Screamin' Jay Hawkins
Screamin' Jay Hawkins
|Birth name||Jalacy J. Hawkins|
|Also known as||Jay Hawkins|
|Born||July 18, 1929|
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
|Died||February 12, 2000 (aged 70)|
Jalacy J. "Screamin' Jay" Hawkins (July 18, 1929 – February 12, 2000) was an American singer-songwriter, musician, actor, film producer, and boxer. Famed chiefly for his powerful, operatic vocal delivery and wildly theatrical performances of songs such as "I Put a Spell on You", he sometimes used macabre props onstage, making him an early pioneer of shock rock. He received a nomination for the Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male for his performance in the 1989 indie film Mystery Train.
Hawkins was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. At the age of 18 months, Hawkins was put up for adoption and shortly thereafter was adopted and raised by Blackfoot Indians. Hawkins studied classical piano as a child and learned guitar in his 20s. In a 1993 interview, Hawkins recounts telling his music tutor,
...to leave before I make your life miserable [...] because with the type of music I want to play. The things I want to do with music and don't want to do it the old conventional way that everybody knows. I want to come up with my own ideas. I've got all the information that I need to get from you to do what I want, now if you stick around, I'm going to make your life miserable.
His initial goal was to become an opera singer (Hawkins cited Paul Robeson as his musical idol in interviews), but when his initial ambitions failed, he began his career as a conventional blues singer and pianist. Other influences included Mario Lanza, Enrico Caruso, Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Brown, Amos Milburn, Wynonie Harris, Nellie Lutcher, Roy Brown, Jimmy Witherspoon, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Roy Milton, Elmore James, Lightnin' Hopkins and H-Bomb Ferguson.
He joined the US Army with a forged birth certificate in 1942 (aged 13), and allegedly served in a combat role, with his fellow soldiers and higher-ups around him ignoring the fact he was substantially underage. During this time, he also entertained the troops as part of his service. In 1944, he enlisted in the Army Air Forces, being honorably discharged in 1952. Hawkins was an avid and formidable boxer during his years in the US Army (and later Air Force) boxing circuit. In 1949, he was the middleweight boxing champion of Alaska.
In 1951, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins began his career performing vocals and keyboards for Philadelphia guitarist Tiny Grimes, and was subsequently featured on some of Grimes' recordings. When Hawkins later went solo, his first single “Why Did You Waste My Time” was performed with accompaniment from Grimes’ band. In 1956, Hawkins signed with OKeh Records. When Hawkins became a solo performer, he often performed in a stylish wardrobe of leopard skins, red leather, and wild hats.
"I Put a Spell on You"
Hawkins' 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.
Although Hawkins himself blacked out and was unable to remember the session, he relearned 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. Furthermore, the recording attracted the ire of groups such as the NAACP, "which worried that his act would reflect badly on African Americans." Hawkins later credited the uproar with a boost in sales due to the perceived taboo nature of his performances.
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 initially declined, reportedly saying "No black dude gets in a coffin alive – they don't expect to get out!" However, he later relented 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." Despite the commercial success of the gimmick, Hawkins resented the schlock-factor that made him famous. He found it exploitative, and believed it undermined his sincerity as a vocalist and a balladeer. In a 1973 interview, he bemoaned the Screamin' epithet given to him by his label Okeh records, saying "If it were up to me, I wouldn't be Screamin’ Jay Hawkins...James Brown did an awful lot of screamin’, but never got called Screamin’ James Brown...Why can't people take me as a regular singer without making a bogeyman out of me?"
"I Put a Spell On You" became a classic, covered by a variety of artists such as Creedence Clearwater Revival, Nina Simone, Alan Price, The Animals, Them with Van Morrison, Arthur Brown, Bryan Ferry, Buddy Guy, Carlos Santana, Tim Curry, Leon Russell, Joe Cocker, Nick Cave, Marilyn Manson, Mica Paris, David Gilmour, Jeff Beck, Joss Stone, Diamanda Galas, and Annie Lennox. Hawkins' original version was featured during the show and over the credits of the 2003 The Simpsons episode "I'm Spelling as Fast as I Can".
