Jinx Dawson Chapter<META NAME="description" CONTENT="Profile of Jinx Dawson, former lead singer of Coven"><META NAME="keywords" CONTENT="rock 'n' roll, 1970s, Jinx Dawson, Coven, One Tin Soldier, music, one-hit wonder, book chapter"> Jinx Dawson photo

CHAPTER 8

"One Tin Soldier"

published in "Little Stars" ©

         The lake is calm this afternoon, its jade-green surface broken only occasionally with modest ripples from the timid June breeze. Orange and yellow buoys barely bob along the surface, like helium balloons tied tightly to tent stakes on a windless day.

         The idle chatter of birds skitters through the trees that stand along the far side of the lake as thick as freeway traffic. On this side of the lake, Jinx Dawson looks out across the listless water from one of the picnic tables beside the Dawson Lake lodge.

         "It's beautiful here, isn't it?" she says, her eyes lingering on the scene as she does a slow turn on the wooden bench-type seat at the table. "I'm spending a lot more time here than I used to, every summer."

         She laughs a Jinx laugh, halfway between the cocksure, elbow-in-the-ribs chuckle of a Hollywood insider and the shy giggle of an Indiana schoolgirl, and finally turns her back on the lake, which remains as peaceful and motionless as a stoned hippie the day after Woodstock.

         "I've been everywhere in the world," she goes on, the Hollywood chutzpah stepping forward in her voice for a bare moment, then retreating to the wings, "and this is a little piece of heaven."

         The still, isolated lakeside, with its rustic-looking gray lodge and a small flock of pink flamingos staked to the ground between the lodge and the edge of the water, is neatly tucked away on the northern edge of Indianapolis. Jinx Dawson could throw a stone over the stand of trees across the lake and hit the Broad Ripple section of town, Indianapolis' version of Soho. Westfield Boulevard, the main artery into civilization, is within easy hearing distance to the west of the Dawson Lodge property, the near-constant hum of cars competing with the gossip of the birds that aren't artificial and stuck in one spot just beside where Jinx sits and talks about her numerous brushes with near-stardom.

         This place clearly is becoming her haven, her halfway house between the never-ending, mountain road to celebrity and the dead-end street of more mundane pursuits. "Yoooooou bet!" she affirms, with an animated shake of the Jinx hair, a plentiful waterfall of sunflower-bright strands that sprays down around her shoulders and halfway down her back.

         Here she is, back home, again, in Indiana, the hometown girl who went off twenty-some years ago to be a star and almost made it, still torn between the peace and quiet of this secret hideaway and the lure of the same loud temptations of fame she has been drawn to for those same twenty-plus years. The way she is dressed--the Jinx "look," you could say--clashes sharply with the pastoral setting of the modest-sized lake and its cast of wildlife characters, both real and plastic.

         She is decked out in a predominantly black outfit of her own design, highlighted with a constellation of gold-and-rhinestone chains and necklaces. A large pair of rhinestone-encrusted earrings, in the shape of Jurassic teardrops, dollop down from her ears like Las Vegas street lights. A pair of long gold necklaces angle down from her neck to an ornate, apple-shaped medallion that virtually reaches the brocaded gold belt around her waist.

         The shock of yellow hair holds her still-youthful starlet face lightly suspended in time, while heavy rings, fitted tightly over the fingers of her long black gloves, weigh down her left hand. She is a vision of Vegas nightlife transported to the sunny daylight of the American heartland, a gold lamé cigarette case and a fresh can of diet Coke in front of her on the wooden picnic table.

         The Jinx look is the Jinx life, all dressed up for stardom and nowhere exactly to go. "I always said I started at the top," concedes the woman who sang "One Tin Soldier" onto a movie soundtrack and the upper reaches of the music charts in 1971, "and worked my way down."

         She laughs another Jinx laugh, half bold and half unsure of its own place. It is the voice of her often-tenuous career in and around the fickle fringes of American show business. The tones are still half-confident, half-resigned as she surveys her current prospects, which are nearly as placid as the green lake water behind her.

         "I've spent a lot of time sitting out by my pool out there in Las Vegas, waiting by the phone," she relates, matter-of-factly. "It's like hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait.

         "It all has to fall in place. You've got to pick the right people--the right manager, the right agent, the right record company. People think it's easy, but it's very, very difficult."

