Hello there! In this week’s blog post we consider the song I Put a Spell On You. This was a great 50s R&B song. We will start with the original version by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. We will then discuss covers of that song by Creedence Clearwater Revival, and also Annie Lennox.
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and I Put a Spell on You:
Jalacy Hawkins grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, where he received classical music training. His ambition was to become an opera singer, like his idol Paul Robeson. Eventually, it became clear that an opera career would be highly unlikely, and his interest turned to the blues, as a vocalist and pianist.
In the early 50s, Hawkins became the lead vocalist for a group called Tiny Grimes and the Rockin’ Highlanders. As such, he had a small role in rock music history. Cleveland DJ Alan Freed had begun a late-night radio music show in 1951; he coined the term ‘rock and roll’ to refer to the type of music he played.
On March 21, 1952, Freed organized an event, the Moondog Coronation Ball, to be held in the Cleveland Arena. This rock and roll concert was unusual in that it featured both black and white performers and a racially-mixed audience, a rarity at a time when racial segregation was strictly enforced around most of the country. At left we show the poster for this event; note that Tiny Grimes’ band was one of the headliners.
Unfortunately, Freed’s organization sold far more tickets than the 10,000-seat capacity of the venue. In addition, it is rumored that many counterfeit tickets were also produced. A huge crowd showed up for the concert, and broke down the doors when they were unable to get inside.
After the first song, the police closed down the event. The official explanation was a fear of rioting, although the fact that the crowd included both black and white concertgoers may also have influenced the decision to close the venue. So unfortunately, Jay Hawkins lost an opportunity to have performed at the ‘first-ever’ rock and roll concert!
In the mid 50s, Jay Hawkins wrote a blues ballad, I Put a Spell on You. He went into the studio to record the song; however, he recounts that he and the entire band got roaring drunk, and he blacked out during the recording session.
When Hawkins heard the resulting tapes, his ‘blues ballad’ had become a raucous rant filled with shouts and grunts. The studio cleaned up the song a bit, but it remained harsh and guttural.
When Alan Freed heard I Put a Spell on You, he convinced Hawkins to adopt a shocking stage persona. First, he changed his name to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. The notion was that Hawkins was somehow associated with voodoo.
In performances, Hawkins would often emerge from a coffin onstage, with fog machines creating a ghostly atmosphere. He also incorporated a number of voodoo props – a cape; a bone in his nose; rubber snakes; and a smoking skull that he named ‘Henry.’ In his act, he would careen around the stage, acting like a ‘Wild Man from Borneo’ character from a carnival sideshow.
The photo below shows Screamin’ Jay Hawkins performing in Amsterdam, Netherlands in 1987. Note the props: the bone in the nose; a rubber snake; and his trademark smoking skull.
I Put a Spell on You became Hawkins’ most famous song and his signature tune. Many radio stations refused to play the song, because the grunts and shouts appeared to be overtly sexual in nature.
As a result, I Put a Spell On You was never included in either the Billboard pop or R&B charts. Nevertheless, the original song is believed to have sold over a million records. And it has since been covered by scores of artists, including Nina Simone, Van Morrison, the Animals, Leon Russell, Joe Cocker, and Jeff Beck.
I Put a Spell On You describes a man who is frustrated because his woman is misbehaving. He announces that he has cast a spell upon her, to force her to change her ways.
I put a spell on you because you’re mine
You better stop the things that you do
I ain’t lyin’, no, I ain’t lyin’
I just can’t stand it babe
The way you’re always runnin’ ’round
I just can’t stand it, the way you always put me down
I put a spell on you because you’re mine
So here is Screamin’ Jay Hawkins performing I Put a Spell On You on his first live TV appearance on the Merv Griffin Show in September, 1966.
Here, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins utilizes a number of his theatrical tricks. The performance begins with a disembodied hand that crawls around the stage. Then Hawkins enters, wearing a cape, playing a tambourine and carrying his trademark skull.
He utters a few manic shrieks and some faux-voodoo gibberish, then segues into I Put a Spell on You. Watch Hawkins carefully during the performance: although he is attempting to be scary, he nearly cracks up with laughter when he looks at someone in the audience.
If you listen to Hawkins’ vocals, you can definitely recognize the influence of his hero, Paul Robeson, on his voice.
Although Alan Freed’s suggestions provided Screamin’ Jay Hawkins with some initial notoriety, those theatrical props eventually pigeon-holed Hawkins as a novelty act. He was never able to break free from the bizarre nature of his stage persona.
