This is a song about true pain....
July 6, 2006 5:06 PM   Subscribe

Screamin Jay Hawkins got around. Over the course of five decades, he put out dozens of albums, which were fairly hit or miss. Though he would never top his 1956 hit "I Put A Spell On You", which would years later land him a roll in the Jim Jarmusch film "Strangers in Paradise", he was well known for his live act where he would jump out of a coffin with a variety of skulls he named Henry. I got bored and looked him up on the youtube today, and lo and behold, instant fun. Bonus: here's a video of Diamanda Galas performing his oft-covered hit, it's better than the limp Marilyn Manson version, but I kinda wish she'd done "Constipation Blues" instead.
posted by elr (27 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I saw Diamanda at a Halloween show in 1991, at a club on West Houston called The Bank. I won most original costume that night, but the Japanese salaryman with his bewildered wife and kids dressed like a typical Japanese salaryman with his bewildered wife and kids provided more entertainment, I think. Diamanda did "I Put a Spell on You." I missed her Plague Mass the year before at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine because I was 17 and provincial. I missed Screamin' Jay altogether. I do think Britney Spears is going to take up his skull scepter. I am waiting for entertainment.
posted by eegphalanges at 5:17 PM on July 6, 2006

I was at a SJH gig in Boston in 1987 or 1988 during which his wife let off fireworks onstage which she produced from her handbag. One of them landed in a woman's hair and set it on fire, but she was so mesmerised by him appearing out of the coffin that she didn't notice. When the row behind her tried to put out the fire by slapping her flaming 'do with their hands, she turned round and screamed abuse at them before realizing that her head was on fire.

Thanks for bringing that back. Amazing the things you forget.
posted by unSane at 5:20 PM on July 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

Two of my favourite artists and one of my favourite films all in one post. Nice one elr.

Sadly, I never got the chance to see Screamin' Jay live, but I've seen Ms. Galas sing 'I Put A Spell On You', and she did just that - looked around at one point and the whole crowd were zombies in her thrall! (I interviewed her a few years ago, too. It was terrifying. That's a self-link, obviously.)
posted by jack_mo at 5:21 PM on July 6, 2006

Thanks for the vid!

I remember when she did this at Lincoln Center. She was warming up on the piano in back playing Bach. (I was a lowly usher) But you know, warming up with Bach. I was impressed.

Then she got on stage and about half the regular ticket holders cleared out. But the ones who stayed looked like they'd been hit in the head with a brick and liked it.
posted by lumpenprole at 5:27 PM on July 6, 2006

He certainly did get around. Back in the early 90's, Screamin' Jay Hawkins ("Screech", to his friends, apparently) romanced one of my best friends, and proposed to her after a couple of months. While my friend was back in Australia "thinking about" her response, authorities discovered that SJH already had two wives. I'm not sure, but I think he died before the bigamy charges were laid.
posted by bunglin jones at 5:37 PM on July 6, 2006

"Hawkins was well known for supposedly fathering many children. Rumours have it that he has fathered over seventy-five children. Notable mistresses include Bea Arthur and Claire LaRocca."--from the wiki

Wow. Who the hell is Claire LaRocca?
posted by eegphalanges at 5:48 PM on July 6, 2006

The imdb says the movie was "Stranger than Paradise". If it was "Strangers in Paradise" I would have wanted to see it, as it was a pretty good book.
posted by nyxxxx at 6:12 PM on July 6, 2006

The black and white performance of I Put a Spell On You is incredibly powerful. I can't imagine how that must have appeared in the north of England in the 50s.

I find this quote from wikipedia most amusing.
Hawkins had originally intended to record "I Put a Spell on You" as a refined love song, a blues ballad. He reported, however, that the producer "brought in ribs and chicken and got everybody drunk, and we came out with this weird version. I don't even remember making the record. Before, I was just a normal blues singer. I was just Jay Hawkins. It all sort of just fell in place. I found out I could do more destroying a song and screaming it to death."
Oh, and you gotta love Jay in Mystery Train, also.
posted by MetaMonkey at 6:31 PM on July 6, 2006

The imdb says the movie was "Stranger than Paradise".

