The story of Indy’s Jinx Dawson
Riding with Jinx Dawson in the driver’s seat through Broad Ripple Village can be quite an enlightening experience. Jinx, Indianapolis’ best-selling female recording artist, drives a black Cadillac Deville as she recalls a time when the Dawson name commanded much respect in this Northside Indianapolis community.
Driving north by Glendale Mall and turning west on 62nd Street, she points out the boundaries where the old Dawson family mansion once stood. There’s a Marsh supermarket there now.
“The house was huge,” she says. “It was just like in an old Gothic horror movie. It was a real classic.”
As a little girl, she used to climb the hidden passages behind kitchen cupboards that led up a stairway to a watchtower that her great grandparents used for the lookout. She also ventured down to the underground railroad tunnel that was used to hide slaves. She remembers the stories that her two spinster, great aunts used to tell her about the big house. But the only original building left now on the old property is the guest house where her grandfather — Indiana’s lieutenant governor during WWII — used to live. It’s now Joy’s House, a place for elderly to stay during the day while their caregivers work.
“My grandparents would like that,” she says.
Moving west down 62nd, she points out Broad Ripple Park.
“That’s where they used to keep the lions my father heard roaring in the summer nights from his bedroom window as a boy in the 1920s,” she says. “There was a big park there that rivaled New York’s Coney Island.”
Dawson’s ancestors pioneered part of Indianapolis from this once small river town. Though the family mansion was built much earlier, original Dawson ownership of the park can be documented in 1866. Dawson farmland ran from Keystone westward down 62nd Street, past the park to 1001 Broad Ripple Ave., formerly Dawson’s Lumber Co. — now business and doctor offices — and then further to College Avenue and even north up Westfield Boulevard to the White River Bridge.
Just north of that bridge, Oxbow Estates now stands. It was originally part of the town of Shore Acres, which Dawson’s father purchased in the 1960s. The family had its own police car, fire truck and a sign at the gate that read “Shore Acres: Population 4.” It was a private lake nature preserve which Jinx felt should be shared with the community. So on one summer visit from Los Angeles around 1978, she changed the name to Dawson Lake and Lodge and while under the radar, she started promoting events open to the public.
A 2007 trip to the Broad Ripple Village reveals yet another reminder that the Dawson name has all but crumbled in this town. Months ago, an early 1900s-era brick building at 916 Westfield Blvd. was torn down to make way for a modern retail and residential structure. The beige building displayed the Dawson name etched in granite on the front. It stood proud for over 100 years.
And despite the fact someone saved the stone for a collection at a future Broad Ripple museum, the elimination of the structure was almost symbolic of the disappearance of the once revered Dawson name from Broad Ripple and Indianapolis.
“My father used to drive past that building every day to give respect to his passed elders,” says Dawson, the lead singer of the now infamous rock band Coven. Led by Jinx, Coven, much like her pioneering elders before her, also became a pioneer — of metal and occult rock and of many other rock “firsts,” beginning with her first Coven album, “Witchcraft,” in 1969. The band’s first single, “Wicked Woman,” quickly became a regional hit in the Midwest.
However, their biggest selling single was “One Tin Soldier,” the title song to the 1971 cult film “Billy Jack” that became one of Vietnam’s biggest protest anthems.
Dawson’s long mane of platinum blonde hair provided the perfect contrast to her black clothing, and the “wicked woman” indeed still has a wicked smile and inimitable laugh to this day. The necklace she wears with her name in gold belies the fact that the “Goth Queen,” as she is called on the Internet, is far from wealthy. In fact, she lost hundreds of thousands of dollars while caring for her sick father, the late Robert L. Dawson Sr.
After the passing of her father, she ultimately lost the family’s last house on Dawson Lake to a sheriff’s auction, a house she lived in as his sole caregiver since Robert Sr. became ill with cancer seven years ago.
From the summers of 1978 through 1997, Jinx developed the Dawson Lake and Lodge property into a well known private event and concert venue involving sponsors such as Coca Cola, Pepsi, Anhuseur Busch, Paramount Pictures, the MDA Jerry Lewis Telethon, numerous radio and television stations and more. But after a failed attempt at erecting an intimate Hollywood Bowl type amphitheater on the property in the 1990s that would have partnered with Universal Amphitheatre & Theme Parks out of Los Angeles, she and her father decided to pursue his original development plans and transformed this erstwhile hot spot into the gated suburban community now known as Oxbow Estates.
Dawson now has a book and new CDs in the works. Moreover, she recently accomplished another first. In her long battle against music bootleggers who were making money on her recordings, she prevailed. Many distributors, including the hugely respected Amazon.com, pulled a Coven bootleg off their U.S. and U.K. lists. Now other bootlegged bands, her friends Black Widow and Blue Cheer, will stand a chance against these counterfeiters of classic recorded art.