Hawkins' later releases included "Constipation Blues" (which included a spoken introduction by Hawkins in which he states he wrote the song because no one had written a blues song before about "real pain"), "Orange Colored Sky", and "Feast of the Mau Mau". Nothing he released, however, had the monumental success of "I Put a Spell on You". In Paris in 1999 and at the Taste of Chicago festival, he actually performed "Constipation Blues" with a toilet onstage.
He continued to tour and record through the 1960s and 1970s, particularly in Europe, where he was very popular. Hawkins released a single recording of mainstream ballads in 1969, "Too Many Teardrops" and the Hawaiian styled "Makaha Waves" on the flip-side. In February 1976, he suffered facial injuries when he was burned by one of his flaming props while performing with his guitarist Mike Armando at the Virginia Theater in Alexandria, Virginia. He appeared in performance (as himself) in the Alan Freed bio-pic American Hot Wax in 1978. Subsequently, filmmaker Jim Jarmusch featured "I Put a Spell on You" on the soundtrack – and deep in the plot – of his film Stranger Than Paradise (1983) and then Hawkins himself as a hotel night clerk in his Mystery Train and in roles in Álex de la Iglesia's Perdita Durango and Bill Duke's adaptation of Chester Himes' A Rage in Harlem.
In 1983, Hawkins relocated to the New York area. In 1984 and 1985, Hawkins collaborated with garage rockers the Fuzztones, resulting in Screamin' Jay Hawkins and the Fuzztones Live album recorded at Irving Plaza in December 1984. They performed in the 1986 movie Joey.
In 1990, Hawkins performed the song "Sirens Burnin'," which was featured in the 1990 horror film Night Angel.
In July 1991, Hawkins released his album Black Music for White People. The record features covers of two Tom Waits compositions: "Heart Attack and Vine" (which, later that year, was used in a European Levi's advertisement without Waits' permission, resulting in a lawsuit), and "Ice Cream Man" (a Waits original and not a cover of the John Brim classic). Hawkins also covered the Waits song "Whistlin' Past the Graveyard", for his album Somethin' Funny Goin' On. In 1993, his version of "Heart Attack and Vine" became his only UK hit, reaching No. 42 on the UK singles chart. In 1993, Hawkins moved to France.
When Dread Zeppelin recorded their "disco" album, It's Not Unusual in 1992, producer Jah Paul Jo asked Hawkins to guest. He performed the songs "Jungle Boogie" and "Disco Inferno". He also toured with the Clash and Nick Cave during this period, and not only became a fixture of blues festivals but appeared at many film festivals as well, including the Telluride Film Festival premiere of Mystery Train.
His 1957 single "Frenzy" (found on the early 1980s compilation of the same name) was included in the compilation CD, Songs in the Key of X: Music from and Inspired by the X-Files, in 1996. This song was featured in the show's Season 2 episode "Humbug". It was also covered by the band Batmobile.
In 2001, the Greek director and writer Nicholas Triandafyllidis made the documentary Screamin' Jay Hawkins: I Put a Spell on Me about various stages of his life and career, including a filming of his last-ever live performance, in Athens on December 11, 1999, two months before his death, following a performance the day before in Salonica. In the documentary notable artists such as Jim Jarmusch, Bo Diddley, Eric Burdon, Frank Ash, Arthur Brown and Michael Ochs talked about Screamin' Jay Hawkins' early life, personality and career, and about his incredible talent.
From 1962 to 1971, Hawkins lived in Hawaii. He returned to New York after purchasing a home in Hawaii and establishing his own publishing company, sustained by the royalties from covers of "I Put a Spell On You". Hawkins had six marriages; his last wife was 31 at his death. Singing partner Shoutin' Pat Newborn stabbed him in jealousy when he married Virginia Sabellona. He had three children with his first wife and claimed variously to have 57 or 75 children in total. After his death, his friend and biographer Maral Nigolian set up a website to trace these children, identifying 33, at least 12 of whom met at a 2001 reunion.