Yeah, and Screamin' Jay didn't have a role in that film as elr suggests - it was Jarmusch's Mystery Train he appeared in, playing an hotel desk clerk who trades bonkers banter with bellboy Cinqué Lee (that was the favourite film I was referring to above. Should've, you know, actually read the post properly).
posted by jack_mo at 6:46 PM on July 6, 2006

Oop, should've previewed too.
posted by jack_mo at 6:47 PM on July 6, 2006

Screamin' Jay was freakin' brilliant in Mystery Train.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:15 PM on July 6, 2006

Acted in Mystery Train, sang "Spell" in Stranger Than Paradise. [imdb] (It seems to have just been his song on a boom box, though.)
Everybody's right!
posted by dhartung at 7:41 PM on July 6, 2006

Bea Arthur?!? Anybody know the story there (I'm guessing shens, but I want to believe)?
posted by Opposite George at 8:15 PM on July 6, 2006

Regarding "Bea" and "Claire", that was put there by an anonymous editor about a week ago. The IP address had no other edits. I removed it.

But now it's on MetaFilter...
posted by dhartung at 9:18 PM on July 6, 2006

And it's all my fault.
posted by eegphalanges at 9:25 PM on July 6, 2006

Man, what a (sadly, expected) let-down. I'll do my best to spread the disinformation regardless.
posted by Opposite George at 10:31 PM on July 6, 2006

Those YouTube links were awesome. Two of them were from an early-90's TV show called "Night Music," which was not only the source of most of my early jazz listenin', but was also my first exposure to Screamin' Jay Hawkins.

His performances on that show made such an impression that they totally made me forget how David Sanborn's hair looked back then.
posted by MrBadExample at 10:41 PM on July 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

In the UK in the glorious musical summer of 1965, the single I Put a Spell on You by Nina Simone made it into the top 50 (number 49). Simone's recording may not have sold in huge numbers but it had a lasting impact, with follow-up versions by the Alan Price Set (ex-The Animals) and Creedence Clearwater Revival. To name but two.

Simone's autobiography is titled I Put a Spell on You. Have not read it. Amazon readers' comments are not encouraging.
posted by Mister Bijou at 2:02 AM on July 7, 2006

I always liked his cover of Tom Waits' Heartattack & Vine (clip available here, along with the legal brouhaha that ensued when it was used on a Levi's ad - and Tom Waits don't do no dayamn commercials ...except for maybe this one [u2b]). May he rest in peace, the crazy sonofabitch.
posted by bokeh at 4:29 AM on July 7, 2006

What was perhaps most impressive about Screamin' Jay was his ability to scream, I mean really scream, while staying absolutely in tune.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:40 AM on July 7, 2006

I've seen Screamin' Jay and Diamanda Galas. Love them both. Friends beg to differ. . .and yeah, half the audience left the Galas show where I was, too.
posted by rainbaby at 5:34 AM on July 7, 2006

Creedence did the best version of "Spell." Hawkins hated the damned song, which turned him into a ghoulish black-face minstrel -- a racist caricature. He really loved Frank Sinatra, and til the end of his days, held out hopes that he'd someday make it as a Sinatra-style singer of standards.

Which raises the question: Is it better to become a household word as a grotesque screamer with a one-song repetoire, and have enjoyed some money and fame, or to do what you actually want, have some dignity in life, and not be particularly well known.

Who knows, if Hawkins hadn't gotten drunk and screamed at that "Spell" session, he might have had Lou Rawls career.
posted by Faze at 9:45 AM on July 7, 2006

I always felt that Screamin' Jay Hawkins didn't scream so much as he gibbered.

My favorite of his songs is "The Feast of the Mau Mau," a songso grotesque it would cause audience members to faint, grow sick, and flee the teater when he would perform it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:45 AM on July 7, 2006

Creedence did the best version of "Spell."

That's all it took for me to know it was you Faze. Keep reachin' for the stars!

posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:54 AM on July 7, 2006

Take your time,
I ain't lyin'
'for good cooking

'cause the rest
of this mess
ain't good looking

Astro Zombie, I agree. . .this is a one-of-a-kind song. And one of my faves from anywhere.
posted by Danf at 11:42 AM on July 7, 2006

I think Diamanda Galas and Nina Simone are the only two people who could sell that song better than the original version. When they sing it, you believe that someone is about to get hexed. The CCR rendition is good, but really the best part about it is the guitar licks in the interlude.
posted by deusdiabolus at 2:02 PM on July 7, 2006

My bad. I was reading so much about Screamin Jay at once that I fumbled all the movie info in my head. Thanks for correcting.
posted by elr at 2:54 PM on July 7, 2006

« Older A World Cup without goals?   |   Happy birthday, Mr President. Here's a present. Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments