2000.02 Now Dig This nr. 203 p. 26-29 "Stuart Colman presents Repeating echoes"
England first played host to Screamin' Jay Hawkins via his legendary reconnaissance trips that took place in the mid-sixties. He was back again in the late spring of 1983 for a short tour that included dates in London and Bristol. Despite a tight schedule, Jay's long-time fan and compatriot, Cliff White, was able to set up a visit to the Studios of Radio London - the results of which you see here. lt was anything but a Standard "Echoes" interview, and in fact what follows is not for the fai
nt hearted, for those suffering from political correctness, or anybody who is deficient in the areas of imagination, it was originally broadcast on June 12th 1983.
Screamin' Jay Hawkins on Radio London
Music: "I put a spell on you"
No prizes at all for guessing who that might be, but it's certainly one of the most striking records of the last thirty years - "I put a spell on you", by the man who wrote and recorded it who's my guest today, Screamin' Jay Hawkins. Good morning.
How're you doing, and I'm glad to be here. And those of you out there in radio-land, get your drink, light your cigar, get your coffee, get your tea, tell your daughter to go head on out and tell her what time to be home, and make sure she doesn't bring home any addition to the family. Meanwhile, sit back and listen to some good conversation.
Good advice too. Jay, that record is a bit special. Weren't you supposed to be in some sort of party mood, feeling no pain when you recorded it...
l wasn't the only one there. lf you notice, you hear me singing but there's a band there too, and every member of the band was drunk. And the man who was the A&R man, his name was Arnold Maxim for Columbia Records - he was drunk! And the engineer, who was mixing the sound and doing the mastering and the editing - he was drunk! Yes, because we had a record called "I put a spell on you" which was recorded previously for Grand Records, and it was a ballad, something like Johnny Ace or Roy Hamilton would sing. And I'm only sorry l didn't bring that copy with me, it's right here in England, it's at the hotel. l brought a whole cassette - it's got about eight songs l did on Grand Records: "$10,000 Lincoln Continental", "Take me back", "I is", "I put a spell on you"... They wanted to destroy the master, or they were supposed to, that's why you see on this one, if I'm correct, it would say "Hawkins and Slotkin", underneath the title.
lt certainly does.
Slotkin had Grand Records, he wanted a piece of the pie. l had a manager named lrv Nahan, who was supposed to have taken the master and destroyed it, and he took me to Columbia and we came out on the Okeh subsidiary label. And Arnold Maxim said, "With a song title like that it's got to be unusual. I heard the original on Grand, and it was a straight ballad, this song must be weird, it's got to be scary. So how do we go about it?" And nobody said nothing. Nobody said nothing. Then Arnold Maxim decided it was too quiet and he said, "Look, what do you guys do when you do it in a nightclub and you're really having a good time?". And we said hell, we're so drunk we don't know what we're doing. And he said, "That's it!". And he turned around and he spoke to somebody and a half hour later, they came in with boxes and boxes of booze, and boxes and boxes of chicken. He said, "This is a party, it's not a recording session - a party, everybody drink, everybody eat. Then when l think you're right, then well make it a recording session."
That's the only way to be.
Well we partied and we partied, and somewhere along the road l blanked out. Then ten days later, they told me, he says, "Here, learn this. It's on the market, it's selling, you've got a hit record." So l said, "What's it called?". He said, "It's 'Spell'". l said, "Oh, oh, 'Spell'". So I played it and I listened and I said, "No that wasn't me." He said, "Yes it was". Then he showed me weird pictures which l destroyed right quick and l got the negatives and I destroyed them. And I'm glad, because it was horrible. I made parts of "I put a spell on you" laying on my back on the floor, with the microphone in one hand and a bottle in the other. And everybody was going crazy. Mickey "Guitar" Baker was on guitar - he lives in Paris, France now - he was stoned out of his head. Sam "The Man" Taylor was on tenor sax and you've never seen a drunken saxophone player who couldn't put his lips on his own mouthpiece; you should have seen that, it was really a comical thing. But nonetheless, we did that and the other side, "Little demon", then we made "You made me love you" and "Darling please forgive me". Then we came back the next day, and we did that album called AT HOME WITH SCREAMIN' JAY HAWKINS.
We have a studio full of great records, all with your name on. This one's a little earlier, let's play it first then well find out a little more about it afterwards...
