Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Tribute To An Old Friend: "Fast Fingers" Jimmy Dawkins (1936-2013)

"Fast Fingers" Jimmy Dawkins
It's been well past a decade since I last spoke with Jimmy. Back then, I was with a three-piece Texas-style blues band named Hurricane Jay Laboy and Instep. Motown Alumnus, Diane Brown (a music legend in her own right), was our booking agent and a long time friend of Jimmy's. She introduced us the year we laid the tracks to our first album "Step Aside" (1999).

Mind you, I have played with some heavy hitters over the years; especially when I lived in Los Angeles; but meeting and playing with Jimmy was about as surreal and enjoyable as it could get. Diane booked us as Jimmy's backup band for a show he did in Philadelphia. We were nervous at first, since we never rehearsed with him. As a matter of fact, we never laid eyes on him until the night of the show; but any good blues musician will tell you that rehearsals are unnecessary if you know what the hell you're doing. He simply gave us the key he wanted to play in...told us if it was going to be a 1-4-5 with a quick turnaround or another variation, and then said..."Do what you do...I'll jump in". It was as if we toured with him for years.

After that night, he agreed to session with us at MilkBoy Studios in Philly, and lay down some guitar licks on a couple of tracks featured on the album. We did the album old school. No separate tracks or fancy digitalization. It was just four guys playing straight blues with a "must have" bottle of Jim Beam in the middle of the studio floor in case someone got thirsty. 

I admired his humility as well as his skill. Considering his age and the arthritis in his fingers, he found it hard to live up to the "Fast Fingers" moniker he had for his entire career (a name he really never cared for). Nevertheless, when you are on stage with a legend such as Jimmy Dawkins, you have to overlook those minor short-comings.
Jimmy died last April at his Chicago home, almost two months before the BACKLINE team decided to come out of hiatus. Still, I wanted to pay tribute to a man who was a milestone in my musical life.
The New York Times wrote "James Henry Dawkins was born on Oct. 24, 1936, in Tchula, Miss., and grew up in Pascagoula, a coastal town, where the easy-swinging music of New Orleans was as much an influence on his playing as the Delta blues. After teaching himself to play guitar, he moved to Chicago in 1955 and worked in a box factory by day while sharpening his guitar skills in blues clubs by night.  He was brought to Delmark Records by his fellow West Side blues guitarist Magic Sam. His first album, “Fast Fingers,” was released in 1969 and won the Grand Prix du Disque from the Hot Club of France. He recorded several albums in the United States and Europe and in the 1980s had his own record company, Leric."

He was 76.

Here's to you Jimmy!
Mike Q.



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