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Screamin' Jay Hawkins

Screamin' Jay Hawkins was the most outrageous performer extant during rock's dawn. Prone to emerging out of coffins on-stage, a flaming skull named Henry his constant companion, Screamin' Jay was an insanely theatrical figure long before it was even remotely acceptable.

Hawkins' life story is almost as bizarre as his on-stage schtick. Originally inspired by the booming baritone of Paul Robeson, Hawkins was unable to break through as an opera singer. His boxing prowess was every bit as lethal as his vocal cords; many of his most hilarious tales revolve around Jay beating the hell out of a musical rival.

Hawkins caught his first musical break in 1951 as pianist/valet to veteran jazz guitarist Tiny Grimes. He debuted on wax for Gotham the following year with "Why Did You Waste My Time," backed by Grimes & His Rockin' Highlanders (they donned kilts and tam o' shanters on-stage). Singles for Timely ("Baptize Me in Wine") and Mercury's Wing subsidiary (1955's otherworldly "[She Put The] Wamee [On Me]," a harbinger of things to come) preceded Hawkins' immortal 1956 rendering of "I Put a Spell on You" for Columbia's OKeh imprint.

Hawkins originally envisioned the tune as a refined ballad. After he and his New York session aces (notably guitarist Mickey Baker and saxist Sam "The Man" Taylor) had imbibed to the point of no return, Hawkins screamed, grunted, and gurgled his way through the tune with utter drunken abandon. A resultant success despite the protests of uptight suits-in-power, "I Put a Spell on You" became Screamin' Jay's biggest seller ("Little Demon," its rocking flip, is a minor classic itself).

Hawkins cut several amazing 1957-1958 follow-ups in the same crazed vein -- "Hong Kong," a surreal "Yellow Coat," the Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller-penned "Alligator Wine" -- but none of them clicked the way "Spell" had. DJ Alan Freed convinced Screamin' Jay that popping out of a coffin might be a show-stopping gimmick by handing him a $300 bonus (long after Freed's demise, Screamin' Jay Hawkins was still benefiting from his crass brainstorm).

Hawkins' next truly inspired waxing came in 1969 when he was contracted to Philips Records (where he made two albums). His gross "Constipation Blues" wouldn't garner much airplay, but remained an integral part of his legacy for quite a while.

The cinema was a beneficiary of Screamin' Jay's larger-than-life persona in later years. His featured roles in Mystery Train and A Rage in Harlem made Hawkins a familiar visage to youngsters who never even heard "I Put a Spell on You." He died February 12, 2000 following surgery to treat an aneurysm; Hawkins was 70. ~ Bill Dahl
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

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progpond3
Screamin' Jay Hawkins and he's my main man. -Eva (Stranger than Paradise) Saw him live at the Golden Palamino. FYI he wrote I put a Spell on You
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Good stuff !
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??
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Because of ŸºŲ!
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@lafootspa You're 1 of 56?
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1573492829
I love this song it reminds me of hocus pocus :-)
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lafootspa
I am my father's oldest and first child, I was born in 1950, do the math.. Unfortunatel y I am just beginning to appreciate him as my father. I waited too late to say I love you Dad!
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WILD!
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I still l have fun introducing the mad man to new people/they should make movie! ?
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i LOVE this guy forever and ever
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I listened to JH for 60 Years and you can't here him without paying $ This is why I like Pandora.even satilite radio doesn't have him.The Wolfman Jack turned me on to him.when he was in Harrisburg Pa.1959.
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my dad loved to listen to him.
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Just discovered him and already love the man
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He is my alter ego. And I am a 27 year old woman.
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Where's his best album "What that is?"
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He's great, I get to see him live just before he died, he was GREAT.
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Hardly gets the recognition he deserves. :(

A pioneer... a legend... The FATHER of death rock!
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fredthehead1 2
Def in the top 10 of acts I would give a body part to have seen live in their prime. robert johnson and jimi are tied for 1st, the stones (w/ mick taylor) and muddy waters tied for 2nd, but screamin jay is top 10 for sure
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scottsabarbe r 5
Heard the song "Aligator Wine" performed by the New Orleans Radiators who played a private show in Waverly Minnesota at Mackies Farm. Song rocked Zeke said that the artist was Screamin Jay Hawkins. NICE FIND!
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chronic4937
Constipation Blues and Feast of the Maumau (sp) but I haven't seen my album in years! Love love love Jay screamin.
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The first time I saw Screamin' Jay Hawkins was on Arsenio Hall's Show back in the 80's. My father talked about how he'd been doing the coffin shtick forever. Great theater, but his renditions on "I Put a Spell On You" and "Old Man River" were inredible. I was hooked. Ran out and bought what I could find by him. From there, every girl I considered dating seriously had to sit through a "listening session" of his music. If you can't appreciate "Constipatio n Blues," that's a problem. The best!
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Cleveland's own.
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In 1982 or so, Screamin' Jay shared a bill w/ the Misfits in NYC at Irving Plaza... an even better bill than the Clash and Bo Diddley!
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The father of rock and roll... Think about it
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I love this guy...truly inspiring!!!
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Screaming Jay Hawkins is truly inspirationa l to me. I perform "I put a spell on you" and it's no great task to show, through my version, the admiration I have for him
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What can you say the man is a the thing myths are made of...Death Rock before there was such a beast!

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