Music: "Baptise me in wine"
"Baptise me in wine". Yes, what a party we're having here with all the drinks being opened (laughs)...
There's some fantastic people here. We have people here who have knowledge of music that surpasses the average archive.
Yes indeed, including yourself. I mean, your knowledge of rhythm & blues, let's sort of pry into that a little bit. Before you got onto record, who did you used to listen to as a little boy? Who were your idols when you listened to the radio?
Well at first, even before I thought in terms of show business, it was Paul Robeson. The baritone voice. Yes, you see I had - in high school - I had an opportunity to study opera, and opera is what I have been wanting to do all of my life. But at the same time, being poor and being black, you want to make some money quick. So opera don't get on the charts that often, whereupon when I started messing about with bands like Tiny Grimes, Lynn Hope, Fats Domino, Lionel Hampton, James Moody and guys like this, l wound up... well I started out s a piano player - no singing - then l wound up singing and I couldn't sing that well until I went to a place called Nitro, West Virginia, and this was in 1950. And there was a big, big, huge fat lady... Just allow your mind to roam free. When l say fat... Glutton! Beast! O-bese! The woman made the average elephant look like a pencil, that's how fat she was!
And she was so happy. She was downing Black & White scotch and Jack Daniels at the same time, and she kept looking at me and she said, "Scream baby, scream, Jay!". And I kept saying to myself, you wanted a name, there it is - Screamin' Jay Hawkins! And that's how that name was born, before I got with any big name bands. So when I went with these big name bands, I used the title Screamin' Jay Hawkins. But for example, the record you played there, "Baptise me in wine" that originally came out on Timely Records, I'm sorry, on Wing under the name of Jay Hawkins.
It was on Apollo Records, under the name of Jalacy Hawkins. l have a feud going on right now and it's been lasting for the past twenty years, and it started in '65 with a fellow here by the name of Brian Simmonds who constantly says I'm Lloyd "Fatman" Smith, who was a disc jockey in Philadelphia who happened to be on Okeh at the same time that I was.
And he took you off, didn't he? l remember that...
Yeah, right. But Lloyd "Fatman" and l were very good friends. And l keep trying to tell Brian - hey, if l'd made a record under a different name, wouldn't I admit it so I could collect the money. Wouldn't l be after the people?
But Jay, l don't think you of all people could make any records under another name, because we'd recognise your voice straightaway...
Hey, I've heard people say I can't even whisper, so what you're saying is true. I can't disguise my voice. I mean me and my old lady, when we get to arguing man, everybody knows it!
Here it comes again...
Music: "Little demon"
My favourite all-time Screamin' Jay Hawkins record. It was on the flip of "I put a spell on you". I thought, Jay, it would have made a good follow-up actually...
Well l thought so too but you see, the whole thing was, "I put a spell on you" l wrote that song in one day, only because I thought I understood what love was. Now I realise in this day and age, that I was a young Ignorant kid, who did not know nothing about love. l wrote a song called "Darling please forgive me" because it was the first time that a woman had ever put me down, and that hurt. You talk about vanity? Why it tore me apart, and she did it in a nightclub, in front of people.
The worst kind.
She walks up to the stage and drops the keys to our apartment, backs up and blew me a kiss. And I looked at the keys, and I looked at the barmaid, a very wise woman - silver grey hair - and she just shook her head. And then she said (whispers), "When you've finished, come over here". So about twenty minutes later when I was finished with the show, l went over to the bar, she said, "l have warned you, I have warned you, leave these other women alone. You had a good woman." I said, What are you talking about?", and she says, "Well didn't she drop the key?" I said, "Well perhaps she's going out somewhere." She says, "She has left you". I said, "No woman could leave me, are you crazy!" She said, "Jay, you're going upstairs to change clothes, right?" I said, "Yeah". She says, "You've got forty-five minutes before the next show. When you come back through that door, if she has not left you, I want to see a smile on your face, and if she has left you, don't try to camouflage it because I can see. I know the woman has left you." And then I thought, well she was late getting here, why did she come while I was on the stage? Why did she ask for the keys, and all the clothes she had left there when I got upstairs were gone. Her pictures were gone. The records were gone...
She didn't leave a thing...