Thrilled with the victory, Dawson just released her CD reissue of Coven’s third album, 1974’s “Blood on the Snow.” And its self-titled video was another Coven first, as it was one of the first rock videos ever filmed. Dawson will soon release her entire Coven catalog on her solely owned NEVOC Musick Worldwide record label, which is expected to be well received by her fans, which she much prefers to call “her cherished friends.”
NUVO: Tell us about how you got your start singing.
Dawson: When I was around 7 years old, my mother used to play opera records. She loved music and she was a great singer. I used to imitate what I heard from those records, and she noticed that my performances sounded like the voice of an adult coming through a child.
NUVO: I understand you later won a scholarship to Butler University. What was that like?
Dawson: Yes, I was the youngest opera student to ever win a scholarship to Butler. I believe I was there between the ages of 9 to 11. I won first prizes in several statewide competitions singing the great opera classic “Love is Where You Find It.” The professors at Butler used to make me sing in front of the regular older students to show them how a certain aria was performed correctly. It was extremely embarrassing, but the older students did seem to hit a lot of bad notes. I also won a scholarship to Herron Art School around this same time. And it sticks out in memory, as every Saturday my mother dropped me off there and I was made to spend afternoons drawing live nude models along with the older students. I don’t think she ever knew that nudes were the subject matter. That was very embarrassing too, but I think it made me mature faster at a time when most Midwest kids were at the playground.
NUVO: When and how did you get your start in the music business?
Dawson: At 12, while on vacation to Ft. Lauderdale, my father dared me to get on stage and sing with a popular jazz trio there called The Tunesmen. Much to my surprise, I ended up singing show tunes all night to a very warm reception. Then, I briefly played drums and sang lead for a few months in an all girl pop band I formed. At this same time, my younger brother, Bob, was a drummer in a popular local band called Them. There was an older guy running the band. Somebody dared me to go on stage and sing a song during a summer concert at Indiana Beach; there were over 500 people there. I sang “As Tears Go By,” a hit by Marianne Faithful. It got an incredible response. I finished the song and walked off stage to a standing ovation. So they immediately asked me to join the band, and I was just 13 years old. I had to ask my mother if I could join the group, and she ultimately became the road manager of the band. So they changed the name of the band from Them to Him, Her and Them. And because I was the only female lead singer in a band at that time, we got bookings like crazy.
NUVO: Was Him, Her and Them a cover band?
Dawson: Yes, but I didn’t really like the thought of performing other people’s songs. It kind of bothered me in a way.
NUVO: How did the transition between Him, Her and Them and Coven happen?
Dawson: It occurred to me that if I could sing other people’s songs, I should find my own voice and perform original songs, and I had been writing songs for years. At that point, the band’s popularity progressed from a local level to a regional level; we were big throughout the entire Midwest. So, I wanted to step up the musicianship and touring area. And my first act was firing my younger brother. That was a very sad day for me, but he was still too young to tour big time. At the same time, I met Steve Ross, a musician originally from Ladoga, Ind., who had just returned from a trip to San Francisco. He was an incredibly talented drummer.
NUVO: Who thought of the name Coven?
Dawson: I came up with the name Coven because I had done extensive reading on the occult and loved classic horror films. I was very interested in the paranormal, secret societies, the black arts, and I knew the name Coven meant a band of 13 witches. Remember, I was doing this at the tail end of the peace, love, hippie years, and the mood of the country at the time was getting darker and chaotic with so many assassinations, rioting against the Vietnam War and such, so I thought people would be interested in the ideas I was into. And [with] my opera background, I wanted to put these ideas into the music [to] do a kind of Gothic rock opera theater, something no one had ever done before.
NUVO: I’ve noticed the number 13 looms large in your life. Could you elucidate further on this?
Dawson: I was born on a Friday the 13th in January, and oddly enough the doctor who delivered me was named Dr. Jinks. I was ultimately named Jinx, because my mother had been a model and looked up to the popular 1940s model Jinx Falkenburg. Friday the 13th fell in January and October on the year of my birth — the same as in 1307. It was on a Friday the 13th in October of 1307 that the Knights Templar were arrested for heresy, hence the sinister reputation of Friday the 13th. My family has descendents that go all the way back to the Templars, some who were burned at the stake. I lived at 1313 Miller Drive in Los Angeles. And of course, the name Coven means a band of 13 witches. Coven was conceived in 1966, by numerology a 13 prime number year. I always felt, contrary to most, that 13 is a lucky number — at least for me.
NUVO: Well, it seems you’ve been lucky in your recording career, especially with your biggest hit, “One Tin Soldier.”