         And it certainly hasn't been easy for Jinx lately. She landed a bit part in a move that was supposed to be a sensation, a half-animated bombshell called "Cool World" with star Kim Basinger. It bombed, of course, and even fewer people got two quick glimpses of Jinx sitting at one of the gaming tables during the final chase scene.

         "It wasn't exactly the big break in my film career," she says, with an extra serving of Jinx sarcasm. "Most of my part ended up on the cutting room floor. I was thinking this was going to be a big film, with Kim Basinger and everybody, but...."

         The frustration keeps replacing the native charm in her half-Hollywood, half-Hoosier face as she explains that she had three movie parts lined up, but then had to choose one because of impending knee surgery. She picked "Cool World" and passed up the other two, one of which was "a much better part" in what turned into the sleeper hit "Honeymoon in Vegas."

         She has another film in the can--and on a videotape that travels with her these days. But "Heaven Can Help," starring Jinx and veteran character actor Myron Natwick, has yet to be released for theatrical viewing. "I'm hoping it'll come out pretty soon," she says, with a restless sigh, "because I'm all over that one. It's a cute movie, a great movie."

         The other sideswipe with movie success she can talk about is her singing of the female vocal for the theme song of the 1986 film "Legal Eagles."

         Now she is waiting for the phone to ring, with Nashville on the other end. She says veteran record producer Mike Curb may want to have her record some country songs. "I'm really excited about that," she reports, the chutzpah revving up her voice again. "I've been trying to go that route for a number of years."

         Between bit parts and listless phones, she has practiced her sideline, providing rhinestoned clothing and jewelry for some of show business' biggest celebrities. Rhinestone bootstraps for Cher and Liza Minelli, bejeweled jackets for Barbra Streisand, beglittered jeans for Led Zeppelin and Motley Crue. As they say, there's no business like the decking out of show business, and Jinx has done her share.

         "If you see something rhinestoned real heavy, it's mine," she relates, with a healthy Jinx laugh. "I started making all my own stage clothes, then I started using crystals, then rhinestones. I wore one of my coats to a party, and Cher wanted me to make one for her.

         "So, it started as a side thing, and it has kinda turned into a little business for me. It's an artistic thing, which is great, because I think you can be creative with more than one thing."

         But that, too, has been a mixed blessing, and now is dwindling by Jinx' own choice. "To really do it the way I'd want to, I'd have to do it full-time," she says. "It got to the point where I was getting so many orders, I started to think, 'Gee, I'm in the rhinestone business!'

         "I didn't want that. I want to stay in the entertainment business."

         So, it has been back to the Ma Bell-side vigil and hoping for either country music sequins or more movie credits. "Maybe it's down to Nashville for me," she speculates, with a lilting confidence strumming its way back into her voice. "It would mean getting back into the music; that was the first love, always was."

         "But movies are nice, too," she quickly adds. "I always was into the movie thing. I love doing soundtracks and working with film. I think that's the ultimate medium. Music's good, but music with pictures is even better."

         Movies have played a leading role in the career of the former Indiana schoolgirl who first sang opera for students at Butler University not far from Dawson Lake and then belted out satanic rock for the Chicago group that became known as Coven. While still a student at nearby North Central High School, Jinx had begun singing with a local rock group in the late '60s. She and a couple other members of that band broke away and moved on to Chicago to form a new group, Coven.

         The group adopted many of the trappings of the "satanic rock" groups that were the rage at the time, and they named their first album "Witchcraft." It all added up to notoriety and controversy, the kind that didn't always sit well with the folks back home in the heart of the Bible belt.

         "It got us a lotta press at the time," she recalls, "because it had kind of a black magic thing. For not having a hit, we had kind of an underground album.

         "The satanic thing actually was something we were interested in and were studying at the time. When you're younger, you're looking for answers, and a lot of members of the band were looking into the same books at the same time. We studied it, we practiced it, but we only went so far. We didn't do anything bad."

         They did go so far as to sign their record contracts in blood, and draw the rapt attention of law enforcement people in the Chicago area where they performed, who prohibited them from saying anything -- in English, at least -- on stage between their numbers. Needless to say, it made Coven something of a regional sensation.

         "A lot of people were really taken with it," Jinx recollects. "It did open quite a few doors."

         Like zits and hippie clothes, it was mostly a phase Jinx and Coven were going through. Of course, sometimes, those half-empty tubes of Clearasil and Woodstock posters linger in the backs of our psychic closets forever.

