Screamin’ Jay Hawkins-The Planet Sessions.

Inimitable and unique describe the late Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. He was one of the great musical showmen, whose performances were designed to leaving a lasting impression. They always succeeded in doing so. 

As the lights were dimmed,Screamin’ Jay Hawkins would take to the stage wearing flamboyant and sometimes outlandish attire. Sometimes, he arose from a coffin that had been placed onstage Soon, though, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was showcasing his powerful, operatic delivery as he launched into a performance that was a mixture of music and theatre. Meanwhile, the audience noticed that the set was decorated with macabre and ghoulish props. The sight of skulls and trinkets hinted at voodoo and proved controversial sights on both sides of the Atlantic. Especially during the late fifties and early sixties, which was the most successful period of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ long career.

He was still remembered for his 1956 million selling single I Put a Spell on You. That would be the song that was forever associated with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, despite enjoying a recording career that spanned five decades. However, by the mid-sixties, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was more popular in Britain and Europe, than he was in America. 

In 1965, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins visited Britain. He was due to embark upon a lengthy and extensive tour. However, it was hoped that Screamin’ Jay Hawkins would also record his long-awaited sophomore album when he had some downtime.  

In May 1965, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins entered Abbey Road Studios with some London based musicians. They recorded what became The Night And Day Of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. The album was only ever released in Britain by Planet in 1965. Nowadays, copies are almost impossible to find. That is why Ace Records decided to release The Planet Sessions. It features The Night And Day Of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins plus twelve bonus tracks. At last, one of the rarest albums in Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ back-catalogue can be heard by a wider audience, fifty-two years after its initial release. By then, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was thirty-nine. 

His musical career has been well documented. However, there’s contradictory versions of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ early years. He was born Jalacy Hawkins, in Cleveland, Ohio on July 18th 1929. Sadly, Jalacy Hawkins was an orphan, who growing up, developed an interest in music. Soon, the young Jalacy Hawkins was embracing everything from jazz to opera. Little did Jalacy Hawkins realise that one day, he would make a living out of music

Before that, Jalacy Hawkins spent several years serving in the US Army. That was where he discovered boxing. He had a largely unremarkable and largely unsuccessful career as a pugilist. Jalacy Hawkins certainly wasn’t going to embarking upon a career as a boxer when he left the US Army. Instead, he had set his sights on a career as a musician.

When Jalacy Hawkins left the US Army, he was able to play guitar, saxophone and piano. This versatility set him apart from many up-and-coming musicians.  Jalacy Hawkins started looked for a band to join. Eventually, guitarist Tiny Grimes took chance on Jalacy Hawkins.

Initially, Jalacy Hawkins was was more like Tiny Grimes’ personal valet. Soon, though, Jalacy Hawkins was going up in the world. He quickly graduated to sideman, before becoming one of the featured vocalists on Tiny Grimes’ band the Rockin’ Highlanders. The future  Screamin’ Jay Hawkins made his recording debut with Rockin’ Highlanders in 1953. Soon, though, Jalacy Hawkins was on the move.

He was briefly a member of Fats Domino, Lynn Hope and Bill Doggett’s bands. Always, it was as if Jalacy Hawkins was passing through, in search of something better. There was a sense of inevitability that Jalacy Hawkins would eventually embark upon a solo career.

By June 1955, Jay Hawkins was about to make his recording debut. He had signed to Wing, an imprint of Mercury and was ready to release You’re All Of Life To Me. However, the single failed to make an impression on the charts. Neither did the followup Even Though, when it was released on Wing in January 1956. That was the last single that Jay Hawkins released. 

Jay Hawkins was dropped by Wing and soon, signed to Grand, a small Detroit based label. That was where he first recorded a song that he had just written, I Put A Spell On You.  However, by the time I Put A Spell On You was eventually released on Okeh in November 1956,  Jay Hawkins and his new song had undergone a transformation.

