Imagine a deep-voiced, voodoo-styled R&B singer who rises out of a coffin on stage and walks around with a skull-topped staff and bone through his nose.
Meet Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, your new favorite artist.
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, “I Put A Spell On You” live
Born 90 years ago today as Jalacy Hawkins and raised by a tribe of Blackfoot Native Americans in Ohio, Hawkins is probably most known for “I Put A Spell On You.” Deemed one of the greatest songs of all time by Rolling Stone, it has been covered by Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Animals, Nina Simone and even Marilyn Manson.
Hawkins was a boxing champion at 16 but having taught himself to play multiple instruments like piano and saxophone by the time he was six, he decided music was the best route for him. He played in traveling acts throughout the ‘40s before blues singer Wynonie Harris’ took him on as his protégé and he moved to NYC in the early ‘50s.
Once he went solo in 1956 and signed with Columbia Records subsidiary label Okeh his career really took off. He kept his macabre essence throughout his entire career and released over a dozen studio albums up to the late ‘80s and appeared in films like Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train in 1989 and, Zalman King’s Two Moon Junction. He fathered 36 kids, though over 2,000 people have claimed to be his offspring.
He died in 2000, but his music still lives on today. Popular New York DJ Jonathan Toubin still spins his records at his weekly parties in NYC like his Sunday Soul Clap Dance Off in Brooklyn and his traveling party the New York Night Train.
The Mystery Lights‘ Frontman Mike Brandon also pulls inspiration from Hawkins, telling BTRtoday, “Screamin’ Jay Hawkins sang from the gut, from the depths of his burning soul. He sang to the gods, sending chills down the spines of his listeners and casting spells on his disciples. With his guttural howls of laughter, he awakens the sleeping soul within’, breaking down all confines of limitation and without apology, he kicks down the doors to other dimensions to [pun intended] the other side,” he says. “My favorite Hawkins’ song is ‘Portrait Of A Man’ from the album The Other Side.”
Listen to some Screamin’ Jay Hawkins deep cuts and hits below.