Monday, June 6, 2011

Screamin Jay put the Whammy on me!

Hello Readers it’s Cranky here with another chip off the old shoulder:

That last Screamin Jay Hawkins post inspired me to remember an incident that happened to me in the swampy suburbs of Florida. Let me tell you about the time when I met Screamin Jay who before that day was one of my heroes, after this happened I was crushed and it would take me a long time to be able to listen to his music again. The first time I heard his Screamin Jay’s music was during the pivotal scene in “Stranger Than Paradise” when Eszter Balint walked down the street with her slowed down cassette player, blaring that frightening tune “I Put a Spell On You” that is now so well known it turns my stomach. Meh, In my day there were zero computers and the only way to track a crazy song like that was to hunt it down at a record store (you couldn’t do a blog search GASP!) actually I shudder to return to that era. Now kids get off my lawn!

Anyway back to my story, I see there’s an all day blues show of local Clapton worshipers, cracker blues losers spewing out garbage blues covers, with no shred of dignity or sense of humor (or style for that matter) and it’s all free, hurray! So I kill a whole afternoon sitting in the corner listening to countless bad honky blues band after another in a vile assembly line of trash. Why was I there? because I was a cheap motherfucker, who figured they’d start charging at the door later on. I would revisit this embarrassing scenario when I saw “Ghost World” in this clip:

So late into the night I start asking people, do they know who is Screamin Jay even is? I ran into his manager who looked Italian, wore a white suit and had a pencil mustache. I asked him if Jay was gonna jump out of a coffin and if he had Henry(the skull) with him, but he said not tonight. I think about every other time I see Screamin Jay on TV or live somewhere and he's always decked out, with a bone through his nose, I'm sure he had this shit in the car, just whip it out man, what's the deal?

In this high class club in Florida, just imagine 20 bands in a row of Blues Hammer pootin around on stage and you’ll get the picture of what misery I put myself through. I didn’t know if he’s actually gonna appear in this shitty yuppie hole in the wall club, that was opened purely for poetry slams, it closed down a few months later. So let’s fast forward to Screamin Jay’s arrival. He’s decked out in a pair of orange pajamas and launches into a wimpy version of “Midnight Hour”. Then proceeds to continue on and on in that matter, almost like he’s covering the white bands covering blues guys, I mean Clapton, Robbie Cray and Stevie Van Zandt would be entranced!

My jaw was on the dirty bar room floor in shock and after the watered down milquetoast performance was over I immediately followed Jay to his Limo parked outside and demanded to know! What the fuck happened? I would’ve never had to guts to confront someone who did that to me now, but I was very upset then. I had to talk over some fat metal dude trying to impress Jay with his Belushi harmonica stylings. Which Jay actually seemed into!!? I just asked him, why don’t you play any of your own songs anymore? And he just looked at me and said “I do!” and I thought, just not now right? This event really soiled his music for me and eventually after a year, I could listen to him again, but it just sucked. I shook my head and sought out comfort in any other Rocknroll fan that went through something similar. I wrote Tim Warren (head honcho of Crypt Records, one of the best labeled ever assembled) and he basically said the greats are mainly a disappointment nowadays and it’s rare that you see a raw, primitive incarnation of what made you care about them in the first place. He thought maybe the artists themselves were afraid to look like Uncle Toms and soften it up for the masses. When I think about it now, he must have been on vacation and since he probably got a few bucks to be there he didn't prepare, I was still crushed though. I did get to shake his hand and meet him for a split second. About a couple of years later he died and I was glad to actually meet the man who I obsessively listened to in my car driving around. A similar situation happened in a Daniel Clowes comic called "Wild night in Tigertown" that really put the whole mess together for me. These guys are just doing what they can to scrape by without the shroud of fame and recognition, they gotta parade around like an idiot sometimes because I realize now, that's all they got and I forgive him for that trauma in my life. Anyway I’m over it now for more Screamin Jay in top form watch “I Put a Spell on me” and all of his great roles in Jim Jarmusch’s early work. R.I.P. Mr. Hawkins you will be sorely missed.

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