Monday, May 14, 2018

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins: “Are YOU One Of Jay’s Kids? The Complete Bizarre Sessions 1990-1994” (2018) CD Review

Are YOU One Of Jay’s Kids? The Complete Bizarre Sessions 1990-1994 is a wild two-disc set of music that Screamin’ Jay Hawkins put out in the nineties. I had no idea that Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was recording material and releasing albums in the early 1990s. How did this slip my attention? Like everyone, I had seen that great early footage of him performing “I Put A Spell On You.” And I’d heard some of his other recordings from around that time, and the stuff he put out in the seventies (who can forget the wonderful “Constipation Blues”?). But I was completely unaware of his 1990s output. Not only was he recording in the nineties, but a great number of the songs in this collection are originals, written by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. And there is a lot of music here. This collection contains three complete albums, plus some previously unreleased tracks, totally nearly 158 minutes. And he is clearly having a damn good time here. These are fun tracks with an insane amount of energy.

The first twelve tracks on the first disc make up his 1991 LP, Black Music For White People. It opens with “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby,” which is great fun. This track swings, and has something of a big band vibe, but with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ delicious raw vocal delivery and some delightful backing vocals. “A woman, she’s a creature that has always been strange/Just when you’re sure of one/You’ll find she’s gone and made a change.” That’s followed by “I Feel Alright,” another fun number that moves along at a good clip and contains this declaration of love: “Did you hear every word I said/You belong to me until you’re dead.” This album includes a totally strange rendition of his most popular song, “I Put A Spell On You.” It’s an odd mix, almost like someone in the 1980s tried to update it, adding new music to the old recording. And then suddenly there is a rap. What the hell? It’s totally goofy, without that great sense of danger that the original recording has. But there is something here that still draws me in. The ending is bizarre, like he’s a dog tearing into some flesh, and suddenly a woman climaxes or something.

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins delivers a lively, delightful cover of “I Hear You Knocking” (here titled “I Hear You Knockin’”), the song that was a hit for Smiley Lewis in the fifties. I love the backing vocals in Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ rendition. He follows that with a cover of Tom Waits’ “Heartattack And Vine” (here titled “Heart Attack And Vine”). Living in Los Angeles, I can’t help but love this song, its title a play on one of the most famous corners in the city. Screamin’ Jay inserts himself into the song’s lyrics. I love the horn. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins also covers Tom Waits’ “Ice Cream Man.” The most surprising cover from Black Music For White People has got to be “Ol’ Man River.” It starts out rather gently, then suddenly explodes in violence, before then relaxing again. It is a strange ride.

“Ignant And Shit” comes as a delicious surprise, having the feel of an improvised rant, with a lot of humor – some of it sexual, some of it about barbecuing neighborhood pets. Meanwhile the band jams, a nice jazzy groove. This one had me smiling and laughing. That’s followed by “Swamp Gas,” a very cool tune, and probably one more in line with what you’d expect from the man who brought us “I Put A Spell On You.” It has a raw, tribal feel, and I dig that percussion. Then “Voodoo Priest” begins with some dialogue about religion and ghosts. When Screamin’ Jay Hawkins sings “I Want Your Body,” you can’t be sure right away if he means it sexually or if he wants your corpse (which, hell, could also be sexual). But once you get into this bluesy song, it’s clear that the woman in question is still alive. This song features some really nice work on guitar, plus saxophone. Black Music For White People concludes with a funky cover of Clarence Carter’s “Strokin’.”

As far as I can tell, the next two tracks – “My Best Friend’s Girl” and “Another Pain” – were previously unreleased. “My Best Friend’s Girl” begins with a bit of studio banter, and features some cool percussion. It’s a good bluesy number. “Another Pain” has a classic blues sound, with some nice work on keys and saxophone. “Another pain ain’t no worse/’Til you ride in that black hearse.”

The last six tracks on the first disc are from his 1993 LP Stone Crazy (the first side of the record version). It kicks off with “Strange,” a ridiculously delightful tune. It alternates between asking some odd questions (“How many crumbs in bread?”), and professing love for a strange woman. Ah, I know the feeling. Then, surprisingly, we suddenly get the woman’s perspective. I love this song; it’s one of this set’s best tracks. He loves another unusual woman in Willie Mabon’s “I Don’t Know.” This version features some fun backing vocals. That’s followed by a cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Who’s Been Talkin’,” a blues rock tune, and then a very cool cover of Ray Charles “I Believe To My Soul” (here titled “I Believe”), changing “my name is Ray” to “my name is Screamin’ Jay.”

“Stone Crazy,” the record’s the title track, is a whole lot of fun, with some goofy scat-like vocals. Then “Last Saturday Night,” the first disc’s closing track, begins with some studio banter. “What is going on there?” And when the song begins, it turns out to be an Irish folk song titled “Seven Drunken Nights.” Gaelic Storm used to do epic versions of this song back when they played O’Brien’s every Sunday, with a whole lot of audience participation (“what do you want, you drunken shite?”) and drinking contests with every verse. In the liner notes to this two-disc set, it says the song was written by Hawkins. Nope.  Wrong. Not even close. But he does change the lyrics more than a bit. Ha, this version mentions Wade Boggs, which makes me happy (“That ain’t nothing but a baseball bat Wade Boggs gave to me”).

