DEAR JERRY: When Tommy Roe came out with “Hooray for Hazel,” in the 1960s, my friends teased me endlessly. Let's face it, songs about Hazel are far less common than ones about Mary or Sue.
Everyone thought Roe's hit was the first time anyone used my name in a song title, but I knew better. I recalled another one.
Unfortunately, I couldn't prove it, but that is why I've come to you.
Years earlier, around the time of “Running Bear” and “Handy Man,” a Hazel tune got some spins on the radio in Philadelphia. THAT was the first time I ever heard my name in a song title.
It may be called “Hazel, Don't You Do It,” or something similar. The singer was a Fabian-type teenager.
Any idea what I'm talking about? This is driving me nuts!
Hazel Getty, Upper Darby, Pa.
DEAR HAZEL: Since we don't want Hazel nuts for the holidays, here is the proof you need.
Three or four times in this tune, Hazel is told “Don't You Do It,” but the full title is simply “Hazel.”
The young singer is Ronnie Dawson, a lifelong Texan who, by association with Philadelphia-based Swan Records and Dick Clark's American Bandstand, sold lots of records in Pennsylvania.
“Hazel,” backed with “Ain't That a Kick in the Head” (Swan 4047) came out in December 1959. In the weeks ahead, Ronnie “The Blond Bomber” Dawson lip-synched it on a locally broadcast Philly TV show, one other than Bandstand, though it is not identified.
Perhaps you watched this performance 50 years ago, but regardless you can now because it is on YouTube.
Interestingly, this “Ain't That a Kick in the Head,” written by Frank Slay and Bob Crewe, is not the same song as popularized by Dean Martin. Dino's track was written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn for the 1960 Rat Pack film “Ocean's Eleven.”
Having such an atypical title pop up on two completely unconnected songs, issued only a few months apart, is indeed a kick in the head.
In their Christmas issue (12/21/59), Billboard included Ronnie's new single among their Spotlight Winners (“Pick of the New Releases and Strongest Sales Potential of All Records Reviewed”), saying:
“Dawson impresses strongly on two cute bids. “Hazel” is an interesting waltz melody with a folkish flavor. A fine arrangement [Frank Slay and His Orchestra] backs the singer's good vocal stint. The flip is a fun song with the title phrase prominent in the lyric - a medium [tempo] beater.”
In a somewhat unusual pattern, each of Ronnie's three 1959-'60 A-sides is a style unlike the other two.
“Rockin' Bones” is a frantic rockabilly effort about one man's zany last request: “When I die, bury me six-foot deep, with rock and roll records at my feet, a phonograph needle in my hand, I wanna rock my way right outta this land!”
Then comes “Hazel,” the “interesting waltz melody with a folkish flavor,” and nary a hint of rockabilly.
Dawson's next, and last, Swan single is “Decided By the Angels” (Swan 4054). Neither rockabilly nor folk-waltz, this is an authentic doo-wop number.
Not surprisingly, Ronnie soon returned to rockabilly and it is those records collectors covet most. Three in particular, “Rockin' Bones” (Rockin' 1); “Do Do Do” (Columbia 42217); and “Jump and Run” (Banner 105), often sell in the $300 to $600 range.
Both the Columbia (1961) and Banner (1966) singles are credited to Commonwealth Jones, one of Dawson's pseudonyms. Two others he used are Ronnie Dee and Banjo Band from the Levee.
On September 23, 2003, in Dallas, throat cancer claimed the life of Ronnie Dawson. He was just 64.
As you point out, the Hazels will never catch up with the more common names in titles; however, here are four more for your dossier: Freddy Flynn and the Flashes (1959) “Hazel” (Lyric 107); Don Sharp (1961) “Hazel and Jean” (Fern 811); Gary and the Hornets (1966) “Hi Hi Hazel” (Smash 2061); and Larry and the Greatest of Ease (1969) “High Flyin' Hazel” (Minaret 154).
Not counted are songs about eye color … and nuts.
IZ ZAT SO? Though moderately successful in Pennsylvania and his home state of Texas, Ronnie never appeared on any of the national charts.
He is hardly alone.
Despite the surname Dawson being very common, during the entire 20th century not one person with that name managed a hit single or album.
For over 100 years, the Pop; Rock; non-Rock (MOR); and Country & Western charts remained Dawsonless.