Although Hawkins was not a major success as a recording artist, his highly theatrical performances from "I Put a Spell on You" onward earned him a steady career as a live performer for decades afterward, and influenced subsequent acts. He opened for Fats Domino, Tiny Grimes and the Rolling Stones. This exposure in turn influenced rock acts such as Alice Cooper, Tom Waits, the Cramps, Screaming Lord Sutch, Black Sabbath, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Arthur Brown, Led Zeppelin, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, and Glenn Danzig. Vox.com described Hawkins as a "goth icon".
- 1958 At Home with Screamin' Jay Hawkins (Okeh/Epic) – other editions entitled Screamin' Jay Hawkins and I Put a Spell on You
- 1965 The Night and Day of Screamin' Jay Hawkins (Planet/52e Rue Est) – also entitled In the Night and Day of Screamin' Jay Hawkins
- 1969 ...What That Is! (Philips)
- 1970 Because Is in Your Mind (Armpitrubber) (Philips)
- 1972 A Portrait of a Man and His Woman (Hotline) – reissued as I Put a Spell on You and Blues Shouter
- 1977 I Put a Spell on You (Versatile – recordings from 1966 to 1976)
- 1979 Screamin' the Blues (Red Lightnin' – recordings from 1953 to 1970)
- 1979 Lawdy Miss Clawdy (Koala)
- 1983 Real Life (Zeta)
- 1990 The Art of Screamin' Jay Hawkins (Spivey)
- 1991 Black Music for White People (Bizarre/Straight Records/Planet Records)
- 1991 I Shake My Stick at You (Aim)
- 1993 Stone Crazy (Bizarre/Straight/Planet)
- 1994 Somethin' Funny Goin' On (Bizarre/Straight/Planet)
- 1998 At Last (Last Call)
- 1984 Screamin' Jay Hawkins and the Fuzztones Live (Midnight Records)
- 1988 At Home with Jay in the Wee Wee Hours (Midnight Records)
- 1988 Live & Crazy (Blue Phoenix)
- 1991 Screamin' Jay Hawkins and the Chikenhawks: Dr. Macabre (Trade Service)
- 1993 Rated X (Sting S) — recorded in 1970
- 1999 Live at the Olympia, Paris (Last Call) — live with one new studio recording
- 1953 "Not Anymore" / "Baptize Me in Wine" [Timely 1004]
- 1954 "I Found My Way to Wine" / "Please Try to Understand Me" [Timely 1005]
- 1955 "You're All of Life to Me" / "Well I Tried" [Wing 90005]
- 1955 "This Is All" / "(She Put The) Whammee (On Me)" [Mercury 70549]
- 1956 "Even Though" / "Talk About Me" [Wing 90055]
- 1956 "I Put a Spell on You" / "Little Demon" [OKeh 7072]
- 1957 "You Made Me Love You" / "Darling, Please Forgive Me" [OKeh 7084]
- 1957 "Frenzy" / "Person to Person" [OKeh 7087]
- 1958 "Alligator Wine" / "There's Something Wrong with You" [OKeh 7101]
- 1960 "I'm So Glad (To Be Back)" / "The Pass" [Red Top 126]
- 1962 "I Hear Voices" / "Just Don't Care" [Enrica 1010]
- 1962 "Ashes" / "Nitty Gritty" w/ Shoutin' Pat (Newborn) [Chancellor 1117]
- 1966 "Poor Folks" / "Your Kind of Love" [Providence 411]
- 1970 "Do You Really Love Me" / "Constipation Blues" [Philips 40645]
- 1973 "Monkberry Moon Delight" / "Sweet Ginny" [Queen Bee 1313]
- 1993 "Heartattack and Vine" / "I Put a Spell on You" / "On the Job" [Columbia 6591092]
Multi-artist samplers and budget compilations
- 1962 Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Lillian Briggs (Coronet)
- 1963 A Night at Forbidden City (Sounds of Hawaii)
- 1988 "I Put A Spell on You" (Elvira Presents: Haunted Hits LP)