When Jay Hawkins came to record I Put A Spell On You for Okeh, he unleashed an otherworldly vocal. Grunts, groans, howl and haunting laughter punctuated the recording, thanks to some clever and judicious editing. I Put A Spell On You was unlike anything that had been released in 1956. So was Jay Hawkins newly created, flamboyant, outlandish and some thought, outrageous persona, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. He had been encouraged by DJ Alan Freed to adopt the voodoo-horror, shock rock image. This new image and I Put A Spell On You would transform Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ fortunes.

When Screamin’ Jay Hawkins I Put A Spell On You was released by Okeh in November 1956, the single started climbing the charts. It looked as if Screamin’ Jay Hawkins had a hit single on his hands. This was remarkable, as Screamin’ Jay Hawkins later  admitted he didn’t remember recording the song. All he remembered was 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.” Despite this somewhat unusual approach to recording a hit single, it proved successful.

Still, I Put A Spell On You continued to climb the charts. However, some radio stations banned the single. Some record shops also refused to stock what was regarded a controversial single.  This however, wasn’t the only controversy surrounding Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.

Meanwhile, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins had embraced the voodoo-horror, shock rock image. He adorned the stage with skulls, toy snakes and trinkets that suggested voodoo. Then one night, DJ Alan Freed offered Screamin’ Jay Hawkins $300 to emerge from a coffin onstage. This was the assisted $300 Screamin’ Jay Hawkins had ever made. It also helped Screamin’ Jay Hawkins perpetuate his newly created voodoo-horror, shock rock image.

As the controversy continued, I Put A Spell On You continued to climb the charts. Eventually, it sold over a million copies. Despite the bans and controversy, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins had the last laugh. 

Now came the difficult part, replicating the success of I Put A Spell On You. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins knew this wasn’t going to be easy, and over the next two years, never came close to replicating the success of I Put A Spell On You. Despite this, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins headed into the studio and recorded his debut album in 1958.

At Home with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was released by Okeh in 1958. It was well received by critics and sold well on both sides of the Atlantic. Just like man R&B singers, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’  was popular in Britain and Europe. 

This would continue to be the case as the fifties gave way to the sixties. By 1962, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was neither as successful nor popular in America. He continued to release singles, but on smaller labels like Enrica and Chancellor.  Still,  commercial success eluded singles like I Hear Voices. For Screamin’ Jay Hawkins it was a far cry from the success of I Put A Spell On You in 1958. However, he wasn’t alone.

It was a familiar story for other blues and soul singers.  Pop and rock had overtaken blues and soul. They were struggling to make a living in America. Fortunately, Britain and parts of Europe still had thriving R&B scenes. That had been the case since the fifties.

Back then, blues men like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williams made the trans-Atlantic journey. Since then, many other artists followed in their footsteps and made the journey to Britain. Backed by British musicians, they embarked on lengthy tours. Night after night they played to packed houses. Eventually, in 1965, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins agreed to make the journey to Britain.

A lengthy tour promoted by Don Arden was planned. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins would tour the length and breadth of Britain between February and May 1965. The Twisted Wheel’s house band the Blues Set would back Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Then when he had some downtime, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was going to record his sophomore album at Abbey Road Studios. Backing him during the recording sessions, would be some of London’s top session players. The resultant album would be released in Britain, by the Planet label.

In February 1965, the flamboyant showman Screamin’ Jay Hawkins arrived in London. He was dressed in his trademark cape and sported his usual assortment of voodoo trinkets. It was a grand entrance worthy of a musical showman.

Before Screamin’ Jay Hawkins began touring Britain, he appeared on Thank Your Lucky Stars and Scene At 6.30. For those unfamiliar with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ this introduced them to his music. Some of those watching, it was hoped would head to venues across Britain. That was the plan. 

It turned out that many of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ concerts hadn’t been promoted properly. As a result, the attendances at the concerts were disappointing. Where were the packed houses Screamin’ Jay Hawkins had been told about by other musicians? For the thirty-nine year old, it was a disappointing experience. At least he would get the opportunity to record his sophomore album.

The Night And Day Of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.

On May the 3rd 1965, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and some of London’s top jazz musicians made their way to Abbey Road Studios. This wasn’t Screamin’ Jay Hawkins first recording session in Britain. He may have recorded in one of the top London studios during April 1965. A month later, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was joined by a band that’s thought to have included guitarist Joe Meretti and tenor saxophonist Ronnie Scott. They were part of the band that recorded The Night And Day Of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. The tight, talented band recorded  more than enough for one album. However, once the recording session was complete, the best tracks were cherry picked.