Dawson: That song was an odd circumstance. After recording the first ever goth-metal album, “Witchcraft,” in 1969 and after moving to Los Angeles from Chicago, it was a song I recorded for a film soundtrack with full orchestra, never thinking it would ever be heard past a movie screen. But ultimately, it became a grass-roots phenomena and voted the No. 1 requested song by the Radio Broadcasters of America in 1971 over bands like the Beatles, and [it] was a Top 10 hit for two separate years, 1971 and 1973, becoming the big Vietnam protest song.
NUVO: I once read online that the lyrics to your hit “One Tin Soldier” relate to the crusades, and specifically to the Knights Templar.
Dawson: I believe the writers Lambert and Potter were quoted as saying that the song was written with that ancient war in mind. So when I was asked to record it as a title song for the film “Billy Jack,” I remembered that some of my ancestors had been Templars, so I thought it was a good fit.
NUVO: The titles “lady of the lake” and “goth queen” have been used when referring to you. How did these epithets come about?
Dawson: The “lady of the lake” moniker started back in the ’80s when I started coming back to Indy for the summers. Rockers such as The Grateful Dead, Todd Rundgren and John Mellencamp’s band would visit Coven drummer Steve Ross and myself at this great three-story A-frame lakeside home I had built on top of the party pavilion at Dawson Lake. They would call me that because I think they thought I looked quite natural in the setting, though they were more used to seeing me on a rock stage. Plus, they thought I was so protective of the property and its natural inhabitants [like] all the wild animals. The “goth queen” [nickname] I actually saw on the Internet. They were calling me that, I think, because I started goth and heavy metal so long ago. I guess that’s one advantage to being older. You can be first at a lot of things.
NUVO: I understand that you lived most your adult life in Los Angeles but maintained a second residence here in Indy for some time. Do you have any interesting Hollywood stories?
Dawson: The great Mae West came to a gig we did at the L.A. Convention Center in the early ’70s. She was still exactly like I had seen her in her old films. And I met John Wayne at the “Cowboys” movie opening. He got so drunk, he fell down and lost his toupee … I didn’t even know he wore one. Of course I’ve met all the great rockers and became very close with Freddy Mercury. He used to come to my house, go through my closets and want to borrow all my sexy clothes. I have a million stories. That’s why I am writing a book.
NUVO: Seven years ago, you returned to Indianapolis from Hollywood to become a caregiver to your father. How much did that extended time of being a caregiver ultimately cost you?
Dawson: My father was much respected and beloved by me, as he had taught me through his great respect for his elders. He was a very proud and once strong man. He had done so many great things for Indianapolis: thousands of local homes built by his companies, expanding Weir Cook Airport to Indianapolis International Airport … I think his photo is still up there … It sickened me that the health care facilities were so scary and horrific. I couldn’t stand to see the fear in his eyes when I had to leave him there, so I just had to keep bringing him home. Mostly, I lost a lot of time I could have spent on a career I loved very much, that one cannot put any price on, but ultimately, my father had to come first. It was something I had no choice in. If you have great love and deep respect for someone, you never desert them, especially in their hours of need. It just so happened his “six months to live sentence” given by his doctors turned into six very hard years for me. But he was very happy that I was with him and he was laughing, even to the end. I hope his extended life was in some part due to my caring — and a little magic. As for money and assets, it cost me everything. I’ve lost close to a million dollars. The caretaker situation in this country has become an alarming problem for many families. I just experienced losing the last local family home through a sheriff’s auction, and there were 500 other Indianapolis homes up for auction that same month. Indiana is at the top of states with the most foreclosures. The cost of dying in America and the cost of taking care of a loved one with a long-term illness can take everything from you. And the baby boomer generation is feeling this pain. I also lost land and property at Dawson Lake. I had to sell most of my life’s belongings brought from Los Angeles by the largest Mayflower moving truck they had; I sold my three automobiles, and I had to even sell a lot of my red carpet wardrobe on eBay that I brought back to keep paying for my father’s situation. But I think the most important fact people need to know is that if someone develops a long-term illness, Medicaid and Medicare don’t pay all the bills. The situation will devour savings and take away family homes and everything they ever worked for.
NUVO: What are you doing now that your time as a caregiver is behind you?
Dawson: Releasing Coven CDs and memorabilia through four music Web sites, writing new songs, writing a book, doing radio interviews, a PBS special is in the works and packing.
NUVO: What are your plans for future?
Dawson: Start singing again like when I was 13, I guess, and go back on the road. I have no more home in Indy and have no place else to go. Like my friend, actress Sigourney Weaver, I’m 57 now, so I’m going into my 58th year. Hmmn. Numerically, five and eight equal 13. Funny, there’s that 13 again. I really hope 13 is still lucky for me. Start where I left off? Can I? Well, I’m a fighter. My father taught me that, and a pioneer — my ancestors taught me that.