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Screamin’ Jay Hawkins iTunes Tracks

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins

Primarily known for his banned mid-50s cult classic, `I Put A Spell On You’ (and a few other yellers!), the outrageous SCREAMIN’ JAY HAWKINS was too “cannibalistic” and weird to gain chart success, but notoriety was a word made for his wayward genius.
The “Spell On You” single; with its tongue very firmly placed in its cheek, fused swinging R&B instrumentation and backing vocals with a then fresh care-less attitude to the lead vocals – the drum-lines and guitar licks were provided by his motley crew of friends. It could be said that the voodoo man achieved little else in his lifetime, although he tried time and time again to breach the unsympathetic charts. HAWKINS was more famous for his onstage cabaret antics, shaped around shock-horror R’n’R, something not practised before but has since been associated with ARTHUR BROWN, GEORGE CLINTON, ALICE COOPER and many, many more. Jay’s antics included appearing from a coffin and also carrying “Henry”, a macabre flaming skull companion, while belting out his words like a demented preacher man.
Born Jalacy Hawkins, July 18, 1929, Cleveland, Ohio, his love of music began after being orphaned and fostered as a young boy. He was only 13 years old when he enlisted in the U.S. Army with a forged birth certificate, and allegedly did front-line combat duty in WWII before anyone noticed. Somehow, still a part of the forces by 1949, HAWKINS was a boxer of note and worked up to become a middleweight champion (of Alaska).
A pianist from his teething days and now an adept guitarist with a singing voice groomed on idol PAUL ROBESON, his love of jazz and the blues led him into showbiz. Unfortunately Jalacy was not quite suited to the operatic style of performing, and re-set his life-long ambitions in 1951. He was pianist on several tracks by jazz guitarist, Tiny Grimes, however, ironically enough, a year on, the tables were turned when his solo career was augmented with the help of Grimes and his Rockin’ Highlanders.
Sometimes overlooked by historians in their quest to reach the man’s rock’n’roll prime cut(s), SCREAMIN’ JAY HAWKINS released several 78s between 1954 and 1956, although its fair to say, on reflection, that the boozy gospel-shaped `Baptize Me In Wine’, `I Found My Way To Wine’, `(She Put The) Whamee (On Me)’ and others, were rather run-of-the-mill.
Subsequently signed to OKeh Records (home to the slightly similar LITTLE RICHARD), HAWKINS delivered his finest 2+minutes in November 1956 with `I Put A Spell On You’. A meisterwork in its time that has since achieved great things, although never an official chart hit for the man, the infectious grunting sections were reputedly recorded while Jay was in a state of severe intoxication. In a similar novelty fashion (`You Made Me Love You’ aside), `Frenzy’ and `There’s Something Wrong With You’, continued his verbal voracity, while his lonely spring 1958 debut LP, AT HOME WITH SCREAMIN’ JAY HAWKINS {*7} was no midnight picnic in the park.
His eccentric flair saw him being rebuked many times in the early 60s, with angry parents and God-fearing Christians having a field day due to his banning on the radio for virtually anything he released. Looking further afield than the confines of his home-land, the “black Vincent Price” worked on his voodoo-enhanced manifesto abroad and, in particular, Britain, where THE NIGHT AND DAY OF SCREAMIN’ JAY HAWKINS {*6} was released by Planet Records in May 1965. It was indeed a healthy time for the screamin’ one, whose `I Put A Spell On You’ was un re-vamped by hit-makers NINA SIMONE and, in turn, ALAN PRICE.
A spate of LPs, well, two, were given the green light: …WHAT THAT IS! (1969) {*6} – featuring `Feast Of The Mau Mau’, the toilet-humoured `Constipation Blues’ and others, recorded live at Club Amigo, North Hollywood that June – and SCREAMIN’ JAY HAWKINS (1970) {*6} – aka “Because Is In Your Mind” – packed more than a punch or three, with their retro-R&B motifs; 1972’s A PORTRAIT OF A MAN AND HIS WOMAN {*6} featured re-recordings, while 1977’s soulful I PUT A SPELL ON YOU {*5} covered similar ground.
Relying on repeat prescriptions and limited personality changes, REAL LIVE (1983) {*6} found favour in France, where it was released, while The Art of SCREAMIN’ JAY HAWKINS (1984) {*4} preceded another LIVE (1986) {*5} mini-LP set that tangled the man with punk-a-billy people The FUZZTONES. He also translated well on to the cinema screen and had minor memorable roles in a share of films: Two Moon Junction (1988), Dance With The Devil (1997), and cult director Jim Jarmush’s masterpiece Mystery Train (1989).
As his cameo years unfolded, albums from HAWKINS became just another reason for the belated Blaxploitation brother to let “Spell On You” take on another life. The “rap” version on BLACK MUSIC FOR WHITE PEOPLE (1991) {*4} was one such misnomer, while STONE CRAZY (1993) {*5} – featuring a tribute to Twin Peaks starlet `Sherilyn Fenn’ – and SOMETHIN’ FUNNY GOIN’ ON (1994) {*5} – featuring The BEAT FARMERS’ Buddy Blue on guitar – were nothing short of incoherent ramblings. However, the man did achieve his first hit single (albeit minor and UK) when his bewitching sound-alike version of TOM WAITS’ `Heart Attack & Vine’ stirred the swamp pot in spring ‘93; a perturbed WAITS would subsequently sue the attendant TV advertising company. In the meantime, Australian record imprint, Aim, sanctioned a fresh set, I SHAKE MY STICK AT YOU (1994) {*5}.
In 1995, HAWKINS was credited alongside Swing Feeling on the French set, `Swing Feeling & Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’, while the man bowed out with two albums: the studio AT LAST (1998) {*4} and the double-CD, LIVE AT THE OLYMPIA, PARIS 1998 (1999) {*6}.
Jalacy died in Paris, France on February 12, 2000, after an aneurysm operation to his brain failed. His legacy was quickly established when, in the documentary, I Put A Spell On Me (2001) – with accompanying compilation soundtrack – it was revealed he had fathered over 75 children in his lifetime. A plethora of said offspring (and their mothers) were interviewed on this chin-dropping movie!
© MC Strong/MCS 2000-2008/GRD-LCS // rev-up MCS Aug2016

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