From the Archives: The Unsung Heroes of Rock ‘N’ Roll (1984)

in Culture

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins stayed drunk through most of the psychedelic ’60s. When I encountered him, in the early spring of 1973, he had put his Black & White scotch aside and was on the wagon. He drank coffee, a great deal of it, and orange juice. He smoked cigarettes, a great many of them. Sometimes he rolled his own Buglers, but on this day he smoked Lucky Strikes.

He was living at the Hotel Bryant, in a shabby room nine floors above Broadway in Times Square. With him were his wife, Jinny, and an obnoxious four-month-old Siamese cat named Cookie. A Jet calendar hung on one wall, variously weird hats from nails on another. The television was on, but without sound. Hawkins sat on the edge of the bed in a wool hat, Hawaiian-style sport-shirt, and horn-rimmed eyeglasses, taping a Frank Sinatra album from his stereo onto his reel-to-reel recorder. Beside him was a little ceramic foot-shaped ashtray in which he snuffed his Lucky Strikes.

At his feet was a mess of tapes—recordings he had made over the years for this company and that, but which, for this reason and that, had never been released. One tape bore a label with the words “Game of Love” on it. Thinking that it might be his version of the greaseball classic of that name which Wayne Fontana and His Mindbenders made in 1965, I asked Hawkins if he might let me hear it. He looked at me as if I had said something that I should not have said.

“Did you hear what song he wants to hear?” he said, turning to his wife. She gave him a dirty look. He uttered small sounds of resignation and affixed the tape. Soon his slurred voice came through the speakers, addressing some unseen audience: “We …

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Author: High Times / High Times

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