For side one of The Night And Day Of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Night And Day, In My Dream, I Wanna Know, Your Kind Of Love, Change Your Ways and Serving Time were chosen. They were joined on side two by Alright, O.K. You Win, Please Forgive Me, Move Me, I’m So Glad, My Marion and All Right. These twelve tracks would later be released by the Planet label later n 1965. 

By then, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ British tour had ended in controversial circumstances. There had been problems between legendary manager and promoter Don Arden and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins throughout the tour. Partly, this was down to the perceived lack of promotion, finances and the way the backing band the Blues Set were treated by Don Arden. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins made his way to Don Arden’s office to confront the promoter. That was when Screamin’ Jay Hawkins alleged that Don Arden pulled a gun on him. After that, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins walked out of Don Arden’s office and hightailed it back to America. 

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ British tour was over. The rest of the shows on the tour were cancelled. This was a huge disappointment for those who had waited years to see Screamin’ Jay Hawkins live. However, later in 1965, they were able to hear the album he recorded while in Britain, The Night And Day Of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.

Fifty-two years after its original release, The Night And Day Of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was recently reissued by Ace Records as part of The Planet Sessions. The first twelve tracks on The Planet Sessions feature The Night And Day Of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in its entirety. It features Screamin’ Jay Hawkins rolling back the years, as he seamlessly switches between jazz, R&B, bluebeat and even rock on what was an eclectic album.

The jazz-tinged ballad Night And Day opens The Night And Day Of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. By then, he was playing in jazz clubs, and this was a flavour of the music that featured in his sets. In My Dream is the first two soul-baring ballads. It gives way to the first R&B number I Wanna Know, while Your Kind Of Love features Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in full flight. He’s rolling back the years. Change Your Ways and Serving Time find Screamin’ Jay Hawkins continuing further down the road marked R&B. After that, it’s all change.

Alright, O.K. You Win is delivered in the then fashionable blue-beat style. Please Forgive Me is another ballad, where Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ vocal veers needy, hurt-filled and hopeful. I’m So Glad is vintage Screamin’ Jay Hawkins as he returns to the earlier R&B sound. It’s followed by another soul-baring ballad, My Marion. Closing The Night And Day Of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins is All Night. It finds Screamin’ Jay Hawkins delivering a vocal powerhouse, as the album ends on a resounding high. That isn’t the end of The Planet Sessions.

There’s still twelve other tracks. Ten of these tracks are alternate takes. This includes two different takes of Please Forgive Me, Change Your Way and Your Kind Of Love. Their addition allows the listener to hear how gradually, the song begins to take shape. Apart from the alternate tracks, there’s two tracks that didn’t find their way on The Night And Day Of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Stone Crazy and the ballad, I’m Lonely. Both are welcome additions to The Planet Sessions.

For both newcomers to  Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and his long-standing fans, then Ace Records’ recently released The Planet Sessions will be a welcome addition to their collection. Especially for those who saw  Screamin’ Jay Hawkins on his ill-fated 1965 tour. They were the lucky ones, who saw one of music’s flamboyant musical showmen. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was still at the peak of his powers in 1965, and his performances were designed to leaving a lasting impression. They always succeeded in doing so. 

Sadly, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ 1965 British tour was cut short. Music fans who had waited the arrival of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in their town or city were left disappointed. Many have wondered why the tour was suddenly cancelled?

Later, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins alleged that his reason for cancelling the tour and returning home, was that Don Arden had pulled a gun on him during clear the air talks in his office. Whether this ever happened is debatable? Sadly, both men are now dead.  However, it certainly makes for a good story. 

The day Screamin’ Jay Hawkins left London in a hurry, he left behind a lasting legacy,.the music on The Planet Sessions. They’re a reminder of a maverick musician and flamboyant showman, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, who seamlessly switches between genre on The Planet Sessions, and is sure to put a spell on you.

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins-The Planet Sessions.





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