Screamin’ Jay Hawkins may not have been a hugely successful recording artist, his best selling single sold over a million copies but failed to reach the top 10 of any chart, however this innovative performer was one thing that many of today’s top charting artists are not; he was original. In a time when everything is a remix of something else, rediscovering the man that put a spell on some the most celebrated acts around and was one of the original shock rockers is refreshing.
No one could ever accuse Jalacy Hawkins of stealing the sound of his only commercially successful song, “I Put a Spell on You”, from any other musician from his day. Nor would any artist have grounds to bring a lawsuit against him for his over the top stage performances featuring elaborate set design and a smoking skull on a stick named Henry. From his raw, guttural tone and wild onstage antics to his leopard skin and gold costumes, everything about Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was his own. In a time when his contemporaries would have been impeccably put together in suave suits with perfectly styled hair, Hawkins was a mixture of Vincent Price, the Phantom of the Opera and a voodoo priest.
Being completely honest, how many artists of today can you name that are capable of pulling off that level of authentic insanity? No, Gaga doesn’t count because it remains to be seen how authentic she is and how long she can pull off whatever it is she’s attempting. Aside from a few performers like Prince, Tom Waits and the late Michael Jackson, most acts around these days could never come close to influencing an audience like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins did. Just to prove my point, not only has “I Put a Spell on You” been covered by everyone from Ray Charles and Nina Simone right on down to The Kills and She and Him but Biggie sampled the saxophone line from the song in his track “Kick In The Door.” Notice his career touched generations of musicians because he was doing his own thing not trying to rip off someone else’s hard work, throw a new spin on it and call it his own.
If there’s anything to learn from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, its not that you should go out and throw a ring on every finger and start dressing like an undertaker/pimp but that you should be true to who you are and not base your image on anyone else.
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