Screamin’ Jay Hawkins

By: Brian Berger
July 18, 2013

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Few entertainers achieved so much, so mysteriously as SCREAMIN’ JAY HAWKINS (Jalacy Hawkins, 1929–2000). Born in Cleveland and raised by adoptive Blackfoot Indian parents, Hawkins attended the Ohio Conservatory of Music before joining the Army as teenager. By 1950, Hawkins was a professional-level pianist, saxophonist and vocalist and when an effusive, whisky-lubricated woman in a Nitro, West Virginia nightclub exhorted Hawkins to “scream, baby, scream,” a future star was born. A January 1953 recording with Tiny Grimes and his Rocking Highlanders — jazzbos getting raucous in Scottish kilts! — wasn’t his time, however, as Atlantic Records rejected the Hawkins-fronted “Screaming Blues.” More understanding was Hy Siegel’s New York-based Timely label, which released two Hawkins singles in 1954, including the boozy “Baptize Me In Wine” which Billboard amusingly adduced a “sacred” release. Three singles for Mercury/Wing followed, including the houdou-inspired “(She Put The) Wammee (On Me)” and in late 1955, Hawkins signed with Herb Slotkin’s Philadelphia-based Grand label. Though only one single resulted, Slotkin somehow became the co-writer of the A-side of Hawkins next release, recorded on September 12, 1956 and pressed onto shellac as Okeh 7072: “I Put A Spell On You” backed with “Little Demon.” Though scandal would soon find Hawkins, in November, Billboard had only optimism: “Whenever this disk has been delivered, it has sparked great interest. Its wild sounds have set off waves of enthusiasm that are getting wider and wider.”

BAPTIZE ME IN WINE

(SHE PUT THE) WHAMEE (ON ME)

I PUT A SPELL ON YOU

LITTLE DEMON

***

On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Thomas Kuhn, Hunter S. Thompson.

READ MORE about members of the Postmodernist Generation (1924-33).

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