Before Alice Cooper brought his theatrical “shock rock” to audiences, before Black Sabbath sang hymns to Satan, there was Screaming Jay Hawkins! A blues belting maniac from Cleveland, Hawkins incorporated horror into his stage shows, the likes of which had never been seen. Crowds ate it up as Screaming Jay popped out of his coffin, dressed as a voodoo priest complete with cape, top hat, and a smoking skull named ‘Henry’ atop his staff, performing his best known hit, “I Put a Spell On You”:
The story goes Hawkins and his band originally planned “I Put a Spell On You” as a slow blues ballad, but they all got roaring drunk at the session, resulting in Hawkins guttural screaming, and turning the song into a frenzied rock classic. The tune has been covered by dozens of artists, from Creedence Clearwater Revival to Annie Lennox and beyond. Screaming Jay recorded many other horror-themed hits like “Frenzy” (featured in an episode of THE X-FILES) and the gruesome, cannibal themed “Feast of the Mau Mau”:
Like many early rockers, Hawkins found greater fame in Europe than his native country, and toured incessantly until his death in 2000 at age 70. He’s said to have sired between 50-75 children, thirty of which showed up at a reunion. Whether that boast is true or not, it only adds to the legend of one of the most colorful characters in rock history, the original “shock rocker” Screaming Jay Hawkins!