Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ted Hawkins

Good morning!

First off, full disclosure: I read about the subject for today's blog on ANOTHER blog. I feel bad for piggybacking the topic, but moments after listening to some of the tracks on Amber Frost's post about cult musician Ted Hawkins, I was ho-o-oked. Guys! The Dangerous Minds website in general is one of my greatest internet discoveries of all time-- with around fifteen, razor sharp contributors and topics that look like they were ripped from one of my little "look this up later" journals in high school (Joy Division live on the BBC in 1979, Vincent Price movie trailers, etc, etc), I check it at least twice a day, every day. So, first off, thanks Dangerous Minds, for telling me about Ted Hawkins. Now, readers, let me tell YOU about him.

Born in Mississippi in 1936, Ted Hawkins spent most of his adult life one of two places-- jail, and on a milkcrate in Venice Beach, busking for spare change with an open tuned, acoustic guitar. It was the latter those who remember him would remember him by-- years of singing all day, every day, yielded up the handful of gorgeous cover songs and original recordings that make up his discography. The song that bowled me over from the other blog's post was his self-penned "I'm Sorry You're Sick":


Good morning my Darling I'm telling you this
to let you know that I'm sorry you're sick
Though tears of sorrow won't do you no good
I'd be your doctor if only I could 

What do want from the liquor store?
Something sour or something sweet?
I'll buy all that your belly can hold
You can be sure you won't suffer no more

That combination of traditional folk/roots style music with all these other layers of influence create the wholly original sound that garnered Hawkins a small cult following. The sting on "WHAT DO YOU WANT" combined with the sweet/sad phrasing on the rest of the song!! His voice, on this and other recordings, reminds me of if you had a number written by Charles Bukowski and performed by George Jones/Leadbelly/Sam Cooke/that Hawaiian guy who sang "Over the Rainbow" in one body. Here's another original:


Green-eyed girl, why don't you notice this brown eyed boy
I'm havin' dreams of you, green-eyed girl 
Green-eyed girl, let me do something that'll thrill me to do
I want to touch you, green-eyed girl. Green eyed-girl....

I can't help but notice you noticing me watching you
You can't help but notice me noticing you noticing me
I wish I was here yesterday evening 
When you walked by, nobody told me, green-eyed girl.

I can't get over the gentle way he sings this song in that raspy, soft voice. It puts me in mind of what I liked in Roky Erickson's love songs-- for every song he has about aliens running the Kremlin, and multi-headed hell hounds on his trail (which I hold near and dear, but in a different way), there's a song like "You Don't Love Me Yet" or "Starry Eyes" that has some kind of unexpected, fresh, naked romanticism that cuts right through you. You think this poor guy, for all his troubles with the law, drugs, vagrancy, whatever else he's had to put up with in his life, there's a heart and an artist in there that is expressing itself in spite of everything. He's something special.

While his covers of songs like Webb Pierce's "There Stands the Glass" will cut your actual little feelings out with the arresting delivery on that first note, what really impressed me on first dipping my toe into his albums were his original songs. "Cold and Bitter Tears" is told from the perspective of a run-out-on husband doing this dishes in his wife's apron. "Tonight we done the dishes/Just to keep your memory clear/I cooled the hot dishwater/With my cold and bitter tears," Hawkins sings, like he's standing on the linoleum that moment looking for his wife's tailights to light up the gravel driveway out the kitchen window.  "If You Love Me" is a nineteenth hour plea to a woman who's about to leave him, pledging loyalty and dismissing the outside world as essentially adversarial. "Unpack those clothes honey/I'm not through talking to you/Have faith in me girl/And in the things that I do/People just like to talk sugar/Why can't they leave us alone/You know I couldn't hurt you/Or leave you alone" puts you in the room after a nasty fight, in that uncertain moment in a relationship where mutual trust and security is anything but assured, and Hawkins is the one working on assuring it. The lyrics and his voice are so REAL.


Sales were low for Hawkins's debut album Watch Your Step, but it earned critical praise and a five star review from the notoriously-stingy-with-stars Rolling Stone magazine upon its release in 1982. From reading his biography on Wikipedia, it sounds like more often than not, Ted Hawkins was the thing that got in the way of Ted Hawkins's career. Though he recorded the tracks for Watch Your Step in the early seventies', and was offered a record contract at that time, the release was delayed by almost a decade due to his incarceration and subsequent troubles with drug addiction. He had some success in England, where his records were well-received and his concerts well-attended, before being deported under "unpalatable curcumstances" (probably more drugs) in 1990. Hawkins' died just months after his first major label release, The Next Hundred Years, began to take off. The songs he left behind are a fitting legacy for a man who could REALLY put a song across. I'm so glad Dangerous Minds clued me into this guy, I might have never found him on my own.

So! What do you think about these tunes? Do you have any musical interests that suddenly turned all-consuming on you? What websites do you check to get hints and tips on subjects that might pique your curiosity? Let's talk!

That's all for today, see you guys back here tomorrow. Til then!

Discography from AllMusic


  1. Thank you for the introduction to Ted Hawkins. I love his heartfelt lyrics and tender raspy voice. Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed with all the good music that is out there. Currently, I'm listening to the blues pretty steady, and I've learned about so many amazing Mississippi bluesmen and one astounding blues woman (and self professed cowgirl) - Jessie Mae Hemphill, who takes influence from her rich musical family history and other blues icons like Howlin' Wolf. I think you'd enjoy her gritty boogie blues music.

    1. I LOVE Delta blues, I'll have to check out this Jessie Mae Hemphill. Thanks for the hot tip!



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