And then I let out a scream I didn't know I had, because I just had to do something. And then I changed clothes and I went back to do another show, put a funny little smile on my face. I was gonna fool her. I was gonna fool that woman. I walked in the bar and she broke out laughing, she says, "You wanna make a bet?" I says, "No, you would win." She says, "Now what are you going to do?" I said, "Well, I'm off tomorrow, I'll go up to Philadelphia and get her back." She said, "You think you can get her back?" I said, "No problem, even if I have to put a spell on her." And I said, "That's it - put a spell on her! I'll write this song, she'll hear it, and she'll realise I'm madly in love and she'll come back." But I also wrote "Darling, please forgive me" and that should have been the one. She fell in love with "Little demon". She came back, but after she come back, I only stayed with her about four months, so that I could be the one who could leave.
Jay, this sounds like a scene from a movie if you don't mind me saying so. You did get to make a movie about 1956, '57. What happened to it?
Well, the movie l made in 1957, they refused to release the scene because they claimed it was offensive to black people. Now l don't know exactly what goes on in the minds of the people in America, but they didn't mind looking at "King Kong" and seeing all the natives running around. They don't mind looking at Tarzan and seeing all the natives running around. So l took a look at all the singers in the world, white and black, and l found out that they don't do nothing but walk up on the stage, or run up to the microphone, bow or say hello, welcome, good evening, and they stand there and they sing their records and when they've finished they go off the stage. l said, I've got to do more. Because "I put a spell on you" caused me to get more mileage than any other act in the world. That song kept me going because of the act itself - the coffin, which was Alan Freed's idea. Sure l did a movie on that, but they said it was wrong and they cut it out - Paramount. Now twenty years later I do another movie for Paramount, "American hot wax"; this time they said, "That's a perfect scene. How do you want to come to work?" l says, "Like a Mau-Mau in the back of a hearse." And they fell in love with the scene and it was magnificent. When the premiere came, they flew me back to Hollywood to see it and l looked and l said, "Look at that! That is crazy!" But it was the reaction of the people in the audience l was more interested in, and l noticed that they went wild. Hey, everybody's knocking me because I'm trying to be different! Nobody said nothing when Kiss came out painted up like zebras, but I did it with white shoe polish and they say it's wrong.
They certainly did. The night I saw American hot wax, the audience stood up and applauded when you came on...
Well I'm glad to hear that because I cut six scenes and they only showed three. I only had a one-week contract and they wouldn't pay me and l said, "Why?", and they said, "We're holding you another week." And every other day, they gave me maybe twenty-five hundred today - this was a Monday. Wednesday they gave me four thousand, Friday they gave me five thousand. I said, "Wait. What's the money for? What about my salary? This is money to eat on and you pay the the hotel and rent." And then they said, "We're keeping you another week." Then they said, "We're keeping you two more weeks, we want you to put spells on the police when they give Alan Freed problems and stuff. Of course this was never seen in the picture.
I've got all of those scenes and pictures from the photographers, and brought them home for my scrapbook. But meanwhile they cut all my scenes, they cut Jerry Lee Lewis and they cut Chuck Berry's scene because somebody came up with an idea after "Saturday night fever", let's do "American hot wax" and let's move it out the way right quick, because we want to put out "The Buddy Holly story". And so the officials running Paramount Motion Pictures were more interested in making money on the product not out, than pushing the product they had out, which was brand new. Now it was in The Times in New York that they were going to spend an additional $5'600'000 to make American hot wax as big as Saturday night fever, the John Travolta thing.
But all of a sudden they changed their minds overnight and just decided to do it all for "The Buddy Holly story" motion picture. So that's how "American hot wax" died so quick.
That's a shame because it's a great movie and it only goes to prove that the film world is exactly like the recording world; they change their minds so fast. Jay, you mentioned Alan Freed there, who of course the film is about. How big a man was he in your life? Was he a great influence, a great friend or perhaps both and a bit more?
I think I was very fortunate, because I had been stationed in Germany in the airforce when l first came home and heard about Alan Freed. Now we're talking about 1949 and 1950.
As early as that?
Yes, because you see in those days, there was so much prejudice in the United States. The black people only had one radio station that played black music.
Which one was that s a matter of interest...
Well if you're talking about Cleveland, Ohio, it would be WJW, and that's the one that Alan Freed was on.
