Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – Are YOU One of Jay’s Kids?
The Complete Bizarre Sessions 1990-1994
It was most assuredly a natural pairing: Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, without question the most out-there-in-the-ozone R&B belter of the 1950s (and the most prolific—this set’s title refers to the dozens of children he sired), and a record label proudly called Bizarre.
The leather-lunged blues shouter and overlooked rock and roll pioneer was down on his luck in 1990, without a record label or a manager, when he unexpectedly met Bizarre boss Robert Duffey at a Hollywood bar and instantly found himself a new recording home. All three albums Hawkins cut for Bizarre over a four-year span are included in their entirety on this jam-packed two-CD set, along with several more tracks that went unissued at the time but are every bit the equal of what Duffey did release on Screamin’ Jay during that timeframe.
Duffey managed to update Hawkins’ approach just enough to make him contemporary without losing his unique appeal. Jay’s operatically inclined pipes were still strong enough to bend steel when he cut his Bizarre debut CD Black Music for White People, and he wasn’t the slightest bit afraid to indulge in surreal R-rated rants that were at once both hilarious and unapologetically gross—witness a no-holds-barred “Ignant And Shit” and the eerie “Swamp Gas.” Hawkins effortlessly captured the essence of Tom Waits on remakes of “Heart Attack And Vine” and “Ice Cream Man,” and producer Duffey was cool with Jay visiting the ancient past on revivals of Louis Jordan’s “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby” and Smiley Lewis’ “I Hear You Knockin’.” He also gave Hawkins the latitude to moan the self-penned “I Want Your Body,” deconstruct the immortal “Ol’ Man River,” and update Clarence Carter’s delightfully sleazy “Strokin’.” The only bummer on the first album was Jay’s “dance” remake of his 1956 landmark “I Put A Spell On You”—its too-fast tempo and an altogether misplaced rapper (mercifully uncredited here) conspired to destroy this superfluous redo of Jay’s signature theme.
Stone Crazy, Hawkins’ Bizarre encore, was the bluesiest of the three discs, containing his remakes of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Who’s Been Talkin’,” Willie Mabon’s ominous “I Don’t Know,” and Ray Charles’ sumptuous “I Believe To My Soul.” Despite the occasional intrusion of a rocked-out lead guitarist hellbent on proving how fast he could play on any given solo, Jay sounded great on such vintage fare, though he was every bit as effective delivering his own “Another Pain,” “Strange,” and the title track. Hawkins had a thing about the nubile star of the weird TV program Twin Peaks, detailing his fetish on an amusing “Sherilyn Fenn,” and he borrowed an old Du Droppers hit as the basis of his jumping “I Wanna Know.”
Duffey’s last production on Screamin’ Jay was titled Somethin’ Funny Goin’ On, and indeed there was with Hawkins’ own uproarious rockers “You Make Me Sick” and “Fourteen Wives” joined by several numbers Duffey brought in, notably “Rock The House,” “Give It A Break,” and ‘Scream The Blues.” Waits’ catalog was again plundered for “Whistling Past the Graveyard,” and Duffey’s jazzy “I Am The Cool” brought out the hipster in Screamin’ Jay.
The outtakes are uniformly solid: “Make You Mine,” “Just For You,” and “Clam Bake” would have nestled into any of the issued CDs seamlessly, and Hawkins offers plenty of documentation as to why you should “Shut Your Mouth When You Sneeze.” There are also three snippets of another singular Hawkins ode to a lass once in the news: tabloid queen Amy Fisher, who apparently inspired a short-term crush deep in Jay’s twisted psyche.
While not as indispensable as his ‘50s classics for Mercury/Wing and OKeh/Epic, this collection underscores just how musically vital Screamin’ Jay Hawkins remained when he was well past the age of 60.