Godfather of Shock Rock.

 

I put a spell on you.

Screamin' Jay Hawkins, legendary R&B performer

 

Considered by some to be a ‘one hit wonder’, Sreamin’ Jay Hawkins' famous 1956 recording, I Put a Spell On You, didn’t make the pop or R&B charts. The song was banned on many radio stations because the grunts and screams were thought to be obscene and many at this time disapproved of the lyrics believing they promoted voodooism.

Despite the lack of air play, the record went on to sell over 1,000,000 copies. In my book that makes it a pretty big hit.

He was born Jalacy Hawkins on July 18, 1929, in Cleveland, Ohio. His interesting life and long career are well documented online. I created the letterpress print of Hawkins shown above as part of a Ohio music themed personal project I'm working on.

 

Screamin Jay Hawkins 1957

 

Vintage Screamin' Jay

Please read on for a visual and musical tribute to the man who’s song is number 320 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.

 

Jazz and R&B guitarist Tiny Grimes. Hawkins sang in Tiny's band the Rocking Highlanders. This song No Hug No Kiss is his first known recording.

This is the earliest footage of Screamin' Jay doing his comical performance of the song I Put a Spell On You on the Merv Griffin Show.


Covered again and again.

I Put a Spell On You was covered by many artists including a number of big stars. Probably the most well known rendition was by Nina Simone who made it the title track on an album. Other notable recordings include The Animals, Creedence Clearwater Revival who performed it at Woodstock, Van Morrison, Authur Brown, Bryan Ferry, Buddy Guy, Carlos Santana, Leon Russell, Joe Cocker and Nick Cave.

The song was played live in concert by many more musicians. Great performances by Jeff Beck & Joss Stone and Annie Lennox can be found on YouTube. Here are a couple of others I enjoyed:

Beautiful Blues version by Mica Paris, David Gilmour and Jools Holand.

Samantha Fish performs a spellbinding blues rendition of I Put a Spell On You in concert.


Sreamin' Jay in film.

Not only did his famous song make it into films, Hawkins himself made several appearances in movies including a big part in the film Mystery Train. Director Jim Jarmusch had the entertainer better known for his onstage theatrics play the acting role totally straight.

Bette Midler's silly goulish version of I Put a Spell On You in the 1993 movie Hocus Pocus. I imagine Hawkins liked the campy humor.

Clips featuring Screamin´ Jay Hawkins who plays a night hotel clerk in Mystery Train. Jarmusch liked to cast musicians in his films. 


Musicians he influenced.

Early in his solo career, Screamin' Jay performed in several rock & roll shows promoted by fellow Ohioan Alan Freed. Hawkins' love of opera shows through in his stage antics and costumes that included fake snakes, a smoking skull on a stick named Henry and dark humor that was compared to Vincent Price.

 

Screamin' Jay Hawkins is often credited with being the originator of shock rock. Artists who said he influenced their styles and careers include Alice Cooper, Tom Waits, the Cramps, Screaming Lord Sutch, Black Sabbath, Arthur Brown, Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie.


Scramin' Jay Hawkins tribute print.

In 2015 I started to explore the history of popular music from Ohio and Ohio-born musicians. It began as a personal project in the form of a Spotify playlist I titled Ohiophonic. I enjoyed the process and learned a lot. However, it made me realize that what I really wanted to be doing was making artwork again.

The first piece I did in the series was a letterpress portrait print of Salem, Ohio born deejay and rock and roll promotor Alan Freed.

I chose entertainers who I felt had not been given as much credit as they deserved for their contributions to music. I am still working on the 3rd portrait in the series.

Just as I was doing the last bit of research for this post, I noticed a song by Screamin' Jay Hawkins that I'd previously overlooked. It is titled Portrait of a Man. I thought it was apropos and it can be heard here.

The I Put a Spell On You, Screamin' Jay Hawkins tribute letterpress print can be purchased here.

I hope you enjoyed this look at the timeless song, the inventive man behind it and the many artists that he influenced.