Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was a singer/songwriter whose claim to fame arguably is the great blues tune “I Put a Spell on You.” I can’t improve upon Wikipedia so I’ll turn the post over to it for a while:
“Hawkins had originally intended to record “I Put a Spell on You” as a refined love song, a blues ballad. However, the producer brought in ribs and chicken and got everybody drunk, and “we came out with this weird version.”
Hawkins screamed, grunted, and gurgled his way through the tune with utter drunken abandon. The resulting performance was no ballad but instead a “raw, guttural track” that became his greatest commercial success. The performance was mesmerizing, although Hawkins himself blacked out and was unable to remember the session.
Soon after the release of the song, radio disc jockey Alan Freed offered Hawkins $300 to emerge from a coffin onstage. Hawkins accepted and soon created an outlandish stage persona in which performances began with the coffin and included gold and leopardskin costumes and notable voodoo stage props, such as his smoking skull on a stick – named Henry – and rubber snakes.” (Think Alice Cooper was paying attention?)
Is it possible that Nina Simone needs any introduction? An accomplished pianist and civil rights activist, she initially sang and played piano in Atlantic City, her name recognition growing in the late ’50’s. In 1965, she put out an album called I Put A Spell on You, covering the song. Where Hawkins’ version is somewhat kooky, hers is, I think, smoky and sultry. As a guy, you totally want that spell on you. For the record, her autobiography is also called I Put a Spell On You.
Interestingly, neither of those was the first version I heard. The first time I heard this song was in a great balls-out version by Creedence Clearwater Revival from their very first eponymous album (1968). In fact, it’s the kickoff track and for a lot of people, perhaps their initial introduction to Creedence. (John Fogerty hadn’t yet broken out as a songwriter so there are a lot of covers.)
I love this version with the guitar solos and all the dramatic build-up to the chorus. This is the second time the Music Enthusiast has featured Creedence doing a cover. (Note to self – do a Creedence series.)
For the record, there’s actually a documentary about Screamin’ Jay up on YouTube called I Put a Spell On Me. I confess I’m not enamored enough of the guy to have watched it.
“I Put A Spell On You” was voted one of Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 500 Songs Of All Time and included in The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock & Roll.