Monday, August 15, 2011

Screamin' Jay Hawkins - Old Man River

Screamin' Jay Hawkins is a legendary musician. Thanks to everybody's favorite sketchy encyclopedia, Wikipedia, I learned a lot more about his perhaps biggest hit, I Put A Spell On You, today. I mean I think I did. I can never read Wikipedia and feel like I actually learned something. It's more like I feel like I might have learned something. Either I learned something or read something false, but I'm cool with that. I only say that because I've read some crazy things on Wikipedia. Wikipedia is crazy. Crazy.

Oh shit, wasn't that used for that track? No, it wasn't. Just kidding. Yes it was. I don't want to post it because I always think of this DJ Premier skit from Gangstarr's Moment of Truth where he's pissed about people naming samples. If only we knew how much worse it would get with the internet. This is the skit I'm talking about ...

Here's Screamin' Jay Hawkins performing I Put A Spell On You live.

Anyways, what I "learned" from Wikipedia is pretty interesting. Apparently Screamin' Jay Hawkins was black out drunk when he recorded this track. On top of that, every body else who participated in this recording was drunk to:

His most successful recording, "I Put a Spell on You" (1956), was selected as one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. According to the AllMusic Guide to the Blues, "Hawkins originally envisioned the tune as a refined ballad." The entire band was intoxicated during a recording session where "Hawkins screamed, grunted, and gurgled his way through the tune with utter drunken abandon."The resulting performance was no ballad but instead a "raw, guttural track" that became his greatest commercial success and reportedly surpassed a million copies in sales, although it failed to make the Billboard pop or R&B charts.

The performance was mesmerizing, although Hawkins himself blacked out and was unable to remember the session. Afterward he had to relearn the song from the recorded version.Meanwhile the record label released a second version of the single, removing most of the grunts that had embellished the original performance; this was in response to complaints about the recording's overt sexuality. Nonetheless it was banned from radio in some areas.

Soon after the release of "I Put a Spell on You", radio disc jockey Alan Freed offered Hawkins $300 to emerge from a coffin onstage. Hawkins accepted and soon created an outlandish stage persona in which performances began with the coffin and included "gold and leopard skin costumes and notable voodoo stage props, such as his smoking skull on a stick – named Henry – and rubber snakes." These props were suggestive of voodoo, but also presented with comic overtones that invited comparison to "a black Vincent Price."

Let's have a round of applause for Wikipedia. So, why is the title of this post Screamin' Jay Hawkins - Old Man River? I forgot.

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