Gary James' Interview With
Sound Engineer To The Stars
When it comes to sound, "Dinky" Dawson is the first name that should come to your mind. He worked with Watkins Electric Music (WEM) in London, England on design and operation of equipment used by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. He moved to America and became the sound engineer for The Byrds, designing, maintaining and operating their sound system. In the early '70s he founded Dawson Sound Company and took his talent and expertise on the road with The Kinks, Joan Baez, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jeff Beck, Steely Dan, Linda Rondstadt, Joni Mitchell, J. Geils Band, Warren Zevon, Orleans, Ambrosia and the list goes on and on. His was the first sound company to tour the USSR on State Department sponsored appearances with B.B. King. His legendary 'live' mixing skills can be heard on oh-so-many 'live' albums including Mahavishnu Orchestra's "Between Nothingness And Eternity", Lou Reed's "Rock And Roll Animal", Joan Baez "From Every Stage" and "J. Geils Band Live". In 1998 Billboard Books published Life On The Road: The Incredible Rock And Roll Adventures Of Dinky Dawson. We're proud to present an interview wit a true "Behind The Scenes Legend", The Sound Engineer To The Stars, Mr. "Dinky" Dawson.
Q - Where did this name "Dinky" come from?
A - I used to have these little toys made by Dinky Toys. I was one of the first ones in my whole area to have a Mini Cooper S and a real one in '63, '64, whenever it was. So, I put in these little Minis, these little mini cars made by Dinky, I used to put these engines in 'em and fire the suckers down a quarter mile. A solid fuel JetX engine I put in the Dinky toy. These things would roar down until they'd explode down the other end. So, it came out of the Dinky Toys (laughs).
Q - I'm guessing you were one of these guys that like to take things apart. Would that be right?
A - Well, that's right. We all were doing that at that time period, in the late '50s, early '60s. That's one of the things that would lead to doing sound eventually. (laughs) It's what you do. I wasn't into the motorbikes that school kids were. All the small stuff that came along I was starting to get into.
Q - When you were growing up, you were singing. You were in operas?
A - Well, yeah. I was in the church. I was singing in the choir. I was in the operatic society, 300 to 400 people strong. It was an amazing thing. I grew up singing in that. That was part of it. At that time I would sit on the wall outside to Radio Luxembourg that would come on the old Bush radio, transistor radio. You'd listen to these songs. Then there were these events. On Saturday nights in the late '50s I'd go to see my friends Peter Fender And The Strollers and then this guy that used to come through every so often, Screaming Lord Sutch. Do you remember him?
Q - I remember hearing the name. I believe he's very famous in England.
A - Well, he should be. He changed his band quite often. This guy would stab his bass player on stage, with his gut out and run around the stage and the audience, trying to chase the girls with his gut hanging out. Screamin' Jay Hawkins came out in a coffin at that time, but Sutch was wild! He was also a politician. He was also in the Showbiz Eleven. Showbiz Eleven was a football team that raised money for charity and still does. So the thing was, you get him on a Saturday night during a magnificent show and the band he had you would die for. People like Jimmy Page would be playing in it and Nicky Hopkins would be playing in it. These were just regular guys playing in a great, tight band. Everybody admired the music. That's what got me into it. I was more interested in the band and that kind of performance and Peter Fender's band and that kind of performance. It was a fantastic sound. That's what got me intrigued about starting off. I was a regular at the Stringfellow Bros. Mojo Club in '64, '65. Then I started nightclubs. Then I started nightclubs, The Mojo Club in '64 / '65. I want from there to dance and Ready Steady Go! television show in the '65 era. I was in the dance scene. I was into the Mod scene. Seeing people like Stevie Wonder, who on a Saturday night in the club absolutely destroyed the place in this White audience. He refused to leave. He said, "I want to come back tomorrow and play." They arranged for a one o'clock afternoon show. How are we gonna tell people? Well, my crew and myself drove to Manchester and various nightclubs that were open at night in England. Next day we got over 3,000 people lined up at one o'clock in the afternoon, trying to get into a club that only holds 1,500. (laughs) It's that kind of thing, that kind spirit. I started this club with Art Clover and Dave Grounds called The Pendulum Club. We outgrew that in a week. We moved to this other club that we rented, this church hall, this function hall. My mother gave me money to build a system based on what I saw at the Mojo Club. I've still got that stuff. And we had a great sound system! The first week it was packed. The second week it was oversold. The third week the police came and raided us. Five hundred more people in the club than it could legally hold. With that I took off and went to Germany and started to do DJ work. I built my own system. Then I came back in '67 and all of a sudden I'm hearing about this roadie job and I didn't know what that was. I liked the group. I liked the people 'cause I've seen them play in individual groups like John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, which was Peter Green, Mick (Fleetwood) and John. Those three had come through the club. So they got Fleetwood Mac in this time period and I ended up going down to London. I came back with a big, old truck full of all their (Fleetwood Mac's) equipment. I took all the equipment apart in my mum's front yard, front room, re-wired all these speakers, re-wired all these Fenders, re-wired everything. I turned everything on. Everything started working. I put everything back in. I went to London and started this gig in a pub upstairs and this young kid helped me up with the equipment. He was the new guitarist, Danny Kirwan. I didn't know that. (laughs) But he helped me with the gear. As soon as they came in, plugged in and turned everything on, they freaked out because everything was not only working, but it sounded amazing.