He certainly was.
And that was a white radio station. He was playing LaVern Baker, Fats Domino, myself, Lloyd Price and James Brown, "Please, please, please", 'cause he'd just gotten started then. We couldn't believe it because his voice sounded black. So l said l'm going down there to thank that man, he's helping the black people. l met a white man. He called himself "Moondog" in those days. He'd come on with the sound of a wolf - "Aaooooh!" - which he got sued over. But he went on being Alan Freed. He said, "Jay, bring me every record you make. I'm going to New York City to bigger things." He did. He took me to the Manhattan Paramount while it was still open. We followed Frank Sinatra and Glenn Miller. And then it was the last show they ever had at the Manhattan Paramount. Because in those days rock'n'roll was considered something dirty, rotten and filthy. It would make your daughters instantly pregnant, and every man would automatically become a junkie. "Don't let our children look at Screamin' Jay Hawkins, he's coming out of a coffin! The man is sick!" The NAACP came after me and said, "Do you know what you're doing to your own race?" l said, "You take your own race and you know where you can stick 'em. I'm trying to make a living. Will you get outta here and leave me alone." Sammy Davis wrote me a letter saying give $500 and join the NAACP. l said show me one thing they've done for black people and l will join. So l never heard from either one again. I didn't care - look, I'm not a crusader, l'm not out to march for nothin'. I'm out to make a dollar and it's as simple as that. And it's an honest statement and why knock it?
The record sold, the record did good. They claimed it had cannibalistic sounds, that's why they changed the ending of the first "I put a spell on you". Nonetheless there were a few people like myself who managed to get their hands on the original that you yourself just played. Then they turned around and said, well, because he uses the coffin, which was Alan Freed's idea. To answer your question, because I dilly-dallied there, Alan Freed was the first man, the first white man that l ever met, that acted like he cared about black people. l mean, not just myself alone, I'm talking about Fats Domino, l'm talking about Ruth Brown, I'm talking about Sarah Vaughan, I'm talking about the Clovers and the Coasters and Lloyd Price. Because he not only played our records, he had a television show in New York and he put us on that. And then he went into the Fox and the Brooklyn Paramount out there and he carried us everywhere he went. Then he put on tours from New York, clear to California and he carried us everywhere we went. He made it possible for blacks to make bigger and better money and their names become more known.
A very important man.
And so are you today, Jay, guesting on "Echoes", here on a Sunday morning and here's a bit more of your music...
Music: "Yellow coat"
So many records by such a good artist. Screamin' Jay Hawkins and "Yellow coat".
Music: "I hear voices"
We're back with my guest here today on "Echoes", Radio London on a Sunday morning, 94.9 VHF in stereo and 206 in the medium wave, and such a good artist he is, Screamin' Jay is actually putting the records on for me...
(Handing back the Sue 45 of "I hear voices")
No, no, l'm just giving back Sue, because you say they no longer exist So it breaks my heart that I can't go and visit with them and say thank you.
Well at least it gave us British fans a taste of what Screamin' Jay was actually making at that time, which is the early sixties there. But to me, that track comes across s a fifties recording although you did actually make that in the sixties...
Well you see, here's a thing that irks me and makes me quite angry. No one seems to realise, Jay Hawkins, Screamin' Jay Hawkins existed long before there was ever rock'n'roll. And l was on the road doing a lot of things under the name of Screamin' Jay Hawkins before rock'n'roll, but l was better known in those days for piano, not for singing or screaming. It didn't really get out as "Screamin'", until Alan Freed busted it. And when he busted that record "I put a spell on you" by then they had moved me, not from a screamer, but to a voodoo-man, rock'n'roll down, the mad man, the funny man of a million faces. l had to do things on the stage that was abnormal, unusual, different, even things that frightened me.
I have a box, an electrical fuse-box that was made for me by a gentleman from Aberdeen, Scotland by the name of Graham Knight. And this box has burned me at least twelve times and l mean - burned!
I have stood on the stage dressed like Yassar Arafat - with the cape and everything in flames, 'cause l was too dose to the box!
And it went off. But I'm thinking well this is the last night, and the last show, then its pay day.
