One of Detroit’s blues veterans has passed away. Drummer Horace “Duke” Dawson died Friday at the age of 82 following complications from heart surgery.
“I’ve known him for years and he was an exceptionally nice guy,” said Wolfgang Spider, Detroit Blues Society board member. “He told me that as a young kid, he would sit around the kitchen banging on the pots and pans, driving his parents nuts. They bought him a drum set and he went on from there. Over the years, he probably gave away five or more sets of drums to schools and organizations.”
Dawson, a 2002 recipient of the Detroit Blues Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award, played with many acts over the years, including the Butler Twins, Uncle Jesse White and the 29th Street Blues Band, the Harmonica Shah Blues Band, and C. J. Morris and his Back Alley Blues Band. He was best known for his many years performing with singer-guitarist Louis “Mr. Bo” Collins.
“Duke was a beautiful dude, he never had a cross word,” said singer-harmonica player Little Sonny. “He admired me and I admired him.”
|Louis "Mr. Bo" Collins|
Little Sonny and Mr. Bo both started out in Washboard Willie’s band and continued to perform together after they left that band and Little Sonny became a bandleader. Eventually, Mr. Bo went out on his own and that’s when he hired Dawson as drummer. The former bandmates would often catch each other’s shows, with Mr. Bo's band at the Zombie and Little Sonny's band at the Apex Lounge.
“Duke was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met, he always had that smile,” Little Sonny said. “We were good friends and my drummer James Crawford, who we called Jim Due, and Duke were the best of friends. We all came along at the same time. Duke’s been there just as long as I was.”
Little Sonny has been a member of the American Federation of Musicians for 56 years and Dawson was a longtime union member as well. The two friends would go together to the annual union dinner and hoped to do so again next month.
“He told me something one time, that when young musicians asked him what they should do in the business he told them ‘join the union, be at your gigs on time, and don’t drink and don’t smoke.’” Wolfgang Spider said.
“He was one of the most beautiful guys I’ve ever met,” Little Sonny said. “I’ve never seen Duke mad. He always had that joy on him, all the time. His personality was beautiful.”
Dawson endured health problems over the last decade, but continued to perform.
“He lived to play music and played on and off, even with his health problems, over his wife’s objections,” Wolfgang Spider said. “He would tell her that he was just going to listen, but they would always call him up on stage to play.
“He was widely admired by everyone and had thousands of friends and fans. He was one guy that everybody liked. You always hear that when someone passes away, but in this case it was the absolute truth.”
Funeral arrangements are pending. To check on the arrangements, visit the Detroit Blues Society’s Facebook page.
Detroit Blues Challenge
|Dale Robertson Band|
The second round of the Detroit Blues Challenge was held Saturday night at Callahan’s Music Hall in Auburn Hills. The two winning acts – the Dale Robertson Band and the Smokin’ 45s – advance to the finals on Oct. 21. The winners of the band and solo-duo categories at the finals go on to represent Detroit at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn.
(Photos of Duke Dawson, Dale Robertson Band and Smokin' 45s courtesy of Blues Photos by Don McGhee)
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