Jimmy Dawkins; guitarist nicknamed ‘Fast Fingers’

Mr. Dawkins didn’t like his nickname, Fast Fingers, because he felt it typecast him as a showy player.
Joe Puchek/Sun-Times Media
Mr. Dawkins didn’t like his nickname, Fast Fingers, because he felt it typecast him as a showy player.

NEW YORK — Jimmy Dawkins, a Chicago blues guitarist whose prodigious technique earned him the nickname “Fast Fingers,” and whose admirers included a number of guitarists far more famous than he was, died April 10 at his home in Chicago. He was 76.

His death was confirmed by Bob Koester, the owner of Delmark Records, the Chicago label for which Mr. Dawkins made his first albums. Koester did not specify a cause.

Mr. Dawkins said he disliked his nickname, taken from the title of his first album, because he felt it typecast him as a high-energy, showy kind of player and gave short shrift to his affinity for the slower kind of blues. But it stuck.


A practitioner of the West Side brand of Chicago blues, slicker and somewhat less hard-edge than the South Side style of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, Mr. Dawkins was an unusual kind of bluesman. As a guitarist, he was intense without being dramatic; as a singer, he was expressive without shouting; as a performer, he was, by choice, not much of a showman.

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He never had a large following in the United States, in part because he decided to do most of his touring in Europe and Japan, where he found audiences more receptive. But among his fans were guitarists like Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Reviewing a rare New York performance by Mr. Dawkins in 1990, at the blues club Manny’s Car Wash, Peter Watrous of The New York Times noted his introspective approach — ‘‘Whereas most bands play for the audience, Dawkins played for himself’’ — but praised him as ‘‘a master of rhythms’’ whose ‘‘playing reveled in the erratic.’’

James Henry Dawkins was born in Tchula, Miss., and grew up in Pascagoula, where the music of New Orleans was as much an influence on his playing as the Delta blues. After teaching himself to play guitar, he moved to Chicago in 1955 and worked in a box factory by day while sharpening his guitar skills in blues clubs by night.

He was brought to Delmark Records by his fellow West Side blues guitarist Magic Sam. His first album, ‘‘Fast Fingers,’’ was released in 1969 .