Friday, February 13, 2009


Screamin' Jay Hawkins. My favorite blues singer of all time. The man, whose real name is Jalacy Hawkins, has had a bizarre career. He started out studying classical piano with a goal of being an opera singer. This dream was put on hiatus when he went into the military in World War Two. After the war, he became a formidable boxer. After a while, he gave up boxing and decided to become a blues singer. His first single was "I Put a Spell on You"(1956). The entire band was extremely intoxicated during the recording of this song. The energy and emotion of this song is overwhelming, frighteningly ecstatic and heartbreaking at the same time, a remorseless, embittered love song fueled by the throes of inebriation. "I Put a Spell on You" has been covered by countless bands, including Creedence Clearwater Revival. Screamin' Jay Hawkins began taking on a macabre, colorful, voodoo and horror inspired stage persona, dressing in colorful yet creepy attire and emerging from a coffin at the beginning of his shows. He has recorded consistently great material up to the time of his death in 2000. His sound is akin to a deranged witches brew of Little Richard, Howlin' Wolf, and Tom Waits. Of course, Hawkins is one of Tom Waits' major influences.

The hard part is finding a couple of Screamin' Jay Hawkins releases that you could name as definitive Hawkins material, a couple of albums that you could give to someone and say "look, this is what represents Screamin' Jay Hawkins' sound in a nutshell." I have two albums that I think would serve this purpose well. The first is "Voodoo Jive: The Best of Screamin' Jay Hawkins"(1990). This greatest hits compilation concentrates on his more macabre, campy material. Hawkins has a rich, deep, booming voice, and he has the vocal power to pull this kind of horror-blues trick off. This album includes 'I Put A Spell on You", "Little Demon", "Alligator Wine", and other deranged classics. Some of these tracks have a slightly cartoonish feel, with way out there, deviantly brilliant lyrics. As always, he is backed by an excellent, gritty band and horn section.
The next one is "Screamin' the Blues"(1979). This one is more straight ahead, dirty, grimy, painful sounding blues. There is not too much of the shock element here. This album draws from his more traditional yet mean and intoxicating blues material from the 1950's through the 1970's. A few of my favorite tracks are "This is All", and "Baptize Me in Wine". Overall, the more guttural and emotive of the two. If you are looking for some quintessential vintage blues, this is the one to get.
Both of these are out of print, but you can download "Voodoo Jive" for really cheap from Amazon. I've checked the price on "Screamin' the Blues" and it is very reasonable, about the same price as buying a new CD at any major music chain store.
Here's "I Put a Spell on You" and "Little Demon" from "Voodoo Jive".

I Put a Spell on You - Screamin Jay Hawkins

Little Demon - Screamin Jay Hawkins

And here's "Baptize Me in Wine" from "Screamin' the Blues".

Baptize Me In Wine - Screamin Jay Hawkins


David Abstract said...

Screamin Jay Hawkins - wow. I've never really investigated Screamin' Jay very much - I know 'I put a spell on you' (Bob Dylan had it on his theme-time Halloween show) but I've never heard anything else of his till now. 'Baptise me in Wine' a great and very catchy gospel-blues number, did he write it himself? I'll have to look out some more of his tracks...

Steve Smith said...

Yes, he wrote that one himself. Glad you like it. Screamin Jay Hawkin's material is well worth seeking out.