This is unfortunate, since the song I Put a Spell on You has a lot of merit. If you strip away the grunts and moans from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ record, his tune is quite a decent R&B song. In the hands of artists such as John Fogerty and Annie Lennox, who play it straight, the song is very effective.
In the U.S., Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was essentially a one-hit wonder. However, he spent quite a lot of time in Europe where he achieved considerable renown. In addition, Hawkins was a performer in the 1978 film American Hot Wax, a bio-pic about the life of Alan Freed. Hawkins also had roles in a number of other films.
Jay Hawkins died in February, 2000 in France, following surgery for an aneurysm. He had been married six times. In various interviews, he claimed to have between 57 and 75 children (!) Following his death, friends set up a website in an attempt to contact his offspring, and eventually have identified 33 of his children.
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ career was an inspiration for an entire generation of “shock rock” performers who followed him. Artists such as Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Screaming Lord Sutch, and Marilyn Manson were all directly or indirectly influenced by Mr. Hawkins.
Creedence Clearwater Revival and I Put a Spell on You:
Creedence Clearwater Revival is one of our favorite 60s bands. We covered CCR in our blog post on Heard It Through the Grapevine, and also our post on Proud Mary. Here, we will provide a brief summary of their career.
Creedence Clearwater Revival was an American rock and roll quartet, who enjoyed tremendous popular success in the late 60s and early 70s. Their music sparked a revival of Southern-style “swamp music.”
The band was initially formed by Tom Fogerty and also included his younger brother John. Below is a photo of CCR. From L: John Fogerty, lead vocals and guitar; Doug Clifford, drums; Tom Fogerty, guitar and vocals; Stu Cook, bass.
Fairly quickly, John replaced Tom as the leader of the band, as it became evident that John was an incredibly talented musician. In addition to being lead vocalist, John was the band’s lead guitarist, songwriter, and arranger. He also proved proficient in the studio, overseeing production of the group’s records.
Once they gained national exposure in the late 60s, for the next five years CCR became a pop music phenomenon. Their albums shot up to Number One on the charts (though, strangely enough, they never had a #1 single), and they were headliners on tour.
John Fogerty’s raspy vocals, which owed a great deal to Little Richard, seemed just perfect for the group’s up-tempo, hook-filled swamp rock. Songs like Who’ll Stop the Rain, Fortunate Son, Down on the Corner and Bad Moon Rising established the band as a leader in what is now called `roots rock.’
Here is video of Creedence Clearwater Revival in a live performance of I Put a Spell On You, at the Woodstock Festival in 1969.
The quality of both video and audio are sub-par here; nevertheless, this gives a terrific example of CCR in live performance. The song I Put a Spell On You seems a perfect match for Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “swamp rock” style. John Fogerty’s vocals are first-rate, and he also has a virtuoso guitar solo in the middle of the song.
John Fogerty refused to allow video of CCR to be used in the Woodstock concert film, on the grounds that the group’s performance was not up to his standards.
This caused a rift within the group, because the Woodstock film became a blockbuster box-office hit. Inclusion in that concert film gave a tremendous boost to the careers of several featured bands. The other members of CCR were convinced that John Fogerty’s unilateral actions had deprived them of a great deal of potential income.
Watching the video, I have to agree with John’s bandmates. CCR’s performance is actually pretty good. As the band were headliners at Woodstock, one could readily assume that they would have profited handsomely had they appeared in the concert film.
Disagreement over their performance at Woodstock was just the tip of a very big iceberg. The other three members chafed at what they perceived to be John Fogerty’s more or less total control of the band, and they felt that several of his decisions were detrimental to their musical and commercial success.
From John’s perspective, it seemed only natural that he should be making the decisions, as he was clearly the driving force behind the group. He wrote the songs, sang lead vocals, played lead guitar, supervised the recording sessions, and for a while even managed the group!
On the other hand, CCR did suffer from some of John Fogerty’s decisions during this period. In retrospect, it appears that CCR had an unfavorable contract with their studio Fantasy Records.
Perhaps the final straw was that without informing his bandmates, John Fogerty and Fantasy Records owner Saul Zaentz transferred nearly all of the group’s funds to an off-shore tax shelter in the Bahamas. The bank subsequently dissolved, taking with it nearly all the group’s collected income.
