Uhhhhh… where to start with this one?! I’ll bet you know who SCREAMIN’ JAY HAWKINS is. He’s the guy from the ’50s who wrote “I Put a Spell on You,” an oft-covered minor key R&B slowburner. The guy with a bone through his nose. Well, he really only ever had that one minor hit, which was kept alive via covers by Creedence Clearwater Revival and others, and he moved from record label to record label over the years trying to rekindle that flame. By the time he landed at Bizarre Records – a suitable home, at least ’cause of its name – his number was about up. And yet, the old man still had some spunk in him. [I hear you Brits laughing.]
Are YOU One of Jay’s Kids? compiles all of the recordings he did for the label, at one point home to Frank Zappa, and it’s a whopper of a 2CD set. By whopper I mean, there’s so much here you’ll have to go through it in multiple sittings. Naturally, there’s a remake of his big hit, but this time he’s backed by a 1990 hip hop drum beat and even has a rapper doing some bits in it. Hey, if it worked for Aerosmith… and yet, no, it doesn’t really work for Jay. The band employed across all 44 tracks includes guitarist Mike Keneally (a Zappa vet) in a combo that sounds very of-its-time. The arrangements are clearly semi-rehearsed and semi-ad-libbed according to wherever Screamin’ Jay was going. And the man was going fuckin’ nuts! The songs range from some pretty cool remakes, like “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” (originally done by Louis Jordan) and Jay’s own “Strange,” to odes to current hotties like “Sherilyn Fenn” and “Amy Fisher,” which itself is reprised twice (though mercifully short). There are even a few Tom Waits covers. If you’re a fan of Hawkins’ comedic rants and, let’s say unique (old school? sexist?) viewpoints on women, there’s plenty to keep you entertained. Does the collective joke wear thin? Yes. But trust me: you don’t wanna go through this in one sitting anyway. It’ll take a few rounds to audition both discs, so you’ll have a chance to recharge your “man, this guy was crazy” batteries in between sessions.
As for the package itself, Are YOU One of Jay’s Kids? has a decent booklet inside a triple panel digipack cover, but it’s hard to discern when and where the sessions were cut or even which songs come from which albums. Basically, this compilation encompasses 1991’s Black Music for White People (what a great title!), Stone Crazy (1993) and Somethin’ Funny Goin’ On (1994). Without wading too far into the liner notes or on Discogs, this has got to have all the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins ever recorded at Bizarre’s behest. This compilation’s worth a shot if you’re in an ornery mood.
2.5/3 (Manifesto MFO 42202, 2018)