The second disc begins with the second half of Stone Crazy, starting with a seriously fun rendition of “Call The Plumber,” a song with delightfully suggestive lyrics like “There’s got to be a leak in my drain” and lines about the milkman providing a woman with a lot of children. That’s followed by “I Wanna Know,” another totally enjoyable track with a wonderful rhythm. “I wanna know/What you see when you look down there.” Then we get “Sherilyn Fenn,” a sexy song about the actor who first became really popular for her role on Twin Peaks. But before she took that role, she starred in a film called Two Moon Junction, which also featured Screamin’ Jay Hawkins basically playing himself at a blues club. The song is fun, and in it he replaces the male lead in the film as Sherilyn’s love interest. Things get sillier with “Late Night Hawkins,” in which he plays a late-night comedian at a jazz club. That’s followed by “On The Job,” a kind of funky tune, and then “I Am The Queen” closes out Stone Crazy.

The next thirteen tracks are from Somethin’ Funny Goin’ On, a 1994 release. There are three tracks among those thirteen that weren’t listed on the original album, the three “Amy Fisher” songs. More on those in a bit. The album kicks off with its title track, “Somethin’ Funny Goin’ On,” a rocking blues tune. The blues gets a bit heavier with “I Am The Cool,” in which Screamin’ Jay brags, “I’m the one your mama warned you about/When you see me, I will leave you no doubt/I’m the coolest man that ever walked this Earth/I have been the coolest since the day of my birth.” Hey, who are we to argue? He even spurns Madonna in the song. That’s followed by another Tom Waits song, “Whistling Past The Graveyard.” Then we get a fun party song, “Rock The House,” in which Screamin’ Jay takes on the role of the devil.

“Amy Fisher Part 1” follows “Rock The House.” For those who may have forgotten, Amy Fisher, known as the Long Island Lolita, shot Mary Jo Buttafuoco. Any was seventeen at the time, and ended up serving seven years in prison. So when Screamin’ Jay Hawkins recorded these short tracks, Any was serving time. In this first part, he sings, “Amy Fisher is my fantasy girl” and “She leaves me with a giant erection.” In “Amy Fisher Part 2,” which fades in, he sings, “Amy Fisher, I love your shorts/Covering up your venereal warts/I bet up there, there are things creepy and crawly/Like Little Richard would yell, ‘Good golly, Miss Molly.’” Now, as far as I can tell, these first two parts were not included on the original release. “Amy Fisher Part 3,” however, which follows “Fourteen Wives,” was included on the original release (though apparently not on the Japanese release), as an unlisted track. Perhaps it’s because the lyrics aren’t quite as bold: “Amy Fisher, you sure look fine/You look like you’ve been drinking alligator wine.”

“Brujo” is another glorious, mean blues song, with some boasting and bragging: “I knocked out Michael Tyson/Then he never was the same/Played horn with Sinatra, dined with JFK/I’m the only one who knew who blew him away.” But what I love is the line that follows that: “Let’s drink to the man that I once was.” That’s followed by another fun tune, “You Make Me Sick,” with nice work on horn. I love the way Screamin’ Jay Hawkins belts out “When You Walked Out The Door,” a song using that classic blues riff. “I had to put up with your mama/Two hundred pounds of screaming meat/I could hardly eat my dinner/For the smell of that woman’s feet/And now you up and left me.” That’s followed by “Fourteen Wives,” the final track listed on the original release of Somethin’ Funny Goin’ On. This is a lively, rockin’ tune featuring horns.

There are five more tracks at the end of the second disc, which weren’t on any of the three original albums collected in this two-disc set. However, it appears that four of them were included on the 2000 compilation Best Of The Bizarre Sessions: 1990-1994: “Upsettin’ Me,” “Make You Mine,” “Just For You” and “Shut Your Mouth When You Sneeze.” “Upsettin’ Me” begins with some cool work on bass. The song is about how a woman can make a man a little crazy. “Can’t you feel it, pretty mama/I’m raising my flag just for you.” “Make You Mine” and “Just For You” are fun, rockin’ numbers with backing vocals. I particularly like “Just For You,” which also features some good work on guitar. “Shut Your Mouth When You Sneeze” is a wild and goofy tune. “I just can’t stand your funky breath/You’re bound to make someone near death.” This collection concludes with “Clam Bake,” a previously unreleased track about forty-two people who are ready to eat and enjoy themselves on the beach. So, for the record, I believe the five previously unreleased tracks are “My Best Friend’s Girl,” “Another Pain,” “Amy Fisher Part 1,” “Amy Fisher Part 2” and “Clam Bake.”

Are YOU One Of Jay’s Kids? The Complete Bizarre Sessions 1990-1994 is scheduled to be released on May 18, 2018 on Manifesto Records.

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