A Look At: Screamin’ Jay Hawkins

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins

(July 18, 1929 – February 12, 2000)

(Cleveland, Ohio – Neuilly-sur-Seine, France)

(Ed: isn’t it interesting to die in a place, country, completely away, miles away from the country of origin of birth? It does make people ponder what the heck went on, and what the hell one did. Make it a life motto, and am making it mine, too!)

Hawkin’s mother reportedly gave him up at his baby age, because she already had too many children to care for. He spent the first year and a half of his life in an orphanage before being adopted.

His real name is Jalacy J. Hawkins.

According to a documentary titled I Put a Spell on Me, Hawkins blew his chief tormentor (while in the United States Army Air Force during World War II)’s head off, by taping a hand-grenade into his mouth and pulling the pin.

For his live effects, Hawkins would emerge out of coffins on-stage, together with a flaming skull on a stick named Henry. He was often spotted performing in a stylish wardrobe of gold leopard skins, red leather and wild hats (definitely not PETA-friendly, though); with voodoo stage props, rubber snakes, and dressed like a vampire. His coffin stint came from a radio disc jockey, Alan Freed’s challenge of $300.

Hawkins taught himself how to play classical piano and could read music by the age of six. He originally wanted to become an opera singer, citing musical influence Paul Robeson.

Hawkins was also a boxer, even winning the Golden Gloves championship in 1943, and the middleweight boxing champion of Alaska in the year of 1949.

His featured roles included American Hot Wax (1978), in performance in Alan Freed’s bio-pic; Mystery Train (1989) as a hotel night clerk; A Rage In Harlem (1991); and Perdita Durango (1997). These films introduced the then-youngsters to him who had never heard of his biggest hit, “I Put A Spell On You” (to be discussed later in point and paragraph).

Hawkins originally envisioned his biggest tune, “I Put A Spell On You“, as a refined ballad. Together with guitarist Mickey Baker and saxist Sam “The Man” Taylor amongst the rest of the drunk band (read: really drunk), Hawkins screamed, grunted, and gurgled his way through the tune with utter drunken abandon. The resulting performance was a raw, guttural track, and his biggest commercial success (reportedly surpassed a million copies in sales). It, however, failed to make it to the Billboard charts. Hawkins blacked out in the end, and was unable to recall the session and its happenings. Despite the record label releasing a cleaner second version, removing most of the grunts expressed in the original recording, it was still met with protests of uptight suits-in-power and banned from radio airplays in some areas. It was also later selected as one of 500 songs that shaped rock & roll, as according to The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.

One of his later releases, “Constipation Blues” (if I had known it earlier in life, when he was still alive, I would have praised the warm, promising and honest title), was described as “gross”; and while performing the song in Paris in 1999 and at the Taste of Chicago Festival, he sang it with a toilet onstage.

He died February 12, 2000, following surgery to treat an aneurysm; Hawkins was 70.

He left behind many children by many women. He was married six times in his life and had an estimated 75 offsprings in total.

For those hippie indie street creds:


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