COLUMN EIGHTY, DECEMBER 1, 2002
(Copyright © 2002 The Blacklisted Journalist)
SCREAMIN' JAY'S SPELL
SCREAMIN' JAY HAWKINS
Just in case you haven't already heard, it's May of 1971 and Screamin' Jay Hawkins is back in town and he's still conniving to break into opera.
my life," he'll tell you, "all my life, I been stuck with that weird,
voodoo, black, screaming Vincent Price image.
All my life, I been tryin' to live that down."
you must have heard of him somewhere in your dim past, a name that lives on its
own obvious juices. Actually, he's been back in town since last November,
attracting little apparent notice and slowly going broke in a room at the Alvin,
where he lives with his wife and two children.
I don't get started
again," he'll tell you, "I'm going back to Hawaii."
"It's in my heart, " he'll tell you.
It's been a long time since Screamin' Jay Hawkins has
been in the Top 10 with anything. Look at him with his lifeguard physique, a
pendant dangling from his neck, a champion of the body-snatchers.
He's 41 now but the only sign of age is the intensity in his face, the
intensity of somebody who has been waiting with too much patience for his turn
Jalacy Jay Hawkins.
You must have heard of him, born in Cleveland to a bastard's chances.
"My father," he'll tell you, "I never seen
him. He split before I got here.
As far as I can tell, he spent his lifetime running around making babies.
My mother, she did about the same thing.
She stuck all her kids in an orphanage home, except she did come around
to see us once in a while."
Some people call him Hawkins, some people call him Jay, some people call him Screamin'. At the age of 18 months, he was taken out of the orphanage to grow up in a succession of foster homes. Some of them had pianos. How's a poor little colored boy ever going to get to the Met
Put A Spell On You'
sold a quarter million copies
before it was banned
practicing? He was playing in Fats
Domino's band when he decided to start booking himself into night clubs.
He signed with Columbia in 1954.
I Put A Spell On You was his
seventh try at a hit record. "The
song was a sweet ballad when I wrote it," he says. "Arnold Maxim at that time was head of Columbia Records
and he decided that a song with such a title should have something different
than other songs. He bought gin and
whiskey, a lot of booze, baby, and got us all drunk in the recording studio.
Ten days later, I had to learn the song."
The record sold a quarter of a million copies before
it was banned. Then it sold another
quarter of a million. 'there was a lot of snorting, a lot of groaning and a lot of moaning,"
he remembers. "They claimed it
was cannibalistic sounds
and they banned it from the radio airwaves.
Since then at least 25 different artists have recorded that number, from
1954 until this very moment. I wrote that song, the music and the words, I own
it, and it has been keeping me living because of residuals."
Anxiety is something that makes you do exactly what
you fear you'll do. Opera fell
further and further from Screamin's reach.
"It was the late, great Alan Freed who said he
wanted something different
in my act," he remembers. "It
was on a rock and roll show he put me on in Cleveland, Ohio, when tiny had a
riot in 1954. He was known as
Moondog then. He offered me $5,000
to put a coffin in my act, and I did it, for $5,000.
"I always do
four or five numbers on the stage. I go on stage straight, do three or four
numbers, run off stage
hit the lid of the coffin. The
minute I hit the lid of the coffin, the engineer sets off a fuse box which goes
off like a great big baby atomic bomb. I
mean it sets off a huge sheet of flame which results in a mushroom cloud of
smoke which fills the whole building and smothers the place. Then when the smoke disappears, I'm standing there, which
looks like I came out of nowhere.
bit of action right there usually causes the first six, seven, eight or 10 rows
of people to get up quickly and get out of the theater.
As a matter of fact, if you're interested to see how effective that is,
July 7 I'll be in the Apollo Theater. That's
one of the main theaters in this country that books me because of that coffin.
people book me they want me to use my entire act, which includes the coffin,
crawling hands, snakes, shrunken heads, a cape and all.
I want to sing. All I want
to do is sing, and they want me back in my voodoo image.
That's what I'm stuck with all my life.
did that for 11 years and then I went to Hawaii to settle down because I got
sick of living that black image of Vincent Price. I bought a home and a little beer joint and tried to settle
down, but I found out I'm finally used to being Vincent Price.
And if I never get to sing opera, that's a hope that I'll always have,
but I'll never make it." ##
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