Screamin' Jay HawkinsJalacy Hawkins, best known as Screamin' Jay Hawkins (July 18, 1929 - February 12, 2000) was an African American singer famed for his wildly theatrical performances of songs like "I Put a Spell on You" and "Constipation Blues".
His most successful recording, "I Put a Spell on You" (1956) starts out with the big-voiced Hawkins singing a ballad to a lost love, but soon he is threatening wildly, screaming, grunting and groaning and reclaiming the lady as his own.
He said 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."
Up to this time, Hawkins had been a blues singer with a very stylish wardrobe, featuring leopard skins, red leather, and wild hats, but Freed had the caped Hawkins rise up out of a coffin in the midst of smoke and fog. The act was a sensation, later bolstered by tusks in the nose, snakes, flashbangs, and a cigarette-smoking skull. The act was the progenitor of much that came later in rock and roll, including George Clinton, Arthur Brown, Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Black Sabbath, Screaming Lord Sutch, Warren Zevon. and Marilyn Manson, among the many who vied for Hawkins' title as a rock and roll madman. Hawkins had several further hits, including "Constipation Blues", "Orange Colored Sky", and "Feast of the Mau Mau", which capitalized on the cannibalistic reputation.
In the meantime, Nina Simone's cover version revealed the original romantic concept behind "I Put a Spell on You". It has been recorded as a straight song many times since then, including a hit version by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
He continued to tour and record through the 1960s and 1970s, particularly in Europe, but his career was not advancing until filmmaker Jim Jarmusch featured "I Put a Spell on You" on the soundtrack (and deep in the plot) of his film Stranger in Paradise (1989) and then the dour Hawkins himself as a hotel night clerk in his Mystery Train. "I Put a Spell on You" in a version by Diamanda Galás is featured in the Oliver Stone's film Natural Born Killers.
Hawkins also toured with The Clash and Nick Cave during this period, and also became a fixture not only of blues festivals, but also film festivals. In 1998, he appeared in Alex de la Iglesia's movie Perdita Durango.
He was born in Cleveland, Ohio. His early inspirations were Enrico Caruso and Paul Robeson and he prided himself on his operatic baritone, but he had only limited opportunities of displaying it among all the smoke bombs and rubber snakes. He played piano and saxophone in his early days on the rhythm and blues circuit with Tiny Grimes. He served in the US Army in the Pacific during World War II, primarily as an entertainer, although he claimed to have been a POW. In 1949, he was the middleweight boxing champion of Alaska.
He left some 54 children by several wives.