Jay Hawkins originally recorded “I Put A Spell On You” as a Jazzy ballad, released on the Grand label, which was based out of Philadelphia.
Shortly after the release of the first version of the song, which was written in response to a girl putting him down, Jay Hawkins was signed by Columbia Records.
Arnold Maxin, who was running Columbia Records at the time, felt that the song needed a darker, scarier feel.
If Hawkins sounds like he’s drunk out of his mind during the song, it’s because he was, while he was recording.
“He brought in a case of Italian Swiss Colony Muscatel and we all got our heads bent,” Screamin’ Jay Hawkins said of the session, which he admitted he could not remember.
“I Put A Spell On You” was released in August 1956 on the Okeh subsidiary of Columbia and sold over 250,000 copies.
Now known as “Screamin’” Jay Hawkins because of the song, the singer hit the road, but was not ready for the odd reaction.
“I didn’t know what I had done. This record comes out and I’ve created a monster. Man it was weird. I was forced to live the life of a monster,” Screamin’ Jay Hawkins said.
The singer began using skulls, coffins and other ghoulish imagery in his act, which by this point had become so popular, that he drew the wrath of the National Coffin Association.
After performing with Alan Freed’s “Rock & Roll Review,” the organization accused him of making fun of the dead and ordered funeral parlors to cease renting him coffins for his stage show.
“I Put A Spell On You” didn’t make any dent on the charts for Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, but the popularity of the song immortalized him.
The song has been remade by a number of artists, including Bette Midler, Credence Clearwater Revival, Bryan Ferry, and Nina Simone.
In fact, Nina Simone named her 1992 autobiography “I Put A Spell On You.”
For the next 40 years, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins toured around the world performing the song with a number of artists, including The Clash and Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds.
Ironically, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins also died on February 12, in the year 2000.
The legendary singer passed away in Paris, France after surgery to treat an aneurysm.