Jalacy J. Hawkins was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1929. He spent his early years in an orphanage before enrolling at high school to study piano, tenor sax and opera.
After leaving school he became a professional middleweight boxer and served in both the army and the air force before turning to music when he was demobbed in 1953.
To cast the otherworldly vibe of I Put a Spell on You, Hawkins got so drunk he didn’t remember the session afterwards.
Other records are more representative of Hawkins’ style, including Baptise Me In Wine and Feast Of The Mau Mau.
Hawkins was out to shock and entertain, screaming and wailing on stage as he emerged in flames from a coffin, carrying a cigarette-smoking skull called Henry.
“I used to lose half the audience when I leapt out of my coffin in clouds of smoke and mist,” he recalled. “They all rushed up the aisles, screaming in terror.”
With such a charismatic image it was only a matter of time before Jay would make his movie debut. He was booked to feature in Alan Freed‘s movie Mister Rock and Roll (1957), but his appearance – in a loincloth and with white shoe polish on his face – ensured that his singular celluloid contribution was consigned to the cutting-room floor.
Although Jay has often been labelled a one-hit-wonder (I Put A Spell On You), his career was actually far more diverse. As well as touring, and occasionally recording, with The Rolling Stones, he continued to influence the stage shows of ghoulish musical descendants.
Signed to Demon Records in the 1990s, Jay returned to the charts with Heart Attack and Vine (1991), which was featured in a Levis jeans TV advertisement, while his groundbreaking stage show continued to tour Europe.
In his later life, Hawkins toured with The Clash and Nick Cave and became a fixture of blues festivals.
But in early 2000, having undergone surgery to treat an aneurysm at the age of 70, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins passed away.
He had often been quoted as saying, “When I go, I don’t want to be buried. I’ve been in too many damn coffins already!”