         "Well, I'm still against this formalized kind of religion thing," Jinx still says, twenty-plus years later, "because I look at Jim Bakker and all this stuff. I think I'm very spiritual; I'm just not into formal religion. I do think you should worship your own god in your own space."

         By 1970, the group was looking for other, less-spiritual horizons to reach for. They signed with a management company and headed for the golden-recording shores of California. They soon discovered that the music business there was pretty much a closed shop.

         "Here I was, from Indianapolis, and I had nobody in the business out there," Jinx recalls. "It was tough. I looked at it and thought, 'Jeez, how do you break into this?' I just kept tryin' and tryin'."

         The legendary break came when Tom Laughlin appeared on the western horizon, ready to put together what nobody, at the time, knew would become the cult movie of the '70s. And Laughlin needed a female voice for the theme song of his movie, "Billy Jack."

         The voice he found was Jinx Dawson's. "It was kind of strange, since we were a heavy-metal band, but he said it didn't matter if it was heavy metal or not, it had to fit the movie. We were in the right place at the right time, I guess."

         Jinx and her group recorded the song, and the rest, as they always say in Hollywood, is history. "Billy Jack" caught the imagination of America's youth culture, and the haunting theme song, with its refrain about one tin soldier riding away, caught on, as well. It peaked at number twenty-six on the singles charts near the end of 1971.

         "That one song just stuck," Jinx reflects. "It was big; it's hard to get bigger than that. At the time, I thought it was just going to be a movie theme song, and that'll be the end of it."

         Hardly. It made Jinx and Coven famous. It put them on the "Billy Jack" soundtrack album and into a financial arrangement with Laughlin, who had become a national phenomenon two decades before he would become an erstwhile, though virtually invisible, presidential candidate. "It kinda messed the group up, to tell the truth," Jinx tries to explain. "It ended up being a curse at the time."

         Once the movie faded into the twilight zone of TV's late shows, Coven's celebrity quickly dimmed, as well. They continued performing, but there were no more hits the size of "One Tin Soldier" on the horizon.

         As they had before, the group stayed in a "bandhouse" in California, where they tried to strike the magical musical spark again. "We all lived together, worked together, wrote together," Jinx notes. "It was great, you would all know what you're doing every day, and you're all on the same wave length."

         The communal lifestyle of the bandhouse, reflective of the hippie days of the '60s and '70s, was not that uncommon among rock groups, such as the Beach Boys and others, according to Jinx. "They basically did the same thing. If you're on the road and in hotel rooms, that's the same thing."

         In 1980, the group tried to change its luck by changing its name, to the Equalizers. And it helped for a while. The group opened for acts like the Go-Gos. But it didn't last.

         Finally, Jinx decided to move the group to New York City. But that didn't work, either. "I thought, 'Great, a second shot, this is gonna be it.' I think I probably goofed it up by moving the band."

         The group fell apart, and Jinx eventually moved back to the Hollywood-and-Las Vegas scene. She managed to find some studio work, recording with Pink Floyd and providing vocals for an album by Princess Stephanie of Monaco.

         In all, she has twelve singles and eight albums to her credit so far. And she did her last live performance at a 1991 tribute to Sammy Davis Jr. in Vegas, performing "One Tin Soldier" for the brightest lights of Tinseltown.

         Since then, it has been hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait, more casting calls than curtain calls, and summer respites at the northside Indianapolis lake lodge.

         "It's been an interesting trip, to say the least," she observes, with a genuine Jinx chuckle. "I've met almost everyone, some incredible people."

         Reaching for the gold lamé cigarette case, she ticks off a list of Hollywood celebrities she has met that stretches from the icons of earlier decades, like Mae West and John Wayne, to the legends of her own generation, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger, Madonna.

         "You can't erase that kind of stuff; it'd make a good book," she sums up, half playfully, half seriously thinking about it for a moment. "I've got a lot of goods on a lot of people. I'd probably have to call it Hard Rock."

         The hard parts for Jinx Dawson have been the long list of near-misses and missed opportunities. Like, she says, the financial deal with Laughlin. And like the time legendary record producer Neil Bogart came to Coven and its manager with a scheme to turn it into a new group with wild stage costumes and painted faces. "He said, 'I want you to be this band that's going to be huge.' Later, our manager told us not to take the deal."

         They didn't, and the people Bogart found to form the new group became a recurring phenomenon known as Kiss. "I talk to Gene Simmons sometimes, and I tell him, 'Put me on the album, you owe me!'"