Q - You never did become a singer in a band then?
A - No. When a person grows up, you're a little kid and you sing in a high register. So, I was singing in soprano at one point. Then I was singing in tenor. Then time passed and I was singing alto. Then as another year passed, I'm singing in a bit of baritone. By the next year I'm singing baritone bass. That got me confused already where I was going when I was a kid. Then I started doing the sounds and looking at the songs and I didn't get real interested in it because I was still in my opera mind of all these different styles of music, the sound. What it was was I was so frustrated with what vein to sing in, which was my real strength. Nobody would tell me that my tenor strength was the best or my baritone was my strength. Nobody would tell me. So, I ended up doing the sounds thing and getting the feeling of each one of these instruments and each one of these vocal things. That's what I've done. I went from this incredible guitar thing, which is Peter Green, Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer, all three different styles of guitar, to The Byrds, which is the Country side of guitars. Then this guitar thing followed me to John McLaughlin. So, it's a total thing. It's a vibe thing. If you get hooked into the true sound of Mother Earth, which you don't learn until later on, you get into this vibe and it takes you. It takes you on. You won't believe what happens. It's a vibe that keeps on going. The energy of the sound has kept me going. The feeling of this music. Who's going to sit there in mixing and listen to every note in the Mahavishnu Orchestra? From every musician! You know what I'm saying? Unless you're tuned on to the sound and the vibe of the whole Earth. And I can do that again. Also, my hearing is a little different. That's why it's a whole spiritual thing that gets you. That's the only way I can really put it. I followed that path. I've just let it go. What I've done is use my mind along the way to be able to create something that's sensational.
Q - Did you see The Beatles and The Stones in clubs?
A - Yeah. We used to have The Beatles for seventy-five Pounds, stuff like that. They were just another band. The reason The Beatles made it big is because they worked their ass off in Germany, three shows a night, tight as a drum, loving every minute of it. Sex, drugs and Rock 'n' Roll. Seriously, really in the vibe with the music they were coming out with. They were so tight that by the time they came back in that era they already done certain things we're not supposed to talk about anymore in Germany. They came back with this incredible energy and they just followed it through. They followed it through with their music, with the meeting with musicians along the way, from all different calibers, people gelling to them, vibes coming in, the going to Clifford Essex Music Store in London, which is the oldest violin store in the world at this time. But they had manuscripts in there with orchestrations from the 1700s. You take some of that stuff and you vibe on it and you use it and then you take the drug scene and you use the vibe in your body. "Let me take you down boy to Strawberry Fields." There's so many things I could tell you. It's all true energy from the Mother Earth. It's spiritual. At that time you could do it.
Q - You saw The Beatles where? England or Germany?