- 1990 "I Put A Spell On You" (Elvira Presents: Haunted Hits CD re-release)
- 1994 "Little Demon" (Elvira Presents: Monster Hits CD)
- 1996 "Frenzy" (Songs in the Key of X – The X Files)
|1957||Mister Rock and Roll||Himself|
|1966||Day Tripper||Composer; short film|
|1978||American Hot Wax||Himself|
|1988||Two Moon Junction||Blues Club Singer|
|1989||Mystery Train||Night Clerk|
|1991||A Rage in Harlem||Himself|
|1994||De Serge Gainsbourg à Gainsbarre de 1958 – 1991||Himself||Documentary; direct-to-video|
|2001||Screamin' Jay Hawkins: I Put a Spell on Me||Himself||Documentary|
|1957||Alan Freed's Rock 'N' Roll Revue||Himself||TV special|
|1965||Gadzooks! It's All Happening||Himself||Episode: #1.3|
|1965||Thank Your Lucky Stars||Himself||Episode: #7.23|
|1966||The Merv Griffin Show||Himself||Episode: "Tom Ewell, Jacqueline Susann, Aliza Kashi, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Mitzi McCall, Charlie Brill"|
|1978||Thank You, Rock 'N' Roll: A Tribute to Alan Freed||Himself||TV special|
|1989||The Arsenio Hall Show||Himself||Unknown episode|
|1990||Sunday Night||Himself||Episode: #2.15|
|1993||Dorothee Rock'n'roll Show||Himself||TV miniseries|
|2001||Cutting Edge||Himself (archive footage)||Episode: "57 Screaming Kids"|
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- "Screamin' Jay Still Crazy After All These Years". The Los Angeles Times. May 29, 1990.
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- Stegall, Tim (December 9, 2018). "Book Review: Rock & Roll Books – Screamin' Jay Hawkins' All-Time Greatest Hits: A Novel". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved July 2, 2019.
Rock & roll pioneer Screamin' Jay Hawkins had only one hit, the voodoo blues funeral march "I Put a Spell on You".
- McPadden, Mike (May 1, 2012). If You Like Metallica ... : Here Are Over 200 Bands, CDs, Movies, and Other Oddities That You Will Love. New York City: Backbeat Books. p. 37. ISBN 978-1-4768-1357-8. Retrieved July 2, 2019.
- "Screamin' Jay Hawkins Biography". Oldies.com.
- Bergsman, Steve (July 2, 2019). I Put a Spell on You: The Bizarre Life of Screamin' Jay Hawkins. Vancouver, Washington: Feral House. p. 197. ISBN 9781627310918 – via Google Books.
- Thurber, Jon (February 13, 2000). "Screamin' Jay Hawkins; Rhythm and Blues Singer". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 6, 2022.
- Gillespie, Paula, and Neal Lerner. The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring. Boston: Allyn, 2000. Print.
- Hoops, Jessica (November 2, 2015). "The Evolution Of Shock Rock". Worcester, Massachusetts: Clark University. Retrieved July 2, 2019.
- Sweeney, Phillip (January 2, 1999). "Arts: Here comes the crazy man". Independent. Retrieved August 8, 2019.
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- Jade, Celadon (October 1991). "Screamin' Jay Hawkins". Mute on the Floor. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Jaded Productions. 1 (2) – via Online Archive of California; University of California, Los Angeles Library Special Collections.
- Bogdanov, Vladimir; Woodstra, Chris; Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (2003). All Music Guide to the Blues: The Definitive Guide to the Blues. New York City: Backbeat Books. p. 226. ISBN 9780415972468. Retrieved December 4, 2008.
