Screamin' Jay Hawkins 1929-2000

The legendary Screamin' Jay Hawkins passed away Feb. 12 at age 70. His classic “I Put a Spell on You” belongs on any sensible Top 10 All-Time Coolest Rock N Roll songs list and suggests much of what you'd want to know about the man: he was a true original, a man who sang blues and rock tunes about bowel movements, cunnilingus, cannibalism and much else that belongs nowhere in a family publication, and he did so in a deranged, operatic baritone powerful enough to flatten small communities. In live performances, he sang while rising from a coffin, wearing voodoo costumes and a bone through his nose. And he did all this in the 1950s.

I recorded an album with Hawkins in 1995. (I memorialized the event by having Screamin' Jay's face tattooed on my left bicep, but perhaps it should have been my rump—more on that in a moment.) Something Funny Goin' On wasn't the best album Hawkins ever cut—he was well past his prime, the record company had forced tunes on him (including a few I wrote), and the production wasn't sympathetic to his vision. But it remains the most memorable recording session I ever took part in by simple virtue of the fact that I spent two weeks hanging out with a man ranting about farts, turds, proctologists and toilet paper.

Freudians would observe that Hawkins was trapped in the anal stage of psychological development. In one of his most famous songs, “Constipation Blues,” Hawkins grunted and groaned throughout as if trying desperately to push out a trapped, er, effluvium.

It is a tremendous irony that Hawkins died following surgery for an obstructed colon.

I had a camcorder rolling part of the time we worked together, and I just watched the tape again for the first time in years. In the very first segment, I have known Hawkins for just five minutes. Oscar Barajas has set up his bass and is riffing on some blues. Hawkins joins in, singing a bent little improvisational blues thing. I have transcribed some of the lyrics here for your pleasure. It serves as a fine epitaph, a summation of what this exquisite blues lunatic was all about.

Goodbye, Mr. Hawkins.

Yeah, I had a long, long, long subway of shit. When it passed the Statue of Liberty, It still at the Golden Gate Bridge. It steal across the United States. They call it the Metroliner. The ass bastard in your rectum. Put some colon in your nose. I wipe the shit every day, And cultivate fertilizer to put on my plants. Now we have a mutant butterfly, That was in some radiation shit. The fly got big as an eagle, and the pigeons had a fit. The eagle tackled the fly, Thought he was a girl. And the shit turned to quicksand. And the eagle lost his bill. Trying to peck away. Called on the woodpecker that day. And they both got stuck in a pile of shit. In a pile of shit, Turkeys had a fit. Do you know that at Plymouth Rock If the Pilgrims had shot bobcats instead of turkeys, We'd be eating pussy. Pussy! —Buddy Seigal

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