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Screamin' Jay!
Immortal Blues Singer Screamin' Jay Hawkins Dies at Age 70
By KEVIN GALVIN Associated Press Writer

PARIS (AP) FEBRUARY 12, 2000 — Screamin' Jay Hawkins, the larger-than-life American blues singer and pianist who shocked the music world at the dawn of rock with his crazed shrieking and bizarre stage antics, died Saturday. He was 70.

The musician, whose real name was Jalacy Hawkins, died at the Ambroise Pave clinic in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a suburb west of Paris. He had suffered multiple organ failure following emergency surgery to treat an aneurysm, a doctor who requested anonymity told The Associated Press.

Hawkins, from Cleveland, was best known for his song "I Put a Spell On You,'' which he recorded on the Okeh label in 1956 and which helped win him cult status in the United States, Europe and Japan. He had originally planned the tune as a ballad, but after a night of heavy drinking he took another crack — screaming, yelling and groaning — and never looked back. Some of his groans had to be edited out so that "I Put a Spell On You'' could be played on the radio.

Hawkins once said the song, written to woo back a girlfriend, was at first banned by some radio stations because it supposedly sounded cannibalistic.

Hawkins went on to use the same demented style again and again. An outrageous performer, he used bizarre stage props, often emerging out of coffins during shows. He would wield rubber snakes and fake tarantulas and wear a boar's tooth around his neck or a bone clipped to his nose.

He frequently seriously burned himself while using exploding fuse boxes. His constant on-stage companion: a cigarette-smoking, flaming skull named Henry.

Asked about the unique style of his songs, he once said: "I don't sing them. I destroy them.''

Oddly, his passion was opera, which he said inspired his stage persona.

"I watched enough Mario Lanza,'' he said of the famed opera singer. "I took that and sax and combined it into screamin' instead of singin'.''

Hawkins got his first break in 1951 as a pianist-valet to veteran jazz guitarist Tiny Grimes. His recording debut was 1952's "Why Did You Waste My Time,'' backed by Grimes and his Rockin' Highlanders.

In the 1960s, Hawkins recorded the hits "Alligator Wine,'' "Feast of the Mau Mau'' and "I Hear Voices.''

In more recent years, he appeared in the films "Mystery Train'' and "A Rage in Harlem.''

Hawkins had lived near Paris for several years. There were no immediate details of funeral arrangements, but Hawkins once said he wanted to be cremated.

"I wrote in my will to cremate me ... fly over the ocean and scatter the dust so I can be little particles in everybody's eyes — drive everybody crazy the rest of their lives,'' he said.

Information on family members and funeral arrangements was not immediately available.

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