Screamin' Jay Hawkins: Are YOU One of Jay's Kids? The Complete Bizarre Sessions 1990-1994

Out of print for years, Screamin' Jay Hawkins early 1990s recordings for the Bizarre label are collected in their entirety, a fact that will appeal to only his most ardent fans.

Are YOU One of Jay's Kids? The Complete Bizarre Sessions 1990-1994
Screamin' Jay Hawkins


18 May 2018

Rock and roll has always been about shtick, some more well-defined and eccentric than others, but ultimately all in service of the showmanship of it all. And while the majority stuck with the requisite attitude and posturing, there existed some on the fringes who employed an almost Vaudevillian approach to their act, creating a character larger – and more often than not, stranger – than anyone found in real life. This approach more often than not resulted in an artist foregoing any sort of marketable commercial success in favor of a decidedly niche or cult approach. Perhaps no other artist better exemplifies this approach than Screamin' Jay Hawkins, an artist whose ghoulish persona and general freakiness have long outlived his scant musical contributions within the pantheon of pop cultural weirdoes.

Best known for his iconic 1956 hit "I Put a Spell on You", Hawkins' act was so far out that, from note one, he never stood a chance of any sort of greater commercial success beyond that of mere novelty. And yet he somehow managed to maintain some semblance of a career for nearly half a century thereafter, albeit one built around derivations of his initial brush with success (just how many times did he rework "I Put a Spell on You" over the years?) But the persona he created for himself was unique and out-there enough to be able to sustain an interest of cult proportions that saw him recording right up to his death in 2000.

A decade prior to that, however, Hawkins made a series of recordings for the recently revitalized Bizarre Records imprint started by Frank Zappa in the late 1960s to capture performances by artists very much in the Screamin' Jay Hawkins vein of outsider appeal. Are YOU One of Jay's Kids?: The Complete Bizarre Sessions 1990-1994 brings together all three albums he recorded for the label plus an assortment of previously unreleased tracks. It's an awful lot of Screamin' Jay Hawkins to begin with and from a period during which he'd largely faded from the public conscience, the occasional resurgence of "I Put a Spell on You" notwithstanding.

Predictably, these 40-odd tracks feature a series of bizarre lyrics, unhinged performances, and lowbrow humor. "Amy Fisher is my fantasy girl / I'd love to give her a necklace of pearls," he sings on the woefully dated "Amy Fisher Part 1" – oh, and don't worry, it's something of a thematic trilogy that finds Hawkins going from thinly veiled innuendo to straight on dick jokes, sophomoric STD jokes, bestiality and a series of increasingly weak attempts at gross-out humor. Given the label's history with such eccentrics as "Wild Man" Fischer, its little surprise that, when looking to relaunch, they'd look to someone like Hawkins who went on to release three albums between 1990 and 1994: Black Music for White People (1991), Stone Crazy (1993) and Somethin' Funny Goin' On (1994).

Each has been out of print for years and largely for good reason as there's not much to recommend beyond Hawkins' well-established persona. The music itself is largely based around slick, lifeless blues arrangements atop which Hawkins' spouts just about anything that comes to mind. Because of this, there's an unhinged, improvisatory feel to the album that makes it alternately thrilling and unbelievably annoying as the words come fast and furious only to be followed by a series of nonsense syllables and blown raspberries. Credit must be given to the game backing players who, particularly on tracks like "Who's Been Talkin'," a genuinely stellar blues number, manage to provide the unstable Hawkins with a rock-solid base upon which to spout his studied eccentricities.

If you're already enamored of Hawkins, Are YOU One of Jay's Kids? will be well worth checking out as it features the singular artist in his waning years screaming and wailing as in his prime and having a blast in the process. It's just that, while he was clearly enjoying himself throughout, it becomes increasingly difficult as a listener to do so given the one-note performance shtick he maintains throughout. An interesting curio for those interested in outsider artists like Fischer or Wesley Willis, those looking for ferociously primal R&B will be better served checking out his early recordings as well as those of his contemporaries. By the time these recordings were made, it had all been done before – and done better.






'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.


Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".


Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.


The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.