Got The Fever

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Screaming Jay Hawkins

Let’s dwell for a bit on one of Dad’s nightmares – shock rock.

Consider: who is considered the devil du jour today? The band or person Dad is most likely to scowl over with the paper in front of his face while he’s trying to chew his supper? Who is the one he quickly glimpses on the HDTV and hurriedly clicks ‘Next’ to with the fancy remote? Who is the one from his childhood that he fondly remembers and reminisces about as he stares and shakes his head from side to side in disbelief at the ungodly and closely sacrilegious images he spots on his son’s and daughter’s album and CD covers? Who represents all that has gone wrong with today’s youth in a culture gone anaphylactic?

Today, shock rock is old, tired and hobbled. It really has run its course what with all the overexposure. After millions of gallons of fake blood have been spilled, countless mock executions, masks that look more comedic nowadays than their original intent, films with countless sequels, contrived statements of shock, fashions of the time that are de rigueur in Halloween outlets, music with satanic overtures and pronouncements of ‘this is the real deal’, it really all has become just another bit of a Madison Avenue / corporate inspired way to try to eek out a buck in a congested field. Consider also – what can shock, or what is, truly shocking anymore to a music enthusiast who has ‘seen it all’?

The last significant blip in shock was Marilyn Manson. Dad was certainly in need of a change of the ol’ Fruit of the Looms when progeny was sniffing the ass of Marilyn, who at the time was being proclaimed the ‘anti-Christ’, which was even by then a tried, tired and clichéd mantle.

Before that, when was shock really shock rock? Was it the Plasmatics with their chainsaws, duct-tape on nipples and cars being blown up on stage while Wendy-O shouted ‘Kiss your ass goodbye’? Was it with the whole street to corporate makeover of shock to goth movement – towing Siouxsie and the Banshees and their ilk? Before that? Perhaps Iggy and his chest slicing beer bottles smeared with peanut butter?

Alice Cooper certainly is paramount in shock rock and deservedly so. Alice’s shows were stunning, bold and visually consuming. Singing of dead babies, tales of being locked up in the insane asylum and pandering for votes to be publicly elected were all considered shocking in their time. And, get this – original. Alice inspired everyone from Kiss to Gwar, and continues to be the well that the genre draws upon. But, just like any well, when it has been drawn from far too often and for far too long, it naturally runs dry and the population wanes and begins to look for a more quenchable well. It has yet to be found.

Quite likely, not many could hold a timorous candle to the shock that the Beatles caused when, in a move to toss off mop-tops and visually display a sense of a change in direction, they donned the garb of your corner butcher and laughed while the camera caught them with cleavers, knives, doll parts and slabs of meat which had bloodied their clean white costumes. This was not 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand'.

No. Nothing quite captures the virtuosity, the genius born in the genesis of the movement, the first, the leader of the nascent genre, the pro-generator of shock rock.

Those endowments go to Screaming Jay Hawkins.

At a time when Johnny Be Goode was writing Love Letters In The Sand and finding his thrill on Blueberry Hill, I Put A Spell On You was severing the optic nerve, obstructing bowels, sparking damning headlines and causing an outraged Dad, for the first time in his life, to write the local paper in disgust.

His performances displayed him climbing out of a coffin, holding a smoking human skull and sharing the stage with snakes. All this was polished off in the deep luster of unholy voodoo. Out of these seemingly meager beginnings a new tributary in the rock swell was born – shock rock.

I Put A Spell On You
I struggled when deciding what tracks to feature, but no way out of it – I simply cannot omit the kernel that blew it all up. According to legend he was stinking drunk when this was recorded. What was intended to be a ballad, but through soaking intoxication and a rolling tape, turned out to be the beginning of a rock revolution.

The grunts, the squawking, the lurking, rolling demons have banded together in an effort to keep you to only myself. Despite any attempt to wriggle or plead yourself loose, you are not going to be able to wrest free from me.

This could be the original stalker soundtrack.

Covered by everyone from CCR, Nina Simone, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Bryan Ferry, Tim Curry … the list goes on. But, none faired better than this stewing, menacing orgy from shock rocker #1.

I put a spell on you.
Because youre mine.

Stop the things you do.
Watch out! I aint lyin!

I cant stand
No runnin around!
I cant stand
No putting me down.

I put a spell on you.
Because you’re mine.

Other early classics include Feast of the Mau Mau, Frenzy and Armpit #6. By then, shock was an art form and Jay its architect. Common were the vindictive that threw his way labels such as ‘disgusting’, ‘vulgar’ and ‘crude’. He was leading Daddy’s little ones through a new rabbit hole. And according to Daddy, it was nothing short of a simmering sewer.

Constipation Blues
Rendering the tale of an awful struggle in progress, this is the track to queue up as you stare at the opposite wall so delightfully decorated with pictures of seashells and schooners lazily floating on sunny, sparkling, twinkling, foamless summer waters.

Ladies and gentlemen, most people record songs about love, heartbreak loneliness, being broke. Nobody’s actually went out and recorded a song about real pain! The band and I have just returned from the general hospital where we caught a man in the right position. We named this song Constipation Blues.

Let it go!
Let it go!
Let it go!
Let it go!
Don’t believe that I can take much more,
Let it go!

Given the time period from which the man came from, that being one who watched and lived through the difficult birth of rock and roll, he was also a product of his time – a real rocker.

Bite It (Last Night)
While we can laugh knowing what Jay’s really singing about, this must have appeared innocuous to Dad at the time. Even just a bit of harmless rock and roll with a nice little bounce to it.

That would be until he caught on and heard the sleazy slurping, squealing and sucking sounds, and the ‘yum yum’ moans. The complete giveaway would have been that while they’re merrily singing about sucking it, the added toss-in of phrases such as ‘lollipop’, ‘suck it now’ and ‘suck the hell out of it’, must have made him burst – in shock!

Oh! Let’s bite it one time!
(Bite it, …)

Oh! Let’s smell it one time!
(Smell it, …)

Oh! Let’s lick it one time!
(Lick it, …)

Oh! Let’s chew it one time!
(Chew it, …)

Oh! Let’s eat it one time!
(Eat it, …)

Oh! Let’s suck it one time!
(Suck it, …)

Screaming Jay Hawkins (1929 – 2000)
I Put A Spell On You
Constipation Blues
Bite It (Last Night)

Screaming Jay Hawkins certainly did have a profound and lasting impression on rock and more specifically as the founder of shock rock. As for today’s downy encrusted shockers trying to make a go of it? Well, after you load it all into the miner’s pan, what really sifts out turns out to have already been discovered and over dramatized to the point of no point.

Nothing can really shock us anymore with the impact that those who rode on the shoulders of Jay haven’t already done. Certainly not even remotely close to how Jay did. And those that try seem to have missed the boat – they float in the stream of the distant and useless cousin called gross out rock. Not exactly pioneers there either.

Listen to these tracks and imagine yourself in that space in time when they were first issued. Go out and shock the world.

Quite by happenstance I stumbled on to the Screaming Jay Hawkins track that I have listed on the right of this blog under What I'm (unsuccessfully) Searching For. I had long ago though imprinted that it ws called 'Lick It'. Wrong. But, I found it! Long time searching for this one!


  • This is so cool! Even the costumes portrayed in the images really fit the soundtrack. I think it's better for the Halloween

    By Anonymous kate on magic mic, at 1:57 PM  

  • Nice article.......
    mostly the following lines are
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    I cant stand
    No runnin around!
    I cant stand
    No putting me down.
    Get More Details

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:42 AM  

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