Monday, April 24, 2017

"So Goth, I Was Born Black": Screamin' Jay Hawkins & Goth Music

Musician Jay Hawkins originally had the idea to record "I Put A Spell On You" as a slow, mournful blues ballad. The original, un-issued version recently surfaced on YouTube:

 If the above version was what had been originally issued, the world would have missed out on a song that laid the foundation for Shock Rock and Goth music. Without "Screamin'" Jay Hawkins' raw power, deep-throated growls and groans and powerful operatic delivery, it would have flown under the radar. It certainly would never have been picked as The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll and not been covered by artists ranging from Nina Simone to Credence Clearwater Revival to Nick Cave. It turns out, however, that Hawkins' recording session of "I Put A Spell On You" that influenced rockers from Alice Cooper to Rob Zombie ended up happening completely by accident. As the book "All Music Guide to the Blues: The Definitive Guide to the Blues" recounts in Hawkins' own words, it all happened because the producer for Okeh Records brought along a bunch of food and alcohol for the band and Hawkins gave the recording session a go when he was three sheets to the wind:
"[The producer] got everybody drunk, and we came out with this weird version … I don’t even remember making the record. Before, I was just a normal blues singer. I was just Jay Hawkins. It all sort of just fell in place. I found out I could do more destroying a song and screaming it to death.”
Serene Pristine has a great essay on how when Hawkins went from just plain ol' Jay Hawkins to "Screaming" Jay Hawkins, kicked off the Shock Rock aesthetic and can truly be called the Grandfather of Goth Music.

For a song that's been so influential and had dozens of covers, debates over which version is best still rage on today. Do you have a favorite, or can nothing stack up to the original? Sound off in the comments and share your favorite!

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