So l will not run off and put no water on this fire. Even if l cook, l'm gonna make this show, and l'm gonna make my money. And then l go in the dressing room and half of my face is white, and the other half is black, and all the hair is burnt off and the eyelids and the ears white and everything. My skin has really been baked and has fell off in pieces because there's magnesium in the powder, in the flash powder that l use. So l said okay, l wrap up again like Yassar Arafat and I go to the hospital and I let them treat my eye, because that's the main thing l'm worried about, because for five minutes there l was blind, l couldn't see anything. After I did that, I signed myself out of the hospital because l said l don't want my skin to be left blotched. When people get bumed, sometimes they get left with different coloured skin afterwards. So l went home and stayed home for ten days, and three times a day I'd bathe myself in cocoa butter.
What a lovely experience...
Well, l came back to my original colour. You could never tell I'd been burned. But l do have a great deal of respect for that fuse-box. And when me and my old lady have an argument, then I stay further away from the fuse-box, because in her heart she's sadistic.
She pours in more powder, hoping I'll make a mistake and I'll get near the box and I'll go up in the air, you know!
The all-time great one.
Oh yes, yes. She wants to blow me away. And when she says l'm gonna blow you away, she means it brother, I'm not kidding.
With a capital "B"! Jay, you very modestly told me before we went on the air that, if you don't mind me saying so, you're 53-years-old. You have taken care of yourself so well, you could easily pass for a man twenty years younger...
Thank you. l love you Stuart. l love you Stu.
No, no, l'm not just flattering you on the programme...
Well if we were in Paris I'd give you a "bise".
A "bise"? l don't know what that is.
A "bise" in Paris means a little kiss.
There's still time.
(Laughs out loud) No, there's a custom in Paris, when two people meet, who know one another - good friends, they touch each other's check, either twice or sometimes four times. "Oh, hello! ...mmm...mmm (kissing noises), or mmm, mmm. mmm. mmm (more kissing noises) and I'd say wow, what a strange custom. Men do it to men, men do it to women, women do it to women, women do it to men... And you know they're not lovers, they're just friends and it's a custom. So l ask what are they doing and they explain and say look, if you want to know more about it, the word is called bise.
Which means a little kiss. l pick up a few French words here and there.
No, l just thought of something (giggling). No, l won't say it now, but nonetheless, I pick up a few words of French and l was glad to do that. You know l speak a little German, a little Korean, a little Japanese, a little Arabic - l'm trying to learn as much in life as l possibly can. Now you speak about my age - you're talking to a man who for over twenty-eight years stayed pickled, and then stopped.
Yes, I mean I drank everything I could get my hands on in the army, airforce and in civilian life I drank a hundred and ninety proof grand alcohol, mixed with Black & White scotch and a Jack Daniels for a chaser. And I went to bed like this, and I woke up like this. I went down in Cleveland, Ohio, to the Bowery, like they have in New York City, and I stayed down there a whole month, in one suit, and one shirt - it was a white shirt when I first went down, when I came back it was black. I didn't take a bath, I stood on the corner begging for money for food, but I bought wine instead. I wanted to know how a wino really lived. And so I didn't touch no money, I didn't go home, I didn't take a bath, I didn't clean. I decided the only way I'm going to know is to do it. So I did it and after a month I couldn't stand myself and nobody could stand me. So I went home and I got in the bathtub and shaved, and got myself back together but I stayed drunk until 1974 and since then I haven't had a drink.
It seems like you just didn't care...
Music: "Just don't care"
Well I flipped the record over there, because I had to play the other side of that "I hear voices" on one side, and that was "It seems like you just don't care". Boy, I wish I'd kept the mike open while that was playing, because the tales were coming out about good drinking buddies. You mentioned guys like Guitar Slim and people like that...
