Listen: I Put A Spell On You (’66 Version) / Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
“Let me tell you one thing, a leopard don’t change it’s spots.”
That’s what Screamin’ Jay Hawkins had to say about Little Richard’s then recent denouncement of drugs and sex. This was ’85, and he’d just done his first New York show in a long, long time at some short lived venue near Chinatown. He was at a career low. After the performance, he and his wife came out to the front bar for a drink with Eric and Mel, and Corinne and I. The four of us were about the only folks who showed up. We’d looked forward to it for weeks. How could this public indifference be possible?
Didn’t matter to him, his show was full on. Came out of the coffin, the whole ten yards. We sat for a good hour, Eric and I just pouring questions on him, learning that he kept all his stage props at his son’s place in New Jersey when not in use and that included the coffin. I was enthralled with Little Richard since seeing him on The Dick Cavett Show in the late 60′s at which time he was making a bit of a comeback, having just signed to Reprise and was more flamboyant than ever. Just hysterical, really camp and out of control, most likely cocaine fueled. By ’85, Little Richard’s whole drill was about finding God and denouncing his old ways. So I asked Screamin Jay if he knew him, and had he really given up all those fun things. And that was his response.
Having been ripped off royally for publishing and record royalties when ‘I Put A Spell On You’ was originally released in ’58 (it’s rumored to have sold 1M copies for which Screamin’ Jay Hawkins saw zilch), he decided to re-record it for US Decca in ’66, giving it an Otis Redding/Bar Kays soul review rave-up. Not a widely known version, it’s here for a listen.
Listen: Voodoo / Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
Around ’74, he did a one-off for RCA, ‘Voodoo’. No info on this or if any other tracks were recorded. Who at RCA would have signed him, and why? But thanks still to that brave, unknown A&R executive.
Listen: Heart Attack And Vine / Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
In ’93, his version of ‘Heart Attack And Vine’, from a UK album BLACK MUSIC FOR WHITE PEOPLE, was used in a Levi’s campaign and charted at #42 in the UK. It was his only ever chart entry there or anywhere. At least he got to experience some justice prior to getting into that coffin one last time.