by Robert Wilkinson
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was a true original, and the pioneer of “shock rock!” Today we celebrate his life and work!
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (July 18, 1929 – February 12, 2000) was an American musician, singer, and actor. Famed chiefly for his powerful, operatic vocal delivery and wildly theatrical performances of songs such as "I Put A Spell on You,” Hawkins sometimes used macabre props onstage, making him an early pioneer of shock rock.
His most successful recording, "I Put A Spell on You" (1956), was selected as one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. According to the AllMusic Guide to the Blues, “Hawkins originally envisioned the tune as a refined ballad.” The entire band was intoxicated during a recording session where "Hawkins screamed, grunted, and gurgled his way through the tune with utter drunken abandon." The resulting performance was no ballad but instead a "raw, guttural track" that became his greatest commercial success and reportedly surpassed a million copies in sales, although it failed to make the Billboard Pop or R&B charts.”
The performance was mesmerizing, although Hawkins himself blacked out and was unable to remember the session. Afterward he had to relearn the song from the recorded version. Meanwhile the record label released a second version of the single, removing most of the grunts that had embellished the original performance; this was in response to complaints about the recording's overt sexuality. Nonetheless it was banned from radio in some areas.
Soon after the release of "I Put a Spell on You", radio disc jockey Alan Freed offered Hawkins $300 to emerge from a coffin onstage. Hawkins accepted and soon created an outlandish stage persona in which performances began with the coffin and included "gold and leopard skin costumes and notable voodoo stage props, such as his smoking skull on a stick – named Henry – and rubber snakes." These props were suggestive of voodoo, but also presented with comic overtones that invited comparison to "a black Vincent Price.”
For your amazement and amusement, here’s the original from 1956 that scared white America to its core! Welcome to his famous guttural, grunting, howling, menacing attitude of “I Put A Spell On You.” “Who do the voodoo, indeed...”
Here’s another version on 45 rpm that was never issued. "I Put A Spell on You (Unissued)"
Live at Woodstock in 1969, the historic Creedence Clearwater Revival performance of “I Put A Spell on You”
Here’s the full 51 minute album of a bunch of his hits! “Frenzy”
Here’s a 1 hour 42 minute great documentary of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins made shortly before his death in 2000. It includes some concerts he gave in Greece, so enjoy the original wild man! “I Put A Spell on Me”
We’ll close this brief tribute with a one hour show Screamin’ Jay Hawkins did in Tokyo in 1990. “Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in Tokyo
For our encore, from 1966, here’s Screamin’ Jay Hawkins live on the Merv Griffin Show performing “I Put A Spell on You” (If you haven't seen one other clip, this one is awesome!)
© Copyright 2014 Robert Wilkinson