Well, Guitar Slim was one of the most finest guitar players l ever heard when we worked places like the chitlin' circuit. Now the chitlin' circuit, we used to use that name in the United States when talking about opening at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. We would do seven days and from there we would go to Washington at the Howard Theatre and from Washington to Baltimore to the Royal Theatre. From Baltimore to Cleveland, Ohio, to the Circle Theatre, and Cleveland to Chicago to the Regal Theatre - thats the chitlin' circuit. So in between shows we drank. We drank, and we were drunk when we went out before the audience, but we always managed to stand up straight. Nobody could tell we were drunk, the audience wouldn't know unless they could smell your breath, and they were too far away to smell you - they could only see you, do you understand? But guys like Jesse Belvin, Johnny Ace, Guitar Slim, we had drinking sessions with a gallon of Italian-Swiss colony Muscatel wine, and we'd sit in the hallways of the Teresa Hotel, which is very famous in Harlem, New York, or the Cecil Hotel which is another famous one on 118th Street and Lennox Avenue. And we would sit there, and after we got about half way down the gallon l would say (drunkenly) "You know, we've got a show to do tomorrow, er, er, er, it's time for us to go to bed." And while I'm talking, l'm pulling off my clothes and the next thing l know I'm sitting in the hallway naked and Slim's naked... We didn't go no where and we're still drinking, then somebody wakes us up early in the morning and says, "You can't lay in the hallway naked, and besides its time for you to go back to the theater and do the show". (Hollers) "Alright!", and we'd go falling into the elevator, and right across the street there was a place that made White Lightnin', and they made it in the bathtub. And they used to have little miniature milk bottles pint size, you know - for milk. They'd go over there and dip it out of the bathtub... Sometimes I heard they made it in the toilet - I'm not lying l'm telling you the truth.
Because one drink of that stuff, and as you walk back to the theatre, all of a sudden your head jumps down to your spine you know. And your eyes are at your knees and the guy calls you and you're standing out there on the stage and those hot lights are burning down on you, and go to open my mouth and a sheet of flame comes out!
(more mass convulsions)
I tell you, those were some days man (giggling). You know, talking to you like this Stuart, I can't really emphasise how beautiful it was in those days. But if I'd have kept drinking like that, l don't think l would have had the privilege of talking to you today. l don't want to lose sight of the past. l don't want to forget how it began, l don't want to forget what I went through, and l don't want to know what's going on in the world today. And I only know two things. Life is short and I don't know when I'm going to die, so I'm going to enjoy myself while I'm here.
Well, it'ss sure to say there's definitely only one Screamin' Jay Hawkins...
(deep baritone manic chuckle)
Music: "Constipation blues"
Well, most songs are sung directly from the heart. l think that was directly from the bowel, if you'll pardon the expression. Oh my goodness, I'm telling you, I'd never been that way in my life and l grew up and went into the service and came out and everything and then - boom! One day in nineteen hundred and sixty-three, I'm in Queens Hospital in Honolulu, and l find I'm constipated. And l says, "What? It won't move? Aw, l don't believe this!" l mean they gave me enemas and everything and nothing had happened. And l sit there on the toilet and the next thing l know, tears is coming out of my eyes, and l says, "Lord, what have I done to you? Let it go, let it go!" So l grabbed the toilet paper and took a pencil, and l had to stop...and I went "Ugh!" - how do you say "Ugh"? And then two days later after I finally found relief, I got to a piano. And I sit down and l figured out how to do this, and I'm glad because if I go into a night club and the people are sort of dull or uppity, I'll lay this song on them. After this song, l done put a spell on them man, I feel very good!
Jay, we've got just one more record we can squeeze into the programme, we need days to tell the whole Screamin' Jay Hawkins story. But this has been one of the most recent records we've had over here, and I think there's more stuff to come and l think you'll bring us up to date...
Yeah, there's a new album that on its way right now. And as a matter of fact l think this album will surpass anything I've ever done. Cliff White once wrote an article about me and about various songs that I did and how l was trying to capture the old days. Well even Cliff White is going to be shocked when he hears this because this is brand new music, brand new blues, but done with the old Screamin' Jay style.
I'm delighted to hear it. We must get copies soon and play them.
You will. You will get a copy, even if l have to give you one or send it to this station this evening. If l had been thinking like any other normal man, l'd have brought you an album because I've got them.
Well, for the meantime, let's go to another part of the anatomy and look at "Armpit no. 6"...
Aw yeah, this is about a funky perfume.
Music: "Armpit no. 6"
My guest today, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, "Armpit no. 6", which is the B side to a remake of "I put a spell on you". Thank you very, very much for coming in.
Thank you, thank you very much for allowing me to come and sit here and talk to you, and have a good time at the same time.
And come and see us next time you're back in England.
Will do, that's a promise.
Thank you, Jay.
(Snorts and bellows by way of farewell)
Author: Stuart Colman
- original source: Now dig this