Episode fifty-three of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at "I Put a Spell on You" by Screamin' Jay Hawkins, and the career of a man who had more than fifty more children than hit records. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode.
Patreon backers also have a ten-minute bonus episode available, on "Since I Met You Baby" by Ivory Joe Hunter
I only noticed while doing the final edit for this episode that I used the words "legitimate" and "illegitimate" to describe children, and that this usage could quite possibly be considered offensive, something I hadn't realised when writing or recording it. I apologise if anyone does take offence.
No Mixcloud this week, as the episode is so heavy on Hawkins that it would violate Mixcloud's terms and conditions. I tried to put together a Spotify playlist instead, but a few of the recordings I use here aren't on Spotify.
As I mention in the episode, I leaned very heavily on one book here, I Put a Spell on You: The Bizarre Life of Screamin' Jay Hawkins by Steve Bergsman.
There are many compilations of Hawkins' work. This double-CD set containing all his work up to 1962 is as good as any and ridiculously cheap.
Finally, you should also listen to this short audio documentary on the search for Jay's kids, as it features interviews with a couple of them. They deserve to have their voices heard.
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Before I start, an acknowledgement. I like to acknowledge in the podcast when I've relied heavily on one source, and in this case the source I'm relying on most is Steve Bergsman's book "I Put a Spell on You: The Bizarre Life of Screamin' Jay Hawkins". That book only came out this year, so it deserves the acknowledgment even more than normal. If you like this episode, you might well want to buy Mr. Bergsman's book, which has a lot more information.
There are a lot of one-hit wonders in the history of rock and roll. And most of those one-hit wonders might as well have had no hits for all the impact they actually made on the genre. Of the thousands of people who have hits, many of them drop off the mental radar as soon as their chart success ends. For every Beatles or Elvis there's a Sam And The Womp or Simon Park Orchestra.
But some one-hit wonders are different. Some one-hit wonders manage to get an entire career out of that one hit. And in the case of Screamin' Jay Hawkins, not only did he do that, but he created a stage show that would inspire every shock-rocker ever to wear makeup, and indirectly inspire a minor British political party. The one hit he recorded, meanwhile, was covered by everyone from Nina Simone to Marilyn Manson.
[Excerpt: Screamin' Jay Hawkins, "I Put A Spell On You"]
It's hard to separate truth from myth when it comes to Screamin' Jay Hawkins, not least because he was an inveterate liar. He always claimed, for example, that in his time in the army he had been captured by the Japanese and tortured for eighteen months.
According to Army records, he joined the army in December 1945 and was honourably discharged in 1952. Given that World War II ended in September 1945, that would tend to suggest that his story about having been a Japanese prisoner of war was, perhaps, not one hundred percent truthful. And the same thing goes for almost everything he ever said. So anything you hear here is provisional.
What we do know is that he seems to have grown up extremely resentful of women, particularly his mother. He was, depending on which version of the story you believe, the youngest of four or seven children, all from different fathers, and he, unlike his older siblings, was fostered from an early age. He resented his mother because of this, but does not seem to have been particularly bothered by the fact that his own prodigious fathering of children by multiple women, a