1/06/2008

Blues Calendar Blues: Screamin' Jay Hawkins

I got a sort of interesting gift for Christmas this year: a wall calendar featuring James Fraher’s black and white photographs of blues musicians. Fraher, in case you didn’t know (as if I did!) is a fairly renowned photographer whose work has appeared on more than 150 album and CD covers. His photographs are in permanent collections at the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Mississippi Blues Archive. (For more information about James Fraher's photography, check out BogFire.com.)

The calendar works in your basic calendar style – each month a different musician is featured along with brief biographical notes and suggested listening lists. I figured I could use this as an excuse to broaden my horizons a little and post some music from each month’s featured artist. Since I didn’t feel like doing this on the first day of the month, I settled on doing it on the first Sunday of the month.

January’s featured artist is Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. From the calendar’s notes:
Fond of coming onstage in a coffin, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (1929-2000) claimed that his most famous recording, “I Put a Spell on You” (1956), was fueled by vast quantities of fried chicken and booze. This Dionysian figure, believed to have fathered nearly fourscore children, once hoped to follow Paul Robeson to the opera stage. But his career veered from Golden Gloves boxing to playing piano for such figures as Tiny Grimes and Fats Domino until that fateful night when an A&R man put an eighty-proof spell on the recording studio where Hawkins and his band were set to play a heartfelt ballad inspired by a recent breakup. The results electrified listeners, and the outlandish, theatrical stage show that Hawkins perfected inspired generations of rock musicians. Asked about his interpretations of songs, Screamin’ Jay replied, “I don’t sing them: I destroy them.”
The recommended albums are Cow Fingers and Mosquito Pie, basically a reissue of Screamin’ Jay’s debut album, minus a couple of songs; and Black Music for White People, an album critics said was “too sanitized” and didn’t really capture Screamin’ Jay’s innate weirdness.

I managed to dig up a copy of Cow Fingers, which contains not only “I Put a Spell on You,” but also his versions of Cole Porter’s “I Love Paris” and Bing Crosby’s “Take Me Back to My Boots and Saddle.”

Give these songs a listen and you’ll see – as I did – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was more than just a one-trick pony. Between yelps and screams, he could lay down jazz and blues tracks with the best of them. But even in a standard cheatin’ blues number like “Darling, Please Forgive Me,” Jay stamps it as his by spreading wails and moans of sorrow all over the background.

I Put a Spell on You.mp3
Yellow Coat.mp3
I Love Paris.mp3
Darling, Please Forgive Me.mp3

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2 Comments:

At 12:44 PM , Blogger jonderneathica said...

Screamin' Jay Hawkins also had a fun role in the movie "Mystery Train".

 
At 5:48 AM , Blogger Yves said...

I really happy to see a post about blues Music in your blog...

This post is really interesting...thank you very much for it...If you are more about Blues...

"The blues are the roots, everything else are the fruits"

 

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