Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ All Time Greatest Hits
Author: Mark Binelli
Belligerent, dramatic, clutching, creative and enervating …. Mark Binelli is one hell of a writer. His prose style parallels the strange life of the outrageous life of Screamin’ Joe Hawkins, a Man Who Played Blues with One Single Hit. His acct was phenomenal: he had pallbearers carry him onstage inside of a coffin and he busted out onstage screaming his lungs. Partly an act. Partly because he was terrified to be in the coffin. And not drunk enough yet to feel numb.
There are two stories here, and both are part and parcel of a genius rendition of a made up blues junkman entertainer and the author himself, who writes like Hawkins strummed his guitar: sometimes with passion, sometimes with restraint, sometimes gruff sometimes tender but always true. Yes, Mark Binelli grabs this story of the blues man who wrote and sang “I Put a Spell On You” and makes it hilarious, outrageous and generally a blast to read.
Often written off as a weird starting act, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was a self-made oddity. “Hawkins saw his life story as a riotous picaresque” says Binelli as he trips and winds us around the strange life and times of an unlikely artist.
It is the 50s and Jalacy Hawkins is a rhythm and blues wanna be. He recorded I Put a Spell on you in 1956. Rock and roll was still just getting started and Hawkins had begun his lies as truth persona that he kept all of his life. Apart from this song, Hawkins was known for his insane live shows where anything went. Besides the coffin, he carried a staff with a skull on top named Henry. He spoke to Henry throughout his act like Henry was a friend. He drank heavily. Wore a cape, had a bone on his nose, and wanted to play to white teenagers so he had to work at giving the theaters their version of what a Black man should be – crazy, drunk, raucous and seemingly occult.
As Binelli haunts us with Jay Hawkins early life – he was a very quiet kid who stared. He was left on the stoop at St. Jude’s, an asylum for abandoned children as an infant. Jalacy told everyone later on in life that he had been raised by the Blackfoot Indians although it was really an adult Indian inmate and his wife. Herman Shapiro had gone mad after Verdun but St. Jude’s offered them the colored boy to adopt. Herman had two daughters and wanted a son and Jalacy was the son. Herman worked at a paint factory.
At 8 Jalacy heard live music at church and realized he had to have music or else. Jalacy joined the army at fourteen and that was that.
As Binelli follows Jay Jalacy Hawkins after the Army toward his musical career this novel-biography morphs into one of those books you cannot for any reason on Earth put down. Simply tremendous – simply Rolling Stone great! (Binelli writes for Rolling Stone). Hurrah!
Ratings are based on a 5-star scale
Review by Broad “A”
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- You can pick up this book on Amazon.com here:Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ All-Time Greatest Hits: A Novel or at a bookseller near you.