By Tony O’Neill.
I love this clip. I love everything about it. The grainy Granada TV logo at the beginning makes me wonder who saw it the first time around, and what kind of astonished reactions there were in houses all over the North West when Screaming Jay emerged shaking his voodoo stick with a bone through his nose, before launching into this frantic, schizophrenic rendition of his classic ‘I Put A Spell On You’.
There is no excuse for any musician not to be as charismatic and as crazy as Screaming Jay Hawkins. If you can’t compete with Screaming Jay, then pack up your fucking instrument and go home. I’m talking to you, Chris Martin, and in fact all of you pale boring, insipid VH1/MTV bands who look like you’re trying to sell me American Apparel rags instead of, you know, making MUSIC.
The song was originally a ballad, but so the legend goes, he and his backing band were so fucked up on wine that they recorded the guttural, pounding, primal version of the track which became (in)famous. Screaming Jay was reportedly so wasted that he couldn’t remember the session at all, and had to relearn the track by listening to the playback the next day.
Hawkins reportedly fathered 57 children in his lifetime, most illegitimate, and yes as the old cliché goes he pioneered the whole “shock rock” thing. But although I dig Screaming Jay, and Screaming Lord Sutch, I feel pretty bad holding them responsible for shit like Kiss and Marilyn Manson. Screaming Jay had soul, and whether he was screaming love songs that sounded like veiled death threats, operatic numbers about not being able to take a shit (‘Constipation Blues’) or crazed numbers about devils and creatures of the night (‘Little Demon’) Hawkins had a level of commitment and that turned this whole thing from a potentially hokey sideshow into something much more precious. There is nothing camp or ironic about Screaming Jay Hawkins, and for that I am grateful.