Most of you probably never heard of Ronnie Dawson. In the Great Pantheon of Rock and Roll Legends (no, I most certainly do not mean the Hard Rock Cafe, nor do I mean that Hall of Shame in Cleveland either; I call it the Hall of Shame because any institution that took so long to recognize Gene Vincent - and fought it tooth and nail too - ain't got a whole lot to do with rock and roll in my book), Ronnie has a whole wing to himself - in the place nobody goes to much, which would be the Rockabilly Building. That's the down at heels one, the one with the peeling paint, the crumbling facade and broken windows. You know, the one behind the cafeteria, over by the dumpsters, where the greasy-haired tough guys in leather jackets go to sneak smokes.
But Ronnie is a good friend of mine. I first met Ronnie when the Playboys opened for him at Maxwell's in Hoboken, sometime in '91 or thereabouts. We must have had a pretty good set, because Ronnie approached our manager and asked about us doing some touring with him as his opener and backup band; being arrogant little shits back then, we turned that down flat. Just as well, maybe - years later I heard from several places that Ronnie was legendary for being, shall we say, difficult to work with. I eventually came to realize that in truth, Ronnie was something of a perfectionist, and demanded a lot of his players. He took what he did very seriously, and was absolutely committed to giving his fans his absolute best whenever he took the stage - all night, every night; no excuses or slacking off tolerated, ever. For someone who cared less about his music than he did, I suppose that qualifies as being "difficult." For Ronnie, it just meant giving the fans their money's worth.
But over the years, what I came to realize about Ronnie was just that he was always a really good guy. He cared a lot about the people who came to his shows and bought his records, and it always came through onstage like sunshine blasting away a morning mist. Ronnie's shows have always been just plain fun; I've had some of the best times of my life bouncing around in the front row of a Ronnie Dawson show.
There was the time at the big Lead East car show, when Ronnie jumped up onstage with us to do a few of his songs and the whole thing just blew up in our faces. The show was outdoors, and the "stage" was a tiny little old-fashioned bandshell/gazebo that everybody just kind of stood back from to listen to the various bands. We launched into "Knock Down Drag Out," which was one of Ronnie's signature numbers; Ronnie got a running start and leaped right over the rail to get up with us (he was in his fifties at the time, and I was in my thirties, and I couldn't have done it then or now), and all of a sudden all the greasers just dived for the gazebo and ended up sprawling on the ground in a knuckle-dusting heap. The girls, being sensible, just stood back and laughed. Actually, everyone was laughing, including all of us onstage; that's just how you always feel when Ronnie is around. It's all about letting the good times just roll, and Ronnie knows how to spark 'em just about better than anybody I know.