A - In England. Clifford Davis, who was Fleetwood Mac's manager, was an agent. Prior to that in '62 he was in Clifford Adams And The Limeliters. His own band. But as an agent in his own band he would be friends with people in the record shops in England. One of his friends was (Brian) Epstein. Brian had this band called The Beatles and a couple of other people. That's where they made it, in Sheffield at the Black Cat Club owned by the Stringfellow brothers before The Mojo. Clifford went out and booked 'em around the country. So, Clifford's the one that booked 'em all around England. They played all the clubs. That's where they made it in Sheffield, at The Black Cap. $75 as you call it. We called it 75 Pounds at that time. (laughs) That was their fee. We saw all that stuff. They were just one of many incredible bands that were out at that time, but they had something that was unique. It was a spirit. During that time I saw Screamin' Lord Sutch and Nicky Hopkins and all the different drummers and all the different guitarists. I was interested 'cause my friend at 16 was the guitarist in Pete Fender's band and he was playing clubs. That was brand new in that time period of 1961, 1962. When I went to Germany there was an Irish Shore band playing and this guy called Paul Raven. Paul Raven could sing his ass off. He was incredible. Paul would knock 'em dead with these songs and the reason I keep telling you about this is because he's that guy you know as Gary Glitter. So, I've seen all these characters before they became famous in their own world. All of them. The Erics, everybody. It's been part of what you grew up with in the '60s. You grew up with these people. Freddy And The Dreamers. Peter Noone. He was always mad at me 'cause he was a Manchester guy. He still believed in the War Of The Roses. So we wouldn't employ him in Sheffield. (laughs) It was that kind of thing. I saw all that stuff as fun. The best times were all in the pubs at the pub clubs, the stuff that was a wonderful lifestyle. Hanging out on Carnaby Street in London in my yellow leather coat and then going down to Ready Steady Go! to dance on there and have Jello fights with people like Tom Jones in the BBC Conservatory.
Q - Would you go to any of these after hours clubs?
A - The Speakeasy was our hangout. It was an exclusive club. The majority of the people there were entertainers, politicians, musicians. You go down now to Peter Stinfield's club and there's certain nights you don't want to be around 'cause it's filled with all the politicians and all their wives. It's all showcase stuff. But Speakeasy is where you'd go in and meet people. I'd have Peter Green and myself and Danny would go down there a lot and Chris Adamson, the other roadie. You have Peter bring his guitar in. Danny would bring his guitar in. Who should be there but Jimi Hendrix! Jimi would get on the bass and play with him, and Eric Clapton would be there and he'd play with Eric. My old buddy Keith Moon would come down from The Ship and we'd play and have Jello fights. We'd have strawberry fights. How many times they had to pay to have that place renovated is unbelievable.
Q - You were never in awe of any of these famous musicians you'd see in clubs, were you?
A - These were just regular people. It's the media that made 'em so big and the quality of their material. They wanted to jump on their lifestyle, which is perfect. That's why we were all into it. I went from the Rocker craze in the '50s when everyone's a Teddy Boy, the Gene Vincents and all that crowd, and then you've got the Mod crowd. I grew through that in my high school days. One day the Rockers have chained all the toilets down. The ladies couldn't get in there. Then the Mods would come along and start a big fight with them. It was society change. It was the time for change. People like The Beatles. People like Gerry And The Pacemakers were already playing in the pubs.
Q - Suppose a tourist came through, could they have gained entrance to a club like The Speakeasy?
A - If you're a member of that club you could go anywhere. People wanted to see these musicians. That's why they'd come in. It wasn't just the musicians. Prince Charles used to come down and hang with that lot. It's one of them things. You could cross the street and pay the right thing. It's all a money thing still. That's how it works. Where coming in there, it could be any night. We'd come in from say Newcastle all the way down from a show. We'd end up there at three o'clock in the morning. That kind of a thing. You could come in from the street. It's just a matter of having someone come bring you in as a member to sign you in. Anybody could come in.
Q - I ask only because what would have happened if some fans had been admitted and started tearing the clothes off of these musicians?
A - It wasn't like that back in them days. The only time it started getting like that was after The Beatles got into America and it got crazy. Even the people in England weren't getting nuts until later on. 1969, we got this song called "Albatross". We never experienced any of this Beatle stuff until we hit Finland. We got off the plane in Finland and there's 5,000 screaming girls waiting for Fleetwood Mac. It was insane. This was Peter Green. This was nothing to do with the Fleetwood Mac you know now. This was a Blues band. They wanted to bring that to their national anthem, whatever it was. But they were waiting for us. We never experienced that. We'd come to America in '68, '69 and '70 and we'd just do all these great shows. It was really getting packed and everybody enjoyed it. In 1970, people were freaking out before we got on stage. This young group comes on and they don't want to see 'em. They're called Led Zeppelin. They actually pushed the stage back. There's thousands of people saying, "Get off! Get off!" Peter Green said, "Wait. Wait." We were number one at the time and Led Zeppelin was a brand new band. They were trying to work it out between the business people, the people who put it on.
