. Born Jalacy Hawkins in Cleveland
. He falls both in the tradition
of the blues
shouter, like Big Joe Turner
, and that of the clown
, a fitting heir to 40s hipsters like Babs Gonzalez and Slim Gaillard, but with a difference. Hawkins gave you the whole nine yards
, going beyond clown to just-plain-weird. Scary weird. But the weird
didn't reach full fruition until a fluke pop
hit, "I Put a Spell on You" (1956
, with some of the more, uh, lascivious
vocalisms edited out), recorded while quite drunk
, it is said, and transformed from a mere ballad into an excellent psychotic rhythm and blues aria
by Hawkins, who had the chops
for it. The recording was everything mother feared about rock and roll
. Hide your daughters, America! Screamin' Jay's in town!
So his subsequent career had to try to approach the madness of the hit; Hawkins developed an elaborate crazy-man stage show, to go along with his character. He was the first black vampire, long before Blacula. And props galore. He had songs like "Constipation Blues", with realistic groans. There was one more pop hit, "Alligator Wine" (1958), written by Leiber and Stoller, but Hawkins would scream and scream for decades to come; his Stateside career received a boost in the 80s by the inclusion of "I Put a Spell on You" in Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise, almost as a character in its own right - the song was that good. Hawkins later had a role in Jarmusch's Mystery Train.
He influenced British rocker Screaming Lord Sutch, who couldn't match the
musicianship of the original, but took it conceptually further by going into politics. Sort of. A more apt heir is Arthur Brown, who emulated (and often surpassed) Hawkins in musicianship and theatrics, minus some of the foole-ishness.
His death has launched a bit of chaos; it seems that Jay had a bunch of wives, in the polygamist sense. The amassed wives, children, and grandchildren are now getting to know each other, as they squabble over who legally owns a piece of the estate.