to him,” his wife, Chris, tells Vintage Rock today. “He received more recognition from those fans than he ever received here in the US. Actually, all over Europe he was more appreciated than at home. I am so grateful for that, as was he.”

With a handful of hot albums including Monkey Beat (1994), Just Rockin’ And Rollin’ (‘96), and Live At The Continental Club (‘98), Ronnie returned with a bang. From London to the Netherlands, cuts such as Still-A-Lot-Of-Rhythm, Rockinitis and the wildly urgent Up Jumped The Devil became UK clubs’ bopping anthems in those later years. Visit any European real roots r’n’r club today, and it remains the case. Dawson’s raw, rhythmic and kinetic tracks sounded like a more subversive version of the 50s, and packs a mean contemporary punch.

It must have seemed surreal to receive the adulation that he deserved so late in his career. Yet according to collaborator guitarist Tjarko Jeen, “Ronnie didn’t consider his albums a comeback as such – he just saw them as a continuation of what he considered to be unfinished business.”

That unfinished business began when, out of the blue in 1986, No-Hits Records founder Barney Koumis knocked on Dawson’s door at his apartment in Dallas, Texas. Koumis was already a major DJ on London’s rockin’ scene, and essentially brought Dawson back from the wilderness in 1990 by releasing the Rockin’ Bones compilation album. Co-producing a clutch of subsequent new recordings with Ronnie, Koumis was integral in helping him pick the right material and musicians (such as The Polecats’ Boz Boorer) and getting him exposure that spanned John Peel recording sessions at the BBC in 1993, performing on the Conan O’Brien primetime American chatshow, playing at Carnegie Hall; and later Yep Roc recordings that featured in the movies Primary Colors and Simpatico.

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