- "SCREAMIN' JAY HAWKINS BIOGRAPHY". The Great Rock Bible. Retrieved June 27, 2019.
- "Screamin' Jay Hawkins". Biography.com. Retrieved October 3, 2018.
- Tosches, Nick (1991). Unsung Heroes of Rock 'n' Roll: The Birth of Rock 'n' Roll in the Wild Years Before Elvis. New York City: Harmony Books. p. 158. ISBN 0517580527.
- Jones, Kevin, "HAWKINS, JALACY "SCREAMIN JAY"", Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, retrieved October 22, 2022
- Bill Dahl (2001). "Screamin' Jay Hawkins". In Vladimir Bogdanov; Chris Woodstra; Stephen Thomas Erlewine (eds.). All Music Guide: The Definitive Guide to Popular Music. Hal Leonard. p. 156. ISBN 9780879306274.
- Edward M. Komara (2006). Encyclopedia of the Blues: A-J. Routledge. p. 415. ISBN 9780415926997. Retrieved December 4, 2008.
- Ed Sikov (1996). Laughing Hysterically: American Screen Comedy of the 1950s. Columbia University Press. p. 17. ISBN 9780231079839. Retrieved December 4, 2008.
- Whitburn, Joel (2003). Top Pop Singles 1955–2002 (1st ed.). Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. ISBN 0-89820-155-1.
- Whitburn, Joel (1996). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942–2004. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research. ISBN 0-89820-115-2.
- "The Lasting Echo of Screamin' Jay Hawkins". Washingtonpost.com. Retrieved November 1, 2019.
- "I Put a Spell on You brought bliss to all who touched it – except its composer". Financial Times.
- Patricia Romanowski Bashe, Holly George-Warren, and Jon Pareles, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll: Revised and Updated for the 21st Century (Fireside, 2001), 419.
- Mike Armando, "About Me", AllAboutJazz. Retrieved November 5, 2018
- Steve Bergsman (July 2, 2019). "Chapter 7". I Put a Spell on You: The Bizarre Life of Screamin' Jay Hawkins. Feral House. pp. 147–150. ISBN 978-1-62731-091-8.
- Maslin, Janet (January 31, 1986). "Screen: 'Joey,' Rock Tale". The New York Times. Archived from the original on July 10, 2012.
- "Night Angel. Credits". AFI Catalog. Retrieved September 21, 2020.
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- Peter Buckley, The Rough Guide to Rock (Rough Guides, 2003), 207.
- Copyright: Waits v. Levi Strauss Archived November 16, 2007, at the Wayback Machine at Tom Waits Library.
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- "Hunt for Screamin's offspring". BBC News. April 28, 2000. Retrieved July 21, 2019.
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- "Batmobile. Songs". AllMusic. Retrieved September 21, 2020.
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- Wolf, Buck (February 4, 2001). "Screamin' Jay's Illegitimate Family Reunion". ABC News. Retrieved November 23, 2014.
- "Jayskids.com". Archived from the original on February 2, 2001. Retrieved November 23, 2014.
- Feature: Screamin' Jay Hawkins, All Things Considered, January 1, 2001.
- Henderson, Ashyia N. (2001). Contemporary Black Biography. Farmington Hills, Michigan: Gale Group. p. 83. ISBN 9780787646189.
- Nittle, Nadra (October 23, 2017). "Meet the Black Girls of Goth". Vox.
Goth icon Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was a black man from Cleveland known for his theatrical rendition of the 1956 hit "I Put a Spell on a You," which a sultry Nina Simone covered in 1965. Hawkins took his style cues from Dracula and voodoo stereotypes, with a trademark cape, slick hair, and stage props that included coffins, rubber snakes, and a skull on a stick.
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Hawkins even released 'Monkberry Moon Delight' as a single in 1973 (Queen Bee 1313).