Thursday, August 26, 2010

Screamin' Jay Hawkins: I Put A Spell On You

The other night, the season finale of “Memphis” featured a song recorded by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in 1956 for the OKeh record label. “I Put A Spell On You” was successful far beyond its charting potential – which in 1956 was so bizarre that even a sedated version that eliminated some of the cannibalistic overtones failed also to make Billboard’s Hot 100. I first heard about Screamin’ Jay when I read a history of Rock ‘N Roll in 1971 that a fellow high school classmate allowed me to borrow.

Obtaining the book coincided with my contracting the mumps and I spent my week off from school reading the book cover to cover. The book, whose name and author have long been forgotten, dealt with rock’s routes and some of the early personas that influenced a number of others. Screamin’ Jay was credited as being the sole inspiration of the Crazy World of Arthur Brown who’s “Fire” was a #2 hit. Brown recorded “I Put a Spell on You” on his debut LP. He is also credited as influencing Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Marilyn Manson, and a host of other shock rockers.

Here’s a version taken from the original 78 rpm release. The quality is phenomenal for a 78.

Hawkins, known primarily as a blues vocalist before recording “Spell,” had no memory of this recording session other than someone brought food and liquor to the studio and he apparently recorded the song while drunk. Cleveland DJ Alan Freed gave Hawkins the inspiration to spice up his act by rising out of a coffin surrounded by fog.

The shtick shtuck and it became Hawkins’ on-stage persona. Besides being used in “Memphis,” "I put a spell on You" has been used as a commercial bed for Pringles, Burger King, and Levis. Here’s a live rendition sans coffin, but with Hawkins’ side kick – the skull Henry.

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