Q - You left Fleetwood Mac when?
A - 1970. I was in a studio, working with Steely Dan (in 1974) and Mick and John were in a studio across the road. Actually it was on the side of us. Mick came over to see me 'cause he knew I was with Steely Dan and he told me, "I think we've found somebody, this couple, Stevie (Nicks) and Lindsay (Buckingham). I said, "Good luck. You can't go wrong with that. Christine is Christine." Look what happened. That "Rumours" album was a monster. I still keep in touch with them guys. That's a whole different world. That's nothing to do with the Fleetwood Mac I was with. I'm the Blues Fleetwood Mac. I still keep in touch with Mick and John all the time. We always chat. John is still around.
Q - Do you know that Fleetwood Mac was scheduled to play to a sold out crowd at the Syracuse War Memorial and they had to cancel because Stevie Nicks lost her voice?
A - Everybody get sick. On these tours you got to do two days and off for two days. No matter how old you are, the voice changes at every venue. The older you get the worse it becomes. Seriously, it's just one of those things.
Q - How did your job as Equipment Manager for Fleetwood Mac lead to you being named Tour Manager?
A - You've got to understand what a roadie is, what a roadie does. Everything. Chief cook, bottle washer. You drive to the gig. You set up the equipment. You tear down the equipment. You look after the guys. You put 'em in the van. You make sure everybody's in the van waiting to go. That's what we did in 1967, 1968, 1969 until 1970. That's how it was run. It started because we all had our own sound systems then, the Floyd, The Who. I'm talking England. I'm not talking America. It's a whole different world here. Totally different. And we had our own sound systems. So we had to do that. We had to do everything. We collected the money and made hotel reservations. We did everything ourselves. There was nobody else to do it. There was just me. There was no individual tour manager then. Security, there was nobody. You didn't do any of that stuff no matter how big the band was. Even The Beatles didn't do that if you notice. They had to have police every so often. The Stones too. It was just one of those things. It was just being looked after by the local cops and some friends at that time. There wasn't the infrastructure there is now. It's totally business. It's nothing to do with life. It's you take care of that one thing and you don't talk to the other person. So the other person has no idea what you're doing. That's what happens today and unless you've got old tour managers on the road and old people who have been doing the roadie stuff; I've been to conventions to try to help these kids and they just don't want to learn. So, you're gonna suffer. That's what been happening in the touring thing. That's a whole different world. (laughs)
Q - You're saying the younger roadies don't want to hear about your experiences?
A - They don't understand. They're just lifting equipment, setting it up. You have to live, breathe and sleep it 24 / 7. You have to be the drum tech 24 / 7 if you want to be in this business and most of the time these are musicians that do that. They want to do it for their fans and friends and then they get the job to be able to do that kind thing. It's because it's such a specialized thing now. It's all personalized stuff. You end up taking another bus on the road just for the crew. Then you have the union crews and it grows from thirty people to three hundred people. It depends on the size of a tour. It's mind boggling in a way, but it's a circus. This is the modern circus that we have on the road. If you go to these concerts they're not real concerts unless you hit the old school like Neil Young, The Grateful Dead, that kind of crowd that sing 'live.' Everything else is geared towards a flash drive. The people put a flash drive in the computer. The sound comes up automatically. The lights come up automatically. Everything is cued and each cue is click-tracked to the drum and boom! You do that. It's theatre. It's dramatic theatre. That's how a majority of these shows are put on today.
Q - It's like a Broadway production.
A - Exactly. It's not about the music anymore. It's about the glitz and the show. In 1979 it changed. The music changed to one thing. The audience became the entertainment. We were doing these shows and we couldn't believe how many people were keeling over in the audience and passing out. There were more events going on in the audience than listening to the music. So when I saw that I said the music's gone. They're not listening to this music anymore. They're not even reacting to it, crashing out and dying in front of you, I mean literally. It's all a matter of what music these people are entertaining with. When it gets down to killing, it's gone. The music is gone at that point from that crowd. You have to go back to the older crowd to get the sounds back and the felling back and bringing along some of the new crowd to the old crowd, and I'm only seeing little bits of that over these last few years.