         Or like the time she was offered an off-beat song about the look of a legendary movie star. "I said, 'How can a gal sing about Bette Davis' eyes?' I just didn't see it."

         "Bette Davis Eyes" was number one on the charts for nine weeks in 1981, sung by Kim Carnes.

         And like the video Jinx was set to do with Elvis Presley of a new version of "Jailhouse Rock" in 1977. The King of rock 'n' roll died before it could be made. "If we had done that, it would've been great," she speculates from her lakeside bench, "but he took too many drugs, so..."

         "I've made some major-league mistakes in my career--at least three of 'em," she supposes, giving another shake of her waterfall of long hair. "It seems we were always a little bit early on everything, or a little bit late."

         The limbo those mistakes have cast her career into--and one brief, failed marriage to her former road manager--leave her splitting time between her condo in Vegas and her old home ground at the family lake. She sold her home in Burbank a few years ago, another sign of the changing times of her life.

         "It just got dirty, crowded, smoggy," she says of the golden coast of the '90s. "People just got tired of dealing with it. Los Angeles is overrun, just awful. Too many people went out there and ruined it.

         "They were going to put a throughway by my house out there. I said, 'Here comes the cement....'"

         The last sentence trails off into another disbelieving Jinx laugh. She talks now about the lodge at Dawson Lake, of which she is part owner, and some of her attempts to bring a little bit of show business to the site of her summer reveries.

         She brought the Marshall Tucker Band in for a concert a few summers back, drawing 7,000 people, and began thinking about turning the lake property into a regular concert site. She also plans and promotes other public events and private parties at the lake--recent ones have included John Cougar Mellencamp's bachelor party and a fishing excursion for some members of the Grateful Dead.

         "That's my summer job," she says. "I've been pretty successful. I mean, 7,000 people here's not that bad.

         "I wanted to put an ampitheatre in here, but the neighbors didn't want it. It would've been beautiful. Now they've put one in up off the interstate. That's the story of my life--three years too early, with everything!"

         Jinx swivels back around to look across the taciturn green lake. "Look at the money it would've brought to this area," she goes on, the Hollywood hypester stirring up in the background of her voice again. "If this were in Los Angeles, this would be worth a billion dollars. It's a real shame."

         She throws both hands up into the air in front of her, like a gambler whose horse has barely run out of the money again. She turns back toward the table to deal with the question all who pursue the golden carrot long after the race seems lost must face sometimes.

         "Why do I keep putting myself through it?" she asks herself. "I don't know. Maybe it is the fame and fortune. For me, it was just doing something important that would matter, something that would change something or change somebody's thinking in a good way. It's more a way of saying what you want to say; how else do you get out there and have a word?

         "It's like Andy Warhol said, everyone wants to be famous for fifteen minutes. You want your little spot, just shine the light for a few minutes. But, once you get that fifteen minutes, boy, it's like a drug, I'll tell you. You go, 'Oh, my God, limousines and people screaming my name.' You gotta admit it sounds pretty good.

         "It's a great feeling. Playing in front of thousands of people is great. I've never felt anything like that in my life."

         Her answer has rambled back for a moment into the sensibilities and sensitivities of the '60s she matriculated as a young Indianapolis girl. The reality of the American '90s is that she may have to become resigned to only providing the rhinestoned accessories to stardom somewhere out on the periphery of glamor and celebrity.

         "Maybe I could be a Las Vegas showgirl," she finally says, with another Jinx laugh that doesn't quite know if it is kidding or deadly serious. "I haven't gone that route yet."

         The smile lingers on that made-for-Hollywood face, which is not much the worse for wear after twenty years on the road, a bit longer than usual. And, for that one magic Jinx moment, without any half-hesitation or hanging back, she seems to know where the road that passes by the lakeside lodge is going and why she is going to stay on it a while longer.

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(AUTHOR'S UPDATE: Dawson Lake's facilities were shut down in 1997, and Jinx Dawson returned to Indianapolis to help her family sell off lakeside lots for private homes. She has renewed optimism for her career as the "Goth" music movement has created renewed interest in Coven and is considering bringing the group back together. She also claims that she is probably one of about four young women who compose Kate Hudson's character in Cameron Crowe's critically acclaimed 2000 film, "Almost Famous.")

 Copyright 1998 by Jerry Miller ©

 Photo of Jinx Dawson by Jerry Miller ©

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