Screamin' Jay Hawkins

A Portrait of a Man and His Woman

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Ex-boxer Screamin' Jay Hawkins' live show, full of on-stage coffins, skulls, and toilets, prefigured the extravagant concert productions of later artists like Alice Cooper and George Clinton, and Hawkins' full awareness of the visual aspect of rock music extended even to his lyrics, which were purposefully graphic and surreal. In essence, Hawkins was a one- or two-trick pony, but boy, those ponies could run. His masterpiece was "I Put a Spell on You," which he originally recorded for OKeh Records (supposedly while Hawkins was extremely drunk) in 1956, and while Hawkins' version was never even close to being a commercial hit, the song has been covered so many times (most notably by Nina Simone) that it has deservedly been certified as a rock and R&B classic. "Spell" is here, of course, in yet another version, on this set recorded in Nashville and originally released in 1972, and it's clearly the high point, although Hawkins gives "Little Bitty Pretty One," Fats Domino's "Please Don't Leave Me," and Little Willie Mabon's "I Don't Know" nice workouts. This same set, with different cover art, has also been issued as Essential Recordings by Golden in 2000, and under the title I Put a Spell on You by Charly in 1999, Master Classics in 2005, and Camden in 2010.

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