Tom Fogerty quit the group in 1970, and they continued as a trio for two more years before disbanding. The breakup was followed by an avalanche of lawsuits. Fantasy Records sued CCR as they owed the label eight more records. John sued his former bandmates when they formed Creedence Clearwater Revisited. When John Fogerty released a solo album in 1985, Zaentz sued John for plagiarizing his old CCR hits, as Zaentz owned the CCR copyrights!
The animosity over CCR’s dissolution continues to this day. Most notably, when CCR was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, John refused to go on stage with his surviving bandmates Stu Cook and Doug Clifford, and instead he performed with an all-star band.
What a shame; CCR was such an impressive band. We can still enjoy them today, and appreciate an ensemble that produced an impressive string of notable albums before the group imploded.
Annie Lennox and I Put a Spell on You:
Annie Lennox is a Scottish singer-songwriter and political activist. We covered her in our blog post on the song A Whiter Shade of Pale. Here we will briefly review her life and career.
Lennox was initially trained in classical flute at the Royal Academy of London. Although she showed great promise, she was also frustrated at the difficulty she experienced in trying to support herself during this period.
After leaving the Royal Academy, Lennox worked as a flutist or vocalist with various bands. In 1980, she and guitarist Dave Stewart teamed up to form a group Eurythmics.
Below is a photo of Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox in Eurythmics, performing at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago in April 1984.
Initially, Eurythmics were a new-wave band. After their first album was not a commercial success, Lennox and Stewart re-formed as a duo. They built their own 8-track studio, and began recording electronic tracks that they used to back up their performances.
The work was liberating, as it allowed them a great deal of creative freedom, and meant they could avoid paying for studio time. However, it was also extremely stressful, as they were transporting an enormous amount of electronics from one gig to another.
Their second album, Sweet Dreams Are Made of This, was released in 1983. At this point, their fortunes completely turned around. The title cut hit #1 on the Billboard Top 100 charts, and reached #2 in the UK.
Annie Lennox’s strong alto vocals played a major role in the success of Eurythmics. In addition, their creative use of synthesizers and electronic music made them headliners on tours.
Here is Annie Lennox in a music video for her cover of I Put a Spell on You.
Isn’t this lovely? The song features Annie Lennox’s powerful alto voice, in a great arrangement of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ blues classic. She is backed by an impressive group of studio musicians.
The insistent bass line provides powerful backing for the music, and in addition the song makes impressive use of piano and guitar. This tune appeared on Annie Lennox’s 2014 album Nostalgia; it was also featured in the 2015 film Fifty Shades of Grey.
Lennox’s album Nostalgia was a collection of covers of soul, jazz and blues songs that Annie Lennox remembered from her childhood. The album reached #1 on the Billboard Top Jazz Albums charts.
I Put a Spell on You was the top single from the album Nostalgia. In 2015, Lennox put on a live performance at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles, titled An Evening of Nostalgia with Annie Lennox. A DVD was released of that performance.
In addition to their pop music success, Eurythmics also became gender-bending fashion icons. Lennox was one of the major style leaders during this period, along with artists such as Madonna and Boy George. At that time, Annie Lennox was sporting an orange crew-cut, and her androgynous looks and chic pant-suits were big hits in both music videos and on magazine covers.
In 1990, Eurythmics disbanded, while Stewart and Lennox pursued their individual careers. Lennox had a baby, and then issued a couple of solo albums, both of which were blockbuster hits. Meanwhile, Stewart produced some albums and worked with a couple of bands.
Annie Lennox has won a slew of awards for her music. She has won 8 Brit Awards, more than any other female. In addition, she has won 4 Grammy Awards and an MTV Music Video award.
But Annie Lennox is also known for her activism and outstanding charity work. In 2011 she was awarded the Order of the British Empire in recognition of her humanitarian work.
Below is a photo of Annie Lennox taking part in the rally, “Walk in Her Shoes,” in London, March 2016. This was an event to raise money for CARE International to improve access to water for women and children in third-world countries.
Lennox and Dave Stewart donated all proceeds from some of her tours to charity. In addition, she has been an HIV/AIDS activist, and worked with Nelson Mandela on his Treatment Action Campaign on behalf of people with AIDS. In 2007 she performed during the Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies in Norway.
Annie Lennox has used her celebrity status to highlight important causes around the world. As far as I can tell, her activism is completely genuine and heartfelt. So, we wish Ms. Lennox continued success in both her music and her charitable endeavors.