Although it was comprised of elements of jump blues, R&B, opera and everything else he listened to while growing up, it was none of these but rock’n’roll instead as soon as he first opened his mouth to unleash THAT VOICE: that voice that projected unspeakably HUGE as if calling for release and redemption from the deepest pit of entrapment as it bellowed out life stories of wrath, pain and magic beyond ordinary experiences. So much so that even when Screamin’ Jay himself first heard the recording of his best-known moment “I Put A Spell On You” he truly did not believe it was he who was responsible for what he heard coming out from that platter spinning at 78 revolutions per minute and subsequently took it off and burned it.
Bill Dahl at AllMusic.com:
Hawkins caught his first musical break in 1951 as pianist/valet to veteran jazz guitarist Tiny Grimes. He debuted on wax for Gotham the following year with “Why Did You Waste My Time,” backed by Grimes & His Rockin’ Highlanders (they donned kilts and tam o’ shanters on-stage). Singles for Timely (“Baptize Me in Wine”) and Mercury’s Wing subsidiary (1955’s otherworldly “[She Put The] Wamee [On Me],” a harbinger of things to come) preceded Hawkins’ immortal 1956 rendering of “I Put a Spell on You” for Columbia’s OKeh imprint. (…)
Hawkins originally envisioned the tune as a refined ballad. After he and his New York session aces (notably guitarist Mickey Baker and saxist Sam “The Man” Taylor) had imbibed to the point of no return, Hawkins screamed, grunted, and gurgled his way through the tune with utter drunken abandon. A resultant success despite the protests of uptight suits-in-power, “I Put a Spell on You” became Screamin’ Jay’s biggest seller (“Little Demon,” its rocking flip, is a minor classic itself). (…)
DJ Alan Freed convinced Screamin’ Jay that popping out of a coffin might be a show-stopping gimmick by handing him a $300 bonus.
An old man’s boasting might not have a lot to do with reality. But in the weeks after Hawkins’ death, Nigolian started the Jayskids.com Web site, and now believes she has identified 33 of the so-called Hawkins 57.
“It wasn’t like an FBI investigation — no DNA tests,” Nigolian says. “But I ask for documents. The locations, dates of births and stories check out. There is, also, a family resemblance.”