THE MAKING OF A BLUES MAN
James Henry “Jimmy” Dawkins was born in Tchula, Mississippi, on October 24, 1936. He grew up in Pascagoula, Mississippi, on the coast. It was there that he was introduced to the style of music known as the Delta Blues. This was all the inspiration Jimmy needed. He taught himself to play the guitar and in 1955, at the age of 19, he left Mississippi and moved to Chicago. He found employment at a local box factory and spent his days working there and his nights making the club rounds, practicing and perfecting his musical skills. It wasn’t long before his dedication paid off in a big way.
FAST FINGERS DAWKINS IS BORN
An older, seasoned Chicago guitar player who went by the name Magic Sam was impressed by Dawkins’ talent and style of playing. He took Dawkins to Delmark Records, where he proceeded to impress everyone who heard him play.Delmark signed him immediately and in 1969 Dawkins’ first album, titled “Fast Fingers”, was released. The album won the Grand Prix du Disque award from France’s Hot Club. Dawkins went on to record many more albums in both the United States and in Europe. IN the 1980s he formed his own record company, Leric Records.
Following the release of his first album, the nickname “Fast Fingers” followed Jimmy Dawkins his whole life. He disliked the nickname, he said, because it tended to be misleading, representing him as a fast-paced, high-energy blues player and not as an artist who much preferred to play a slower, more laid-back type of the blues. Dawkins enjoyed remaining true to his roots. The West-Side type of Chicago Blues he had cut his teeth on was much smoother and lacked the harder edge of the South-Side Chicago style of blues made popular by artists like Howlin’ Wold and Muddy Waters. Dawkins’ style was intense yet laid-back, calm; he sang with passion and expression without shouting. He was not very much of a showman, but he was a performer extraordinaire.
A BLUES GOD AMONG BLUES GODS
Jimmy Dawkins never attracted a large following in the United States. This was mainly due tot he fact that early on in his career he chose to focus heavily on touring in Japan and Europe. He said he found the audiences in those countries to be more welcoming and receptive. However, he counted among his American fans the likes of Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Dawkins was a regular contributor to Living Blues Magazine. He was known as a quiet man, reserved, serious by all accounts, but a dynamo once he was onstage and pouring out his music.
A now iconic review of a New York performance by Dawkins in 1990 posted in the New York Times stated it simply but in it’s entirety: “Whereas most bands play for the audience, Mr. Dawkins played for himself”.
Jimmy “Fast Fingers” Dawkins passed away on April 10, 2013, peacefully at his home in Chicago. He was 76 years old